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Any tips for stir-frying beef (and other meats)?

I can't quite seem to master the meat component of home stir fry. I'm pretty good at the concepts of stir frying and can deliver great veggie dishes, shrimp, ground meats, etc.

It's the slices of meat, in particular beef, that don't seem to work as well. Mostly, there's a toughness issue. There's also a side challenge of making the meat not seem boiled. And then there's the market selections that have too much fat for a quick cook situation.

It seems most Chinese stiry fry has soft, easy to chew meat - and it's most likely not made from the finest beef. Japanese stir fry, on another hand, can seemingly have bits of beef that almost have a fire grilled quality before being stirred into noodles, etc. In both cases, the meat is part of the whole dish, rather than a component that needs extra chewing. Know what I mean?

So is there a technique issue I'm missing, such as pounding with a hammer? Or certain cuts that should be bought? Or a combo of things?

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  1. Do you cook your meat separately from the veggies? That's one thing I do. Usually, recipes call for cooking the veggies first, then remove them. Reheat the wok, add more oil, cook the meat on high heat. Lower the heat a tad, add the veggies, and stir briefly over heat. This is where you add sauces, seasonings, etc.

    1. i always coat the sliced meat (any cut will do) in a little cornstarch and fry it in a couple tablespoons of oil. i also add a couple of slices of ginger and garlic while i do this. then, i remove the meat to drain on some paper towels. add garlic to the pan and add more oil if necessary and stir fry the vegetables until just tender. add the meat back into the pan and then add your sauce ingredients except for the cornstarch slurry which i would add last. stir-frying should always be done at the highest heat, so make sure you do all the prep before turning the heat on.

      1. I believe Chinese restuarants marinate the beef in cornstarch to tenderize it. And there's also a technique called oil blanching where you blanch the beef in oil as opposed to stir-frying it, lending a more tender texture.

        Also, Chinese frequently use flanksteak, cut across the grain, for stir-fries. Cutting across the grain is crucial to get the right consistency.

        1. Very thin slices, very high heat, very little time in the wok!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I have always found it was better to quickly sear the meat and remove from wok, then cook the vegetables.......return meats to wok, add seasonings and serve.

            I would also suggest you marinate first in a combination of soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch.....the sherry is the key.

            You did not mention, but what cuts/types of meats are you using for your stir fry? Are you purchasing pre-packaged pre-sliced from the supermarket?........Pay close attention to how you are slicing your meats......make sure you slice across the grain and on a bias.... Flank and Hanger Steaks are very good for stir frys......London Broil is not.

          2. I think you are over the cooking the beef. It is best not to directly add raw beef to hot oil without some kind of coating to protect the meat. I like to use peanut oil because of its high smoke point.

            Try this:

            Mix a small amount of Chinese Shao Xing Wine, (use regular Sherry if you don't have it) soy sauce and corn starch to make a little slurry. Then marinate your beef in this for at least 30 minutes. (You can also add other ingredients to this slurry/marinade as you like: garlic, ginger...or scallions or hot chillies etc.)

            Quickly stir fry the beef first over high high heat with a bit of oil. Be sure to remove the beef before it is cooked through! Remove from the heat and set aside. (Drain if you like or you can add the juices back later.)

            Then clean the wok or frying pan and stir fry your vegies. Add a bit of chicken stock and salt to taste. Add the mostly cooked beef as the vegie mixture comes to a boil and stir for a few seconds. The cornstarch slurry mixture will help thicken the sauce. As soon as it all boils remove from heat. Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil on top for aroma and serve!

            Chinese most often use flank steak for stir fry beef dishes. More expensive cuts like sirloin work great as well.

            Alternatively, you can skip the marinade and try coating the sliced raw beef slices in egg white. This helps provide a protective coating as well.

            Another tip: if you are slicing your vegies, slice the meat. If you are cutting you vegies into slivers or strips, then do so as well with the beef.