How to Make Beef Tender for Stir Fry: A Complete Guide

Stir frying is a quick, healthy cooking technique that infuses food with tons of flavor. But it can be tricky to get beef perfectly tender in a stir fry. The high heat and short cooking time don’t allow tough cuts of beef to fully break down. Fortunately, there are some simple tricks to turn even the most economical cuts into tender, juicy beef for stir fries.

Why Beef Toughness Matters in Stir Fries

  • Beef contains tough collagen fibers that need prolonged moist cooking to break down.

  • High cooking temperatures combined with constant tossing can quickly toughen beef in a stir fry.

  • Chewy beef ruins the texture of a stir fry.

  • You need pre-tenderizing techniques to transform the beef before stir frying.

Tender Beef Cuts for Stir Frying

  • Filet mignon – naturally tender but expensive

  • Flank steak – thin slice across grain

  • Hanger steak – thin slice across grain

  • Skirt steak – thin slice across grain

  • Sirloin flap / bavette – thin slice across grain

Economical Beef Cuts to Tenderize

  • Chuck roast

  • Round roasts like bottom round, eye round

  • Stew meat or cubed stew beef

  • Flank steak

  • Skirt steak

  • Top sirloin

  • Top round steaks

  • Any inexpensive, tougher beef cut

Tenderizing Methods for Beef Stir Fry

Velveting with Baking Soda

  • Toss beef slices with baking soda, rest 30-60 mins.

  • Rinse then pat dry. Beef is now tenderized for stir frying.

  • Alkalizes beef proteins for velvety texture.

  • Use 1 tsp baking soda per 1 lb beef.

Marinating with Acid

  • Marinate thin sliced beef in acid like wine, vinegar, fruit juice.

  • 30 mins – overnight. Acid helps break down fibers.

  • Pat dry after marinating so stir fry doesn’t stew.

Velveting with Cornstarch

  • Toss beef in cornstarch slurry – 2 tbsp cornstarch + 1 tbsp oil + 1 tbsp water.

  • Let sit 10-20 minutes then rinse off cornstarch.

  • Cornstarch protects beef from high heat of wok.

Use Meat Tenderizer Powder

  • Toss beef with tenderizer powder containing papain or bromelain enzymes.

  • Let sit 15-30 minutes to break down collagen.

  • Rinse then pat dry.

Pound Beef Beforehand

  • Use meat mallet or heavy pan to pound beef slices.

  • Breaks down fibers for quick cooking.

  • Still slice thin across the grain.

Best Stir Fry Beef Marinades

  • Soy sauce, rice wine, minced garlic, sesame oil, ginger.

  • Oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, Shaoxing wine, white pepper.

  • Honey, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, minced garlic.

  • Soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire, brown sugar.

How to Slice Beef for Stir Fries

  • Partially freeze beef for cleaner slicing.

  • Slice very thin across the grain.

  • Cut at angle against muscle fibers.

  • Keep slices uniform in size for even cooking.

Keys to Cooking Tenderized Beef

  • Use very high heat and keep wok moving.

  • Don’t overcrowd wok – cook beef in batches.

  • Let wok reheat between batches.

  • Add tender beef at very end to finish cooking.

  • Don’t overcook or beef will toughen.

  • Slice beef thin so it cooks in minutes.

Best Stir Fry Recipes for Tender Beef

Chinese Black Pepper Beef

  • Tender flank steak, black pepper, onions, bell peppers.

  • Chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine.

Mongolian Beef

  • Deep fried tenderized beef with green onions.

  • Sweet soy glaze with chili garlic sauce.

Beef and Broccoli

  • Velveted beef chunks, broccoli, red bell peppers.

  • Oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, ginger.

Thai Basil Beef

  • Stir fried tender beef with Thai basil and veggies.

  • Fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce.

Beef Lo Mein

  • Tender beef, lo mein noodles, cabbage, carrots.

  • Oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil.

Beef Bulgogi

  • Korean marinated thin slices of tender sirloin or ribeye.

  • Quickly stir fried with veggies.


What’s the most tender cut of beef for stir fry?

Filet mignon is the most naturally tender but is expensive. Economical cuts like chuck or round can be tenderized.

Does velveting change the flavor of beef?

Velveting only affects texture, not inherent flavor. Use seasoning/marinades to impart flavor.

How long does it take to velvet beef?

Usually 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on thickness. Thinner slices require less time.

Can you tenderize beef by marinating?

Yes, acidic marinades help break down collagen. Slice thinly and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Is baking soda safe to consume on beef?

Yes, it is washed off thoroughly so only trace amounts remain. It is a safe, approved technique.


With the right prep, even the most affordable cuts of beef can become fork-tender in a quick stir fry. Velveting, marinating, tenderizing and proper slicing are key. Cook the beef in batches over high heat and resist overcooking. The result is restaurant-quality beef stir fry you can enjoy at home any night of the week.

How to tenderise & marinate beef for prefect stir fry like in Chinese restaurant


How do Chinese cooks make their beef so tender?

While there are several ways to velvet, a pound of meat needs about two teaspoons of cornstarch and two teaspoons of oil, says Leung. You may also include two to three tablespoons of water. For beef, add a 1/4-teaspoon of baking soda for tenderizing. Additional seasonings are optional and vary from recipe to recipe.

Why is my stir fry beef always tough?

Don’t Overcook Thinly sliced beef only needs to be briefly seared on a hot pan before it’s browned and cooked through, about a few minutes. Once the beef is browned on all sides, it is done and can be removed from the pan. Don’t overcook the beef, or it will become tough.

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