What Does Mongolian Beef Taste Like? A Guide to This Sweet and Savory Chinese-American Favorite

Mongolian beef is a beloved Chinese-American dish that has been a staple menu item at Asian restaurants across the United States for decades. But what exactly does Mongolian beef taste like? And what makes it so addictively delicious?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the unique flavor profile of Mongolian beef, its origins, ingredients, preparation methods, and how it differs from other popular Chinese dishes like Szechuan beef.

An Overview of Mongolian Beef’s Sweet, Savory, and Slightly Spicy Flavor

The hallmarks of Mongolian beef are its dynamic sweet, savory, and slightly spicy flavor. When prepared well, the beef is tender and caramelized, coated in a luscious brown sauce infused with aromatic ingredients like garlic, ginger, and scallions.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key flavor elements in Mongolian beef:

  • Sweetness – Brown sugar or honey is used to create a delicate sweetness that balances out the savory flavors. Hoisin sauce also lends a sweet note.

  • Savory Umami – Soy sauce provides a hit of savory umami flavor. The browned beef also develops its own savory, meaty taste.

  • Spiciness – Dried red chili peppers add a gentle heat. Black pepper brings a subtle spicy undertone. Ginger has a zingy bite.

  • Aromatics – Garlic, ginger, scallions, and sometimes onion provide a fragrant base.

  • Velvety Sauce – Cornstarch thickens the sauce into a rich, clingy consistency that coats each slice of beef.

So in a nutshell, Mongolian beef is characterized by a dynamic interplay of sweet and savory flavors, with a mellow heat and loads of aromatic appeal. The taste experience is further enhanced by the tender, caramelized beef and luscious sauce coating each mouthful.

The Origins of Mongolian Beef And How It Came to America

Mongolian beef has a fascinating backstory. Despite its name, the dish actually has no ties to Mongolian cuisine!

The origins of Mongolian beef can be traced back to Taiwan in the 1950s. Chinese chefs were inspired by the Japanese teppanyaki style of cooking thinly sliced meat and vegetables on a hot iron griddle at the time. They set out to create their own Taiwanese spin on the dish.

The chefs chose to name this new stir-fry “Mongolian” beef to make it sound exotic and appeal to diners. Beef was considered a luxury ingredient in Taiwan in those days. The “Mongolian” label evoked images of the nomadic warriors who were known for their meat-heavy diets.

Throughout the latter half of the 1900s, Mongolian beef grew popular in other regions including China and the west coast of the United States. Chinese immigrants brought the dish over and added it to the menus at Asian restaurants catering to American tastes.

Over time, the recipe evolved to suit local preferences. The Americanized version often has more sugar to increase the sweetness, and toned down spice levels. But the core flavor profile and cooking technique remain the same – quickly stir-frying thin slices of beef in a hot wok with aromatics and a savory-sweet sauce.

So Mongolian beef as we know it today is an American Chinese dish inspired by Taiwanese and Japanese cooking methods. It has continued to be a favorite for its crave-worthy dynamic and complex taste.

Key Ingredients in Mongolian Beef And How They Create Flavor

Now let’s take a closer look at the ingredients that give Mongolian beef its signature flair. While recipes can vary slightly, these are the core components:


  • Flank, sirloin or round steak thinly sliced against the grain
  • Quickly stir-fried over high heat to create tender, caramelized pieces
  • Provides savory, rich flavor


  • Soy sauce – savory, salty base
  • Hoisin sauce – sweet, thick body
  • Rice wine vinegar – bright acidity
  • Brown sugar – touch of sweetness
  • Cornstarch – thickens sauce so it clings to beef


  • Green onions – fresh, grassy flavor
  • Garlic – pungent, savory punch
  • Ginger – bright, zingy gingery notes
  • Dried red chilis – mild heat, fruitiness
  • Onions (optional) – allium sweetness


  • Peanut, vegetable or canola oil
  • Allows quick, hot stir-frying

So you can see how each ingredient builds on the others to create a dynamic flavor experience in every bite of Mongolian beef!

How Mongolian Beef is Prepared For Maximum Flavor

Cooking technique is just as important as ingredients when it comes to making the most flavorful Mongolian beef. There are a few key steps involved:

  • Velveting the beef – This tenderizing technique involves tossing the sliced beef in a cornstarch slurry seasoned with rice wine, egg whites, oil, and sometimes baking soda. The cornstarch seals in moisture while the egg whites and baking soda further tenderize the meat.

  • Stir-frying over high heat – A very hot pan or wok is essential for getting that sear on the beef for maximum flavor. The pieces are stirred and tossed constantly so they cook quickly without overcooking.

  • Blooming aromatics – Before adding the beef back in, the garlic, ginger, onions and chili peppers are stir-fried very briefly to release their essential oils and aromas.

  • Tossing everything together – The beef goes back in along with the green onions. The sauce ingredients are added and the whole mixture is tossed until the sauce coats the beef and veggie mix.

When done right, the Mongolian beef is tender and juicy on the inside with caramelized browned bits on the outside surface. Every piece is saturated in the glistening savory-sweet sauce. The aromatics permeate each bite. This is Mongolian beef at its most crave-worthy and addictive!

How Mongolian Beef Differs From Szechuan Beef

Mongolian beef is sometimes confused with another popular Chinese dish – Szechuan beef. While there are some similarities, the two have very distinct differences in terms of flavor profile, ingredients, and preparation:

  • Flavor – Szechuan beef is much more boldly spicy, numbing, and salty. Mongolian beef has more sweetness and subtle spice.

  • Sauce – Szechuan sauce is chili oil-based with Szechuan peppercorns. Mongolian sauce has hoisin, rice wine, and cornstarch.

  • Aromatics – Szechuan beef emphasizes Szechuan peppercorns, chili flakes, sesame, and peanuts. Mongolian beef uses garlic, ginger, scallions, and sometimes onion.

  • Cooking methods – Szechuan beef can be stir-fried, braised, or cold tossed. Mongolian beef is always stir-fried.

  • Texture – Szechuan beef is often slippery and numbingly tingly. Mongolian beef is more velvety.

  • Origins – Szechuan beef comes from the Szechuan province of China. Mongolian beef was invented in Taiwan.

Tips for Creating the Best, Most Authentic Tasting Mongolian Beef at Home

Want to whip up restaurant-quality Mongolian beef in your own kitchen? Here are some top tips:

  • Use a very hot pan or wok – This is essential for getting that nice sear on the beef. Heat until it just starts to smoke. Be cautious and keep stovetop well-ventilated.

  • Cut beef thin and against the grain – Thin slices = faster cooking = tender meat. Slicing against the grain shortens the muscle fibers for tenderness.

  • Don’t overcrowd pan – Cook beef in batches. Crowding will steam instead of sear.

  • Bloom aromatics briefly – Let aromatics like garlic, ginger, and chilies release their flavor oils before adding beef back to pan.

  • Use authentic ingredients – Seek out quality soy sauce, hoisin, chili flakes, and rice wine vinegar for the deepest flavor.

  • Toss beef and sauce well – Mix thoroughly so that each piece of beef is coated for full-flavored bites.

Follow these tips and you’ll be enjoying restaurant-caliber Mongolian beef without leaving home!

Popular Variations to Personalize Your Mongolian Beef

Once you master the classic version of Mongolian beef, there are all kinds of tasty ways to put your own spin on it:

  • Swap in chicken, shrimp, pork, or tofu for the beef

  • Use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce for a gluten-free version

  • Add vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, etc.

  • For extra crunch, add roasted peanuts, cashews, or sesame seeds

  • Customize spiciness with various types of chili peppers and pepper flakes

  • Play with different sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar

  • Experiment with aromatics like lemongrass, five spice powder, or orange zest

  • Make it a complete meal by serving over rice noodles or a veggie-studded fried rice

The possibilities are endless when riffing on Mongolian beef! Adjust flavors to suit your personal tastes and have fun making each version your own.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mongolian Beef

What kind of beef is best for Mongolian beef?

Flank steak and sirloin steak are ideal cuts to use. They are lean, tender, and slice nicely against the grain. Other good options include round or chuck eye steak. Avoid tough cuts like chuck or rump roast.

Is there a vegetarian version?

Absolutely! Simply swap out the beef for extra firm tofu, seitan, or your favorite plant-based meat substitute. Mushrooms, eggplant, or jackfruit also make tasty fillings.

What is the healthiest way to prepare it?

Opt for lean grass-fed beef, use minimal added oil, load up on veggies, and use natural sweeteners like honey in moderation. Caution with the sodium levels in soy/hoisin sauce.

What sides go well with it?

White or brown rice, rice noodles, lo mein noodles, and steamed or stir-fried vegetables all pair beautifully. Fried rice also complements it deliciously.

Can kids enjoy Mongolian beef?

Yes, just adjust spice levels down, avoid overly salty soy sauce, and serve over a kid-friendly rice or noodle. Let kids sprinkle their own extra scallions on top.

Is Mongolian beef gluten-free?

Most traditional recipes contain soy sauce and hoisin, which have gluten. Opt for tamari and gluten-free hoisin to make it gluten-free. Or sub coconut aminos for the soy.

Satisfy Your Cravings with Savory-Sweet Mongolian Beef

Mongolian beef has become such a fixture on North American Chinese restaurant menus because of its crave-able dynamic flavors. The savory umami notes mingle so satisfyingly with sweet accents, aromatic appeal, tender meat, and velvety sauce.

Recreating this takeout favorite at home is easy with the right ingredients, technique, and cooking equipment like a very hot wok or pan. Once you experience homemade Mongolian beef done right, you may never have to order takeout again!

So the next time you have a hankering for something sweet and savory with a kiss of heat and loads of flavor dimension, whip up a batch of Mongolian beef. Your tastebuds will thank you.



What is Mongolian beef similar to?

Mongolian beef is an Americanized version of stirfried lamb (or mutton) with leeks or scallions. Pei Mei’s recipe calls for marinating the meat in oil, soysauce, salt, wine, and brown peppercorns. The sauce includes garlic, soysauce, brown vinegar, and sesame oil.

What is Mongolian beef sauce made of?

Our recipe for Mongolian beef sauce includes oyster sauce, soy sauce, tamari soy sauce (as a replacement for dark soy sauce), chili sauce, sugar, and cooking wine. Check the ingredient list to see precise amounts. Don’t forget that you can scale the recipe up and down!

Why is Mongolian beef chewy?

Like many stir fry dishes, it is important to thinly slice the meat, which means stir-frying will obviously overcook the meat, which in turn will make it tough and chewy.

What is the difference between kung pao beef and Mongolian beef?

What is the difference between kung pao beef and mongolian beef? This kung pao beef is a spicy Chinese-American dish made with beef, peanuts, and vegetables. Mongolian beef is made with beef and onions and is not spicy.

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