What is Beef Satay? A Guide to this Iconic Grilled Skewered Dish

Beef satay is a popular grilled meat dish that originates from Southeast Asia. It features tender chunks of beef that are threaded onto skewers and grilled, then paired with a rich peanut sauce for dipping. With its savory-sweet flavors and fun hands-on eating style, it’s easy to see why beef satay has become so beloved around the world.

A Brief History of Beef Satay

The origins of satay can be traced back to Indonesia. It was likely invented as a way to preserve and transport meat, by threading thin slices onto bamboo sticks. The word “satay” comes from the Indonesian term sate, meaning skewered meat.

From Indonesia, satay spread throughout Southeast Asia. Each country put its own spin on the dish. For example, Thai satay often features chicken or pork, while Malaysian satay highlights beef. The Thai also contributed the addictive peanut sauce that we associate with satay today.

Beef satay was likely introduced to the West by Dutch colonists returning from Indonesia. It grew in popularity internationally in the late 20th century as Asian cuisines became trendy. These days it’s common to find satay on the menus of Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, and fusion restaurants worldwide.

The Components of Beef Satay

An order of beef satay is typically comprised of these elements:

  • Skewers of Beef – The meat is cut into cubes, strips, or chunks before being threaded onto short skewers made of wood or bamboo.

  • Peanut Sauce – An addictive dipping sauce is served alongside for drizzling or dunking. It has a rich, nutty peanut flavor balanced by spices and aromatics.

  • Garnishes – Finely chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro, and sambal chili sauce are often used to finish the dish.

  • Side Dishes – Satay is accompanied by rice or noodles and fresh vegetables. Soups and salads also complement it well.

Popular Cuts of Beef for Satay

Tender cuts of beef that respond well to quick grilling or pan-searing are ideal for satay. Here are some top choices:

  • Sirloin – Budget-friendly with good marbling. Stays juicy when sliced into cubes or strips.

  • Flank Steak – Lean and flavorful. Slices thinly across the grain.

  • Skirt or Hanger Steak – Dense in texture with lots of beefy flavor. Stays tender when cut into bite-sized pieces.

  • Tenderloin – The most tender (and expensive) cut. Best for special occasions.

  • Rump or Round – Affordable roast cuts that can be cubed. Benefit from marinating to increase tenderness.

Tips for Preparing Beef Satay

  • Use an acidic marinade. Ingredients like lime juice, vinegar, yogurt and lemongrass help tenderize the beef and infuse it with flavor.

  • Marinate overnight. Allowing time for the meat to soak up the flavors results in the most flavorful satay.

  • Cut across the grain. Slicing beef across the grain shortens the meat fibers so it stays tender on the grill.

  • Use presoaked skewers. Bamboo and wood skewers should be soaked 30+ minutes to prevent burning. Metal skewers can be used without soaking.

  • Grill over high heat. Whether using a grill or stovetop skillet, cook over high heat to sear and caramelize the beef while keeping it juicy inside.

How to Make Thai Beef Satay Step-By-Step

This authentic recipe produces tender, flavorful beef satay skewers paired with a creamy peanut dipping sauce.


For the Beef & Marinade:

  • 1.2 lbs sirloin or flank steak, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1⁄4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 2 tsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1⁄2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

For the Peanut Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 2⁄3 cup coconut milk
  • 1⁄3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1⁄3 cup water


  1. Mix the marinade: Whisk together the coconut milk, curry powder, sugar, red curry paste, baking soda, and salt.

  2. Marinate the beef: Add the cubed steak and stir to coat in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

  3. Make the peanut sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

  4. Soak the skewers: Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.

  5. Thread the beef: Thread 4-5 pieces of marinated beef onto each skewer, discarding excess marinade.

  6. Cook the satay: Grill or pan-sear the skewers for 2-3 minutes per side until browned.

  7. Serve immediately: Arrange satay skewers on a platter with the peanut sauce for dipping. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro and chili sauce if desired. Enjoy!

The Iconic Peanut Sauce

No beef satay experience is complete without the quintessential peanut sauce. This condiment provides a nutty, savory-sweet flavor contrast to the bold beef.

Traditional Thai peanut sauce includes these components:

  • Coconut milk – Provides creamy richness and body

  • Peanut butter – The star ingredient that supplies nutty flavor

  • Thai red curry paste – Infuses aroma and depth (use authentic paste like Mae Ploy brand for best results)

  • Soy sauce – Adds saltiness and savoriness

  • Sugar – Balances out the other flavors

  • Vinegar – Brightens up the sauce with a touch of acidity

The sauce is simmered briefly to meld the flavors and achieve an ideal drizzling consistency. It can be made ahead and will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Tips for Reheating Leftover Satay

Have leftover beef satay? Here are some serving suggestions:

  • Reheat skewered satay in a hot skillet or on the grill until sizzling.

  • Slice beef off the skewers and toss with noodles or rice.

  • Chop satay into pieces and add to omelets, fried rice or stir-fries.

  • Pile into buns or wraps with peanut sauce and fresh veggies.

  • Dice and add to salads or grain bowls.

The leftover peanut sauce stores well too. Beyond satay, it makes a great dip for spring rolls, chicken tenders, or Vietnamese summer rolls.

Popular Variations

While beef is most iconic, satay also gets made with other types of meat:

Chicken Satay – Widely available and often served as an appetizer. Stays juicy and tender when sliced into strips.

Pork Satay – Tender and flavorful, especially with shoulder or loin cuts. Often seen in Thai versions.

Lamb Satay – Robust, savory flavor. Shoulder meat works well.

Seafood Satay – Shrimp, scallops or firm fish hold up well on skewers.

Tofu or Vegetables – For plant-based versions. Tofu, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers and zucchini work nicely.

Side Dishes and Sauces for Satay

Here are some classic pairings that complement beef satay wonderfully:

  • Steamed Jasmine Rice – The most traditional starch for soaking up peanut sauce.

  • Coconut Rice – Toasted coconut rice brings even more Southeast Asian flavor.

  • Noodles – Rice noodles, pad thai, lo mein all make tasty bases for satay.

  • Fresh Vegetables – Cool, crisp veggies like cucumber, cabbage, bean sprouts and carrots balance the rich components.

  • Thai Salad – Spicy green papaya salad, larb salad or som tum offset beef satay perfectly.

  • Peanut Sauce – The obligatory condiment, either on the side for dipping or spooned over everything.

  • Sambal Oelek – Spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce provides a kick of heat.

Where to Enjoy Authentic Beef Satay

If you don’t want the effort of making beef satay at home, stop by one of these restaurants for expertly prepared, authentic versions:

  • Thai Restaurants – Standard menu item, often with chicken and pork options too.

  • Malaysian Restaurants – Beef satay is a highlight here, served in the traditional way.

  • Indonesian Restaurants – Look for “sate” on the menu, with all types of meats represented.

  • Singaporean and Vietnamese Restaurants – Often have their own regional twists on classic satay.

  • Asian Fusion Restaurants – Creative takes on satay, like Korean-style or in tacos and sandwiches.

You can also find excellent street food-style satay at hawker stalls and food courts in Asian communities. Vendors often grill the skewers to order right before your eyes.

How to Serve Satay for Parties

With its fun, interactive eating style, beef satay makes a fantastic appetizer or main course for gatherings and parties. Here are some tips:

  • Make the peanut sauce ahead. Let guests help themselves to the dip.

  • Set up a satay bar. Offer ingredients like noodles, veggies and garnishes so guests can build their own.

  • Provide individual dipping bowls. For portable dipping at cocktail parties.

  • Cook it outside. Grill satay in batches over a barbecue for maximum flavor.

  • Embrace the mess. Have napkins handy for the inevitable drips and spills.

  • Consider bite-sized skewers. For easy passed appetizers.

  • Add other finger foods. Satay goes well with spring rolls, dumplings, chicken wings, etc.

  • Supply plenty of cold drinks. Beer, coconut cocktails, ice water all help tame the spices.

Beef Satay FAQs

Is it supposed to be spicy? Satay can range from mild to quite spicy depending on the chili content of the peanut sauce. Add sambal to taste.

Can I use wooden skewers without soaking? Yes, but they may char or burn. Soaking helps wood last longer on the grill.

What if I’m allergic to peanuts? Almond butter or sunflower seed butter make good substitutions in the sauce.

Can I use regular peanut butter? Standard peanut butter works but has more sugar. Opt for natural peanut butter if possible.

How should I store leftover satay and sauce? Refrigerate skewered satay up to 3 days. The sauce keeps a week refrigerated; it can also be frozen.

What meat is traditionally used? Chicken and pork are common, but beef is considered the most authentic and flavorful choice.

Do I have to use Thai red curry paste? For best results yes, but any Asian curry paste can work in a pinch.

Can I grill it on my barbecue? Absolutely! Outdoor grilling adds nice smoky char. Sear over direct high heat turning frequently.

Can I broil it in the oven? Broiling in a hot oven mimics grilling. Place skewers on a sheet pan 4-6 inches under the heating element.

The Last Word

From its origins as street food in Southeast Asia to global popularity today, beef satay remains one of the most craveable beef dishes. The formula of flavorful meat enhanced by a sweet and nutty peanut sauce is irresistible. Part of the appeal also lies in its interactive nature – skewers invite a hands-on eating experience that makes it fun to enjoy. Beef satay is easy to whip up at home, but seeking out authentic versions in Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese restaurants is a treat as well. However you choose to enjoy it, beef satay is a dish that satisfies on all levels!

Thai Beef Satay

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