What is Sesame Beef? A Delicious Chinese-American Classic

Sesame beef is a popular Chinese-American dish that has become a staple menu item at many Chinese restaurants across the United States. With its sweet and savory sauce, tender beef, and nutty sesame flavor, it’s easy to see why sesame beef is such a hit.

A Brief History of Sesame Beef

While the origins of sesame beef are unclear, it likely emerged in the early 20th century as Chinese immigrants adapted traditional Chinese cooking techniques to appeal to American tastes. The use of sesame oil and sesame seeds links it to Chinese cuisine, but the sweet sauce and crispy beef are decidedly Americanized.

Sesame beef was virtually unknown in China until the dish was re-imported under the name “foreigner beef” (洋人牛肉). Now it’s served at some Chinese restaurants in China as well!

How Sesame Beef is Made

To make authentic-tasting Chinese-American sesame beef, these are the key components:

Beef: Flank steak or sirloin are common cuts used. The beef is sliced very thinly across the grain and marinated for extra flavor.

Batter: The beef is tossed in a cornstarch batter to give it a crispy coating when fried. Some recipes also add sesame seeds to the batter.

Frying: The battered beef is fried for just 1-2 minutes per side until crisped. The quick fry prevents the beef from becoming dried out.

Sauce: A sauce is made by whisking together chicken stock, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch. It has a lovely glossy sheen.

Toasted sesame seeds: Sprinkled on top to finish the dish. This gives a wonderful nutty aroma and texture.

Tips for Making the Best Sesame Beef

Follow these tips to make restaurant-quality sesame beef at home:

  • Slice the beef thinly against the grain. This makes the beef easier to chew. Aim for 1/4 inch thick slices.

  • Velvet the beef. Marinating the beef briefly in a bit of oil, wine, and cornstarch helps tenderize it.

  • Use a heavy skillet to achieve a crispy crust on the beef without burning it. Non-stick is ideal.

  • Blanch the aromatics first. Quickly blanching the garlic mellows its harshness.

  • Toast the sesame seeds in the dry skillet for extra aroma before using as garnish.

  • Use potato or cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce to a silky gloss.

  • Don’t overcook the beef once returned to the sauce or it will lose its crispness.

Serving Suggestions

Sesame beef is usually served with steamed jasmine rice. Some other tasty side dishes include:

  • Stir-fried broccoli or bok choy
  • Quick blanched spinach
  • Sauteed snap peas
  • Steamed eggplant
  • Fried rice or lo mein noodles

For the full American Chinese restaurant experience, serve some egg rolls, potstickers, or crab rangoons on the side!

Make it a Meal

Turn your sesame beef into a complete meal by rounding out the flavors and textures:

  • Add protein: Cook up some shrimp or chicken to add extra protein. Cashews or peanuts also pair nicely.

  • Include veggies: Quick-cooking veggies like bell peppers, onions, or snap peas.

  • Serve starch: Steamed rice, lo mein noodles, or crispy wontons.

  • Don’t forget sauce: Extra sauce makes the meal. Add chili sauce, plum sauce, or duck sauce.

Low Carb or Keto?

To make this sesame beef keto-friendly or low carb, try serving it over:

  • Cauliflower rice
  • Stir-fried zucchini noodles
  • Sauteed baby bok choy
  • Cooked spinach or other greens

Skip the starchy sides and sugary sauces. Enjoy the sesame beef on its own or just add some protein and vegetables.

Paleo Sesame Beef

For a paleo-friendly sesame beef, use a paleo-friendly marinade and sauce:

Marinade: Salt, pepper, avocado oil, coconut aminos

Sauce: Coconut aminos, coconut sugar, sesame oil

Use arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch to thicken. Serve over sauteed veggies instead of rice.

Vegetarian Alternatives to Sesame Beef

For plant-based eaters who don’t eat beef, try one of these vegetarian swaps:

  • Tofu: Extra firm tofu cut into cubes, marinated and fried

  • Seitan: Homemade or store-bought seitan with a crispy coating

  • Eggplant: Chinese eggplant sliced and fried until crispy

  • Mushrooms: Oyster mushrooms, maitakes, or king trumpet mushrooms

  • Hearts of palm: Sliced thin, breaded, and fried for a unique twist


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about sesame beef:

What cut of beef is best? Flank steak or sirloin are most commonly used. Look for a thin, even cut that can be sliced across the grain.

Can I use chicken instead? You can, but you’ll miss out on the rich, beefy flavor. Stick with beef if possible.

Do I need a wok? You can make sesame beef in a wok, but a large non-stick skillet works too. The key is high heat to crisp the beef.

Can I freeze leftover sesame beef? Yes, freeze cooked sesame beef for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating gently. Add sauce to moisten.

How long does sesame beef keep? Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days. The crispy coating will soften, but it still tastes good!

The Final Take on Sesame Beef

With its crispy fried beef coated in a sweet sesame sauce, this Chinese restaurant classic has become a beloved addition to American cuisine. Sesame beef is easy to make at home for a weekday dinner or as part of a Chinese takeout night spread. Just serve it alongside steamed rice and stir-fried veggies for a satisfying meal everyone will love. Give this sesame beef recipe a try soon!

Crispy Sesame Beef – The Best Way to Cook Your Steak


What does sesame sauce taste like?

Its consistency is smooth and creamy, offering a harmonious blend of nutty, sweet, salty, and umami flavors. It enhances the taste of whatever you’re dipping or dressing without overshadowing the inherent flavors of the food.

What kind of beef is used in Chinese food?

Flank steak is by far the most popular cut of meat used by Chinese restaurants in all of their stir-fry dishes. It also happens to be the most recommended cut of beef we use in our stir-fry recipes. Flank steak is flavorful, relatively reasonably priced, and readily available.

Is sesame oil good with beef?

Give your steaks a burst with this Asian-inspired marinade of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil and fresh ginger. Marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat must be brought to a full rolling boil for a least one minute before it can be used for basting or as a sauce.

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