What is Shaking Beef? An Introduction to This Vietnamese Specialty

Shaking beef, known as “bò lúc lắc” in Vietnamese, is a wildly popular Vietnamese beef dish. It features tender cubes of beef that are stir-fried with garlic, onion, and other aromatics, resulting in an incredibly flavorful and delicious meal.

This iconic dish gets its name from the cooking method – the beef is shaken and tossed in the wok or pan as it cooks. This constant motion helps sear and caramelize the beef, creating tons of delicious flavor.

While relatively simple to make, shaking beef delivers big, bold flavors that make it a stellar choice for a quick weeknight meal or to serve guests. Keep reading to learn all about this Vietnamese classic!

What Makes Shaking Beef So Special

There are several key things that set shaking beef apart:

  • The Sear – Shaking beef starts by searing cubed beef in a very hot pan or wok. This caramelizes the exterior and develops a ton of flavor.

  • The Shaking Motion – Constantly shaking and tossing the beef as it cooks ensures even searing and caramelization.

  • The Marinade – A flavorful marinade with garlic, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and other seasonings infuses the beef with flavor.

  • The Aromatics – Onions, garlic, and herbs provide the perfect complement to the beef.

The sum of all these parts is a dish bursting with flavor, aroma, and textural contrasts. The sear provides irresistible flavor, the marinade makes it robust and savory, and the aromatics add brightness.

The Origins of Shaking Beef

Like many Vietnamese dishes, shaking beef has French colonial influences. When France occupied Vietnam from the late 1800s to 1954, French cuisine had a major impact.

More specifically, shaking beef came about when steak began appearing more often in Vietnam thanks to French influence. Steak was considered a luxury. To stretch expensive cuts of beef and serve more people, the beef would be sliced into small cubes.

The French also likely introduced searing techniques that developed into shaking beef’s signature cooking method. By constantly tossing and shaking the beef in a hot pan, a flavorful sear could be achieved without overcooking the cubes.

Over time this French-inspired dish was adapted to local tastes in Vietnam. Adjustments like marinating the beef and adding aromatics like garlic made the dish unique.

Today shaking beef is enjoyed all over Vietnam. It’s especially popular at casual, affordable Vietnamese restaurants and street food stalls.

Step-By-Step Guide to Making Shaking Beef

While seemingly complex, shaking beef is approachable for home cooks. Follow these steps:

1. Cut the Beef

  • Cut beef (usually tenderloin, ribeye, or strip steak) into 1-inch cubes.

2. Make the Marinade

  • Combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, garlic, sugar, pepper, and optionally MSG.

  • Add beef and let marinate 15-30 minutes.

3. Prep the Aromatics

  • Slice red onion into wedges or rings.

  • Cut green onions into 2-inch segments.

4. Sear the Beef

  • Heat a wok or skillet over very high heat.

  • Add oil then beef in batches. Sear for 1-2 minutes per side.

  • Constantly shake pan and toss beef as it cooks.

5. Finish and Serve

  • Add onions and stir-fry briefly until just tender.

  • Finish with green onions.

  • Serve over rice with sides like fresh herbs, vegetables, dipping sauce, etc.

The key is using very high heat to sear the beef and shaking the pan constantly as it cooks. This builds maximum flavor.

Tips for Making Perfect Shaking Beef

Follow these tips for authentic, delicious shaking beef:

  • Dry the beef – Blot with paper towels before cooking to prevent steaming.

  • Use a very hot pan – Heat until smoking before adding oil and beef.

  • Don’t crowd the pan – Cook beef in batches if needed.

  • Let the sear develop – Resist flipping too soon; let sear form.

  • Toss and shake constantly – This prevents burning and evenly cooks.

  • Sear all sides – Don’t just brown one side of the beef cubes.

  • Slice aromatics thin – onions and green onion cook quickly so slice thinly.

  • Use the right pan – Use a wok, cast iron, or carbon steel pan. Avoid nonstick.

  • Rest before slicing – Let steak rest 5-10 minutes after cooking before cubing.

What to Serve with Shaking Beef

Shaking beef is usually served as part of a rice-centered meal. Here are some tasty sides to serve it with:

  • Steamed jasmine rice
  • Fresh herbs like cilantro, mint, basil
  • Cucumber slices
  • Bean sprouts
  • Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • Sliced tomatoes or carrots
  • Rice noodles
  • Dipping sauces like soy, fish sauce, or sriracha
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Fried eggs

A bed of rice topped with shaking beef and fresh herbs is a classic, simple way to enjoy it. Adding sliced veggies and dipping sauce makes it a complete meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common shaking beef questions:

What cut of beef is best?

Tender cuts like tenderloin, ribeye, or strip steak work best. They have great flavor and don’t get tough.

Can I use a less tender cut?

Less tender cuts may work but require extra marinating time to tenderize. Slice very thinly across the grain after cooking if using a tougher cut.

What’s the best oil for cooking?

Use a high smoke point neutral oil like vegetable, canola, avocado, or grapeseed.

Can I prepare ahead?

Yes, marinate the beef up to 24 hours in advance for more flavor. Cook right before eating.

Can I use a grill?

Yes, just sear over very high direct heat, tossing constantly. Finish over gentler heat.

How should I store leftovers?

Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet over medium heat or high heat briefly to recrisp.

An Iconic Vietnamese Specialty

With its French colonial roots, mouthwatering sear, and aromatic flavors, shaking beef has become one of Vietnam’s most popular culinary exports. This iconic dish may seem intimidating but is absolutely approachable for home cooks.

The hands-on shaking cooking method results in irresistible, next-level flavor that diners will beg for again and again. Shaking beef is a stellar choice for an impressive weeknight meal or casual dinner party. Just be prepared for requests for the recipe!

Vietnamese Shaking Beef


How many calories are in shaking beef?

Monounsaturated Fat
4.6 g
76.0 mg
1,451.4 mg
555.8 mg

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