When it comes to picking the right cut of beef for stir-fry, you’ll want to consider a few key factors: tenderness, marbling, and the cut’s ability to cook quickly while remaining juicy. The good news is that there are several excellent cuts of beef that are ideal for stir-fries.
Quick Answer: Top Cuts for Stir-Fry
Here’s a quick overview of some of the best cuts of beef to use in stir-fries:
- Flank steak – Flank steak is a lean, flavorful cut from the belly of the cow. It has great beefy flavor and becomes tender when sliced against the grain.
- Sirloin – Sirloin is another lean cut that is fairly inexpensive. Look for tips or slices cut across the grain for the most tenderness.
- Skirt steak – Skirt steak has a loose texture that soaks up stir-fry sauces well. It cooks quickly and has robust beef flavor.
- Top sirloin – Top sirloin is very tender and lean. It’s a prime cut that can be pricier but is worth it for its tenderness.
- Flat iron steak – This cut comes from the chuck primal and has great flavor. It’s more affordable than some fancier cuts.
Keep reading for more details on why these cuts work so well in stir-fries and for tips on cutting and preparing them.
Ideal Qualities to Look For
When selecting a cut of beef for stir-fry, keep these key qualities in mind:
- Tenderness – The beef should become tender and easy to chew when sliced thinly across the grain. Tough, chewy beef won’t work well.
- Quick cooking – The cut you choose should cook quickly and not require long braising times. Thin slices are key for fast cooking.
- Good marbling – You want some fat marbled throughout for flavor and moisture. But too much fat can lead to greasiness.
- Affordability – Many good stir-fry cuts come from the less tender parts of the cow. These affordable cuts shine when sliced thinly.
The Best Cuts for Beef Stir-Fry Explained
Here’s a more in-depth look at some of the top cuts to use for stir-fries and what makes each one a good choice:
Flank steak comes from the belly muscles of the cow. It’s a lean, fibrous cut that can be tough when cooked incorrectly but becomes tender when sliced thin against the grain. Pros:
- Lean and inexpensive
- Beefy, robust flavor
- Fibrous texture helps it soak up sauces
- Cooks quickly
Sirloin is another lean, affordable cut. Look for tips or slices cut against the grain from the top or bottom sirloin. Pros:
- Very lean
- Fairly tender
- Cooks quickly
- Good beefy flavor
Skirt steak is a long, thin cut from the diaphragm muscles of the cow. It has a loose texture that makes it ideal for soaking up stir-fry sauces. Pros:
- Loose, fibrous texture
- Soaks up sauce beautifully
- Robust beefy flavor
- Affordable price
Top sirloin is one of the most tender cuts from the sirloin subprimal. With proper slicing, it becomes very tender and melts-in-your-mouth. Pros:
- Very tender
- Lean with good marbling
- Beefy, rich flavor
- Holds up well to quick, high-heat cooking
Flat Iron Steak
This modestly priced cut comes from the chuck primal. It has great beefy flavor and a tender texture when sliced against the grain. Pros:
- Tender when sliced properly
- Cooks quickly
- Lots of flavor
Tips for Preparing Beef for Stir-Fries
To set your stir-fry beef up for success, follow these preparation tips:
- Slice against the grain – This breaks up the muscle fibers for tenderness.
- Cut into thin strips – Very thin slices allow the beef to cook fast. Aim for 1/4 inch thick or less.
- Trim excess fat – Too much external fat can lead to greasiness.
- Velvet if desired – Coating with cornstarch, egg white, etc creates a velvety texture.
- Marinate briefly – 15-30 minutes adds flavor.
Comparing Cooking Times for Beef Stir-Fry Cuts
Cutting the beef into uniform, thin strips helps the various cuts cook in about the same amount of time. Here is a comparison:
Cook the beef in batches if needed to avoid crowding the pan and steaming instead of searing. High heat is essential for fast cooking and browning.
Sample Beef Stir-Fry Recipe
To highlight how delicious these beef cuts can be in a stir-fry, here is a simple recipe to try out:
- 1 lb flank steak
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 cup snap peas
- 2 scallions, sliced
- Cooked rice noodles or rice
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
- Slice the flank steak across the grain into 1/4 inch thick strips.
- In a bowl, combine 1 Tbsp cornstarch, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Add beef and toss to coat. Let marinate 15 minutes.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. When very hot, add 1 Tbsp vegetable/peanut oil. Add half the beef in a single layer. Stir fry 1-2 minutes until browned. Transfer to a plate.
- Repeat with remaining oil and beef.
- Return all beef to pan. Add bell pepper and snap peas. Stir fry 2 minutes.
- Add scallions and stir fry 1 minute.
- Serve immediately over rice noodles or rice. Garnish with sesame seeds.
The Takeaway on Beef for Stir-Fries
At the end of the day, flank steak, sirloin, skirt steak, and other fast-cooking cuts from the flank, round, and chuck shine when cut thinly against the grain and cooked over high heat. Their beefy flavor pairs wonderfully with bold Asian sauces. Pay attention to slicing with the muscle fibers in mind, use very high heat, and stir fry the beef in batches for the best results.
With a good cut like flank steak and the right technique, you can make restaurant-worthy beef stir-fries at home any night of the week.