Mongolian beef is one of the most popular Chinese takeout beef dishes. It's sweet and savory and has just enough char to imitate BBQ flavors. The beef is also super flavorful and totally addictive. You can easily make this recipe at home in 30 minutes and pair it with some sautéed garlic bok choy to complete the meal.
Chinese takeout dishes are a stable on our weekly menu because they are our ultimate comfort foods and always hit the spot. We usually have trouble choosing between chicken and broccoli and sesame chicken because both are so darn good.
But this Mongolian beef is really making the two compete for a spot on our dinner menu!
What is Mongolian beef?
Mongolian beef is one of the most popular Chinese takeout beef dishes that is believed to be from Taiwan. It is sweet and savory and stir fried with onions, green onions, and served over a bed of fried vermicelli rice noodles or simply with some rice.
But what makes Mongolian beef so popular and addictive?
The beef itself is super flavorful and tender from marinating and cooked using the velveting technique. Then, it's stir fried with Shaoxing rice wine and lots of onions, which makes it super aromatic. The beef stir fry is then seasoned with soy sauce and sugar that imitates the charred, caramelized flavors of BBQ beef through high heat of the wok, also known as "wok hei", making the dish sweet, savory, and impossibly addictive and hard to resist!
Ingredient notes and substitutions
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
For marinating the beef:
- Flank steak - This cut of beef is great for beef stir fry and is the most common cut of beef used in Chinese take-out dishes, like beef and broccoli. Beef flank steak is cheaper than some other cuts of beef and is very flavorful.
- Baking soda - The is the secret ingredient that Chinese restaurants use to make their beef super tender. Just a small amount will go a long way.
- Salt - For seasoning the beef.
- Shaoxing rice wine - It makes the beef more fragrant and also helps to get rid of any wanted beefy flavors. You can also use some dry sherry if you can't find Shaoxing or more water if you can't consume alcohol.
- Water and cornstarch - The water helps to hydrate the beef, so that the beef stays juicy even after cooking. It's also the binding element to velvet the beef with cornstarch. If you prefer, you could use potato starch instead.
- Oil - Any neutral oil will do. A small amount of oil added to the beef marinade helps to keep the beef from sticking to each other. It will be easier to separate the beef when cooking.
For the rest of the dish:
- Yellow onion and green onion - Not only do these onions season and flavor the Mongolian beef, they're also the veggies that make the dish!
- Garlic - To make the dish more aromatic and flavorful.
- Sugar and soy sauce - These are the main seasonings for Mongolian beef. If you prefer you could use brown sugar instead of granulated white sugar. As for soy sauce, you can use both regular or low sodium. However, if using low sodium soy sauce, you may need to use a little more.
- Black pepper - Although you can adjust the amount of black pepper in this recipe, we highly recommend using the amount suggested. Black pepper adds a nice touch of peppery note to the dish and a pleasant amount of heat as well. If you prefer, you could use some crushed red peppers instead.
- Shaoxing rice wine - Adding Shaoxing rice wine to the beef stir fry will dramatically make the dish more aromatic and flavorful. You can usually find Shaoxing at most Asian markets.
- Rice vermicelli noodles (optional) - Some Chinese restaurants serve Mongolian beef over a bed of fried rice noodle puffs. The fried vermicelli noodles add an extra texture to the dish and the noodles soaked with sauce becomes soft and chewy. We recommend medium thickness rice noodles for this.
Best cut of beef to use
Beef flank steak is the best cut of beef for quick stir fry dishes. It's cheaper but still flavorful, and you can easily tenderize it with a little bit of baking soda. You could use eye rounds, chuck roasts, and skirt steak as well, but they tend to be drier. Another reason we recommend flank stead is because it has a good ratio of fat so that the beef won't taste dry. Just make sure to cut the beef into slices no thicker than ¼ inch, against the grain.
You could also go for more expensive cuts like beef tenderloin, ribeye, and new york strip if your budget allows.
How to make Mongolian beef
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
1. Marinade the beef. Vigorously mix together the water, rice wine, salt, and baking soda to season and tenderize the beef slices. Add the cornstarch and oil to velvet the beef for cooking. Let the beef marinate for at least 10 to 15 minutes or overnight.
🌟 Pro tip: Semi-freeze the beef so that it's easier to cut into thin slices. It is important that the beef isn't too thick so that the beef doesn't take long too cook, which is essential to keeping the beef juicy and tender. Also, marinate the beef first, then move on to preparing the other ingredients to maximize time!
2. Sear the beef. Heat a wok or pan with enough oil to cover the bottom generously. Sear the beef on both sides until cooked and golden brown. Remove and set aside.
*If you don't mind using a bit more oil, fry the beef in about 1 inch of oil (around 375°F). Then, set the beef aside to drain on paper towels. This actually makes the cooking process easier.*
3. Stir fry the aromatics. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in the same wok or pan. Cook the garlic until fragrant, then add the yellow onion and white parts of the green onion. Stir fry briefly until the onions are no longer raw.
4. Stir fry the beef. Add the beef back into the pan and stir fry with black pepper. Drizzle the rice wine around the pan and cook until fragrant and the rice wine evaporates.
5. Season. Add the sugar and soy sauce and stir fry until everything is well combined and the Mongolian beef smells slightly caramelized/charred.
📝 Note: The caramel/charred smell is from the sugar. It imitates the "wok hei" from a wok and the additive BBQ flavors of Mongolian beef.
6. Finish. Add the green parts of the green onion and stir fry briefly. Serve over the bed of fried rice noodles and side of rice. Enjoy!
Fried vermicelli (rice noodle) nest
This step is totally optional, but some Chinese restaurants, like my parents, serve Mongolian beef over a bed of puffed rice vermicelli. The fried vermicelli adds a crispy element to the dish and when soaked with sauce, the vermicelli becomes soft and chewy, like cooked noodles. We recommend using medium thickness rice vermicelli noodles, like the ones used bún thịt nướng (Vietnamese grilled pork and vermicelli bowl).
To make the puffed rice vermicelli nest, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil until hot (about 350°F). Add the rice noodles and fry until puffy, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Set aside to drain.
🌟 Pro tip: A way to check if the oil is ready without a thermometer is to stick the tip of a wooden chopstick or wooden skewer into the oil. If the oil sizzle rapidly, it's ready.
- Freeze the beef for easier cutting. If you have time, semi-freeze the beef so that it's easier to cut into thin slices. But make sure to thaw the beef thoroughly and drain the blood before marinating.
- Allow the beef to marinate for at least 10 to 15 minutes, or even better overnight. This makes sure the beef is well seasoned, but more importantly, ensures the beef is well tenderized.
- Don't skimp on the onion and green onion. These onions are what makes Mongolian beef.
- Don't skip the black pepper or shaoxing rice wine if possible. Black pepper adds a nice bite to the sweet and savory beef stir fry, and shaoxing rice wine makes the dish super fragrant.
Storage and reheating
Leftover Mongolian beef can be stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. To reheat, simply sauté in a pan over medium heat with a small amount of water until hot.
Both of these beef dishes are popular Chinese takeout items. Mongolian beef a sweet and savory dish with lots of yellow and green onions. On the other hand, Szechuan beef is usually stir fried with more variety of vegetables and tastes savory and spicy with a hint of sweetness.
Every restaurant makes their Mongolian beef differently. Our Chinese takeout Mongolian beef copy-cat recipe uses only soy sauce, sugar, shaoxing rice wine, and black pepper for the sauce.
The secret to how Chinese takeout restaurants make their beef so tender is marinating with baking soda! The same applies to Mongolian beef. But do also make sure to slice the beef thinly and to no over-cook it.
If you’ve made this recipe or any recipes from our blog, please tag us on Instagram using #twoplaidaprons! You can also tag us in your Instagram stories using @two_plaid_aprons. We would love to see your creations! It absolutely makes our day! 🥰
For marinating the beef:
For the sauce:
For the rest of the dish:
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced (about 2 cloves)
- ½ large yellow onion sliced
- 1 bunch green onion cut into 2 inch pieces (separate the white and green parts)
- 1 ounce rice vermicelli medium thickness (optional; use more or less to preference)
- Oil as needed for cooking
Marinate the beef:
- In a mixing bowl, combine the thinly sliced flank steak, water, Shaoxing cooking wine, salt, and baking soda. Mix vigorously until the beef absorb most of of the liquid.
- Once most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the cornstarch and mix until the beef is well coated. Following, add the oil and mix until evenly distributed.
- Set the beef aside to marinate for about 10 to 15 minutes as you prepared the rest of the ingredients, or let the beef marinate in the fridge overnight.
(Optional) Fried vermicelli nest:
- While the beef is marinating, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil in a wok or pan until hot, about 350°F.*You can also check to see if the oil is hot enough by using a wooden chopstick or skewer. Put the tip of the chopstick in the oil, and if the oil sizzles rapidly, it's ready.*
- Once the oil is hot, put the dry rice noodles into the oil and fry until the noodles are puffy, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Fry in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside to drain on paper towels until needed.*Make sure the noodles are completely submerged so that they can fry properly.*
Make the Mongolian beef:
- In a wok or sauté pan, add enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil on medium to medium high heat.
- Once the oil is hot, add the marinated beef and sear on both sides until just cooked and golden brown. Make sure to separate the beef slices so that they cook evenly. Cook in batches if necessary. Remove and set aside.
- Into the same wok or sauté pan over medium high heat, keep about 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds.
- Next, add the sliced onions and the white parts of the green onions. Stir fry until the onions are just starting to turn translucent.
- Add the beef back into the pan, along with the black pepper. Stir fry briefly, then drizzle the Shaoxing cooking wine around the pan. Stir fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant and the rice wine is cooked off.
- Add the sugar and soy sauce and stir fry until the beef is well coated and the Mongolian beef is just starting to smell a little charred/caramelized.
- Finish the Mongolian beef by adding the green parts of the green onions. Sauté briefly to combine.
- Serve the mongolian beef over the prepared fried rice noodles. Enjoy!
- Freeze the flank steak for easier cutting. If you have time, semi-freeze the flank steak will make cutting it into thin slices much easier. Just make sure to let the beef thaw thoroughly and drain the blood before marinating.
- Sweetness - Feel free to reduce the sugar by 1 tablespoon if you prefer your Mongolian beef a little less sweet.
- Make it saucier - If you prefer your Mongolian beef saucier, use double the amount of soy sauce and sugar, along with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.