Pepper Steak is tender and juicy slices of Steak mixed with peppers and lots of onion in a silky and flavorful sauce.
In this post, you will learn how to cook pepper steak on a stovetop, in a crockpot, how to velvet Steak's cheap cuts to make the perfect Chinese pepper steak, plus many tips to take this dish to the next level!
We more than often have pepper steak for dinner, and I’ll show you how to make it an unforgettable meal. I’m sure that you will enjoy this pepper steak recipe more than the takeout you order from your local Chinese restaurant.
This dish can be served with noodles but mostly served with rice; therefore, it is called pepper steak and rice at some restaurants.
Pepper Steak Recipe
I used to think that pepper steak is a Chinese dish but searching for the authentic recipe, I realized that there is no Chinese dish with this name! It’s a Chinese American dish that’s modified a few times and has more than one version.
Let’s talk about the steak. So, you have a favorite steak cut, and you like it cooked either medium, medium-rare, or well done, right? I enjoy Steak too, and my favorite cuts are Rib Eye and Chuck, and I love my steak juicy and tender, but also safe to store.
Let’s not fight over how to cook Steak; none of us will win; everyone likes his Steak prepared in a certain way. In America, Canada, Australia, and Europe, the steak is cooked for few minutes and then consumed.
But I also have an audience from different parts of the world where they prefer the steak/meat to cook until tender. I plan to please both sides!
In this post, I will share my way of making pepper steak, I cook the meat a little longer, but it stays tender even when reheated. I will also share how to cook pepper steak in minutes for those used to cooking steak in a shorter time on high heat.
Pepper Steak is a delicious stir fry dinner that you will love to make for your family, and with all the tips and suggestions below, I’m sure that you can easily add your touch to it.
Although it is called pepper steak, you can replace beef with chicken or fish; the only difference is cooking time, keep the measurements and ingredients the same.
Read on to learn how to cook this dish using white meat!
Why You’ll Love This Easy Pepper Steak Recipe
This Pepper Steak recipe is incredible and here’s why:
Easy: It’s incredibly easy to make and doesn’t require any planning ahead of time!
Pantry-staple ingredients: This dish packs a punch when it comes to flavor but it only requires pantry-staple ingredients.
Juicy and tender: Regardless of the beef cut you end up using, my post will teach you everything you need to know to make the steak incredibly tender and juicy.
Big flavors: Don’t underestimate the simple ingredients this recipe calls for, because you’re going to get big flavors!
Customizable and versatile: This recipe is absolutely perfect on its own but if you’re looking for the perfect Chinese stir-fry beef recipe to use as a base and to experiment with, this is the one you need.
Family-friendly: This recipe has rich flavors but it’s perfect for particularly everyone! Kids and adults seem to love it.
What is Pepper Steak?
Like I said above, Pepper Steak is actually a Chinese American dish that was adapted along the way. Let me tell you more about this incredible, family-favorite!
You’ve most likely come across this recipe at your favorite Chinese restaurant. If you haven’t, this recipe is everything you’ve ever wanted – trust me!
Pepper Steak (青椒牛肉 in Chinese) is a popular stir-fried Chinese American dish that has thinly sliced steak pieces that are stir-fried to a beautiful, juicy texture and cooked with a savory sauce along with red and green bell peppers.
The soy sauce that I’ll be sharing with you is the quintessential, classic Pepper Steak sauce that you won’t be able to get enough of.
Where Did Pepper Steak Originate From?
Pepper steak is a dish that evolved from another Chinese recipe in the 1940s. The dish is known as Qīngjiāo Ròusī (青椒炒肉絲) and is originally from the Hokkien cuisine.
Hokkien cuisine (also known as Fujian cuisine) originates from the Fsuzhou, China. This cuisine emphasizes umami taste and is known to be light, yet flavorful.
This original dish was pork-based but evolved into the delicious beef dish we know today. It was also a lot more lightly seasoned than the flavorful Pepper Steak we have come to love.
What Does Pepper Steak Taste Like?
Pepper Steak is rich with an incredible layering of flavors. It has a little salty flavor from the soy sauce, a slightly sweet flavor from the sugar, and an incredible blend of flavors from the garlic, ginger, and onion powder.
It’s rich enough to enjoy, but not so much that it’ll be overwhelming. The simplicity of the flavors and pantry-staple ingredients make it the perfect weeknight dinner recipe.
If you prefer your Pepper Steak a little less salty due to dietary restrictions, you can use low-sodium soy sauce instead but it'll still give the best flavor ever!
What’s the Difference between Pepper Steak, Mongolian Beef, Beef and Broccoli, and Szechuan Beef?
If you’re a Chinese food lover like me, you’ve probably tried a bunch of different beef dishes at your local Chinese restaurant. And so, you might have a few questions:
What’s the difference between Pepper Steak and Mongolian Beef?
How is Pepper Steak different than Szechuan Beef? And what about Beef and Broccoli?
Well, there’s definitely a noticeable difference between the flavors of each of these dishes. Let’s look at what it is:
Pepper Steak vs Mongolian Beef
Mongolian Beef is known for its mildly sweet flavor but Pepper Steak has a more savory, umami taste. Both recipes use very similar ingredients but Pepper Steak packs a punch more than Mongolian Beef.
Pepper Steak vs Szechuan Beef
Both these dishes also use similar ingredients (that’s what I love about stir-fries!) but Szechuan Beef is known for the Szechuan peppercorns that go in the dish. It gives the dish a very unique flavor, with a spicy, tingly sensation. Szechuan beef also has a chili paste in the recipe.
Pepper Steak vs Beef and Broccoli
Beef and Broccoli has a more umami flavor than even Pepper Steak because of the addition of oyster sauce to the dish. Pepper Steak also has an umami flavor, but it’s milder and great for people new to Chinese dishes (and also kids!).
Pepper Steak primarily uses red and green bell peppers, while Beef and Broccoli use broccoli in the stir fry.
What Kind of Beef is Used for Pepper Steak?
I love using Chuck Steak for Pepper Steak, but there are many other options you can go with. Another great option is flank steak as it also has just the right amount of fats and protein to make it tender, and not chewy or rubbery.
You can also use other prime cuts such as tenderloin, top sirloin steak, skirt steak, top round steak, or ribeye steak if you already have it at hand. Otherwise, it’s really not necessary to go for these expensive options.
You can also choose economical cuts like rump steak or hanger steak. I will explain how to make these cuts tender in this post under the section How to Velvet (Tenderize) the Beef.
How Spicy is Pepper Steak?
Pepper Steak really isn’t too spicy, but you’ll find that it’s incredibly flavorful and savory.
The obvious assumption when you hear about Pepper Steak is that the ‘pepper’ part refers to black pepper, but that’s not the case! It actually refers to the green and red bell peppers that give this dish that incredible color and flavor.
But that being said, this recipe and dish are versatile, and you can make it spicier if you’d like to. Add more black pepper to the recipe to add heat without taking away from the umami flavor of the sauce.
How to Make Pepper Steak Recipe Using White Meat
If you are not fond of red meat, you can make this recipe with white meat and enjoy it just as much; you can also use tofu. The sauce used in this pepper steak recipe goes well with any meat.
When using chicken, boneless and skinless thighs are the best part to use. If you are using chicken breast, then make sure not to overcook it, or it’ll turn out dry and chewy.
I would like you to make this recipe as is and then add your touch to it. Cooking pepper steak as per the recipe card will give you an idea of how ingredients work together and how it tastes. Accordingly, you can add more ingredients (like vegetables) or omit some.
Pepper steak is quick to prepare dinner, and you don’t have to buy Steak's expensive cuts to make it. The spices and the vegetables in this recipe are the right combinations developing a unique flavored sauce that wraps each slice of steak.
What You Need to Make the Best Pepper Steak
Chuck steak cut into medium slices; or cut it into thin slices to reduce cooking time. You can use flank steak or rib-eye steak. You can also choose economical cuts like rump steak or hanger steak. I will explain how to make these cuts tender in this post under How to Velvet (tenderize) the beef.
Large white onion cut into medium strips; the onion gives a great compliment to Steak's cut, but if you prefer a sharper flavor, use red onion instead.
Green and red bell peppers. You can use yellow and orange bell peppers, but they are sweeter, softer in texture, and won’t have that crunch when cooked. Do not use frozen bell pepper to make pepper steak. The frozen pepper will turn soggy and will ruin the taste of the sauce. You need that crunch so please always use fresh peppers.
Water. Always add boiling water; warm or cold water will decrease the ingredients' temperature and increase the cooking time.
Oil. It’s better to use flavorless oils like canola oil and sunflower oil to brown the Steak. Olive oil can be used (if you wish), but its flavor may not go well with the other ingredients.
Ingredients for Pepper Steak Sauce
Soy sauce: If possible, use low sodium to control the amount of salt in the pepper steak recipe.
Cornstarch: I prefer cornstarch to thicken the sauce, but you can also use flour. When using flour, keep the ratio the same as when using cornstarch.
Sugar: Brown sugar will enhance the flavor, but you can substitute it with white sugar or honey.
Water: This helps the sauce reach the right consistency.
Onion, garlic, and ginger powder: These spices add a beautiful layer of flavor to the sauce and make this dish what it truly is.
What Other Vegetables Can I Add?
Pepper Steak is known for its two classic ingredients: steak and bell peppers, so you basically need only bell peppers as the veggies to make this beautiful dish. Red peppers add a nice sweetness to the dish that’s matched by the incredible taste of green peppers.
But what’s best about this dish is that you can add whichever vegetables you want to it! Feel free to mix and match and add the veggies you have on hand or the ones that are in season.
Here are a few great choices:
- Baby Corn
- Bean sprouts
- Snap Peas
- Snow Peas
How to Velvet (Tenderize) the Beef?
You probably have wondered how come the beef in Chinese restaurants is so tender and almost melts in your mouth; well, they use a technique called velveting; this technique also speeds up the beef's cooking time. If you want to make pepper steak similar to the one served in the restaurants, you can do so at home with simple ingredients.
Keep in mind that in Chinese restaurants, they use cheap cuts of meat. Hence, they tend to tenderize it to give it a better texture. You don’t have to velvet or tenderize the beef if you have a good cut like rib eye, tenderloin, or T- Bone.
There are Two Ways to Tenderize the Beef:
You can use baking soda (don’t use baking powder, it will not work) or use egg white. If you want to velvet the meat to use it in this recipe, then skip the step where you add water and cook the meat for 45 minutes.
Baking soda method: We are using 1lb/500gm chuck steak, so mix ½ teaspoon leveled of baking soda with 4 tablespoon water. Pour the mixture over the beef and mix well with your hand. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse the meat properly to remove the baking soda. Pat the meat dry using a kitchen towel. In case you want to use this method in other Chinese dishes, then remember not to use baking soda with a marinade, including vinegar or lemon juice; the baking soda will lose its effect to tenderize the meat when acid exists.
Egg white method: Add one egg white to the meat and mix well, cover, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Rinse the meat and pat dry. Now it is ready for cooking.
Important Note: The methods mentioned above are for thin slices of meat and small cubes of meat used in making stews. Do not use these methods on full-size steak; the texture will be weird because the tenderizing ingredients will not go deep in a thick slice of meat; you will end up with two completely different textures from the outside and inside the Steak.
How to Make Pepper Steak with Onion at Home
What everyone looks for in a pepper steak stir fry is tender meat, peppers with a slight crunch, and flavorful sauce. In the pepper steak recipe, I’m sharing today, the cooking time might be a little longer, but the outcome is a fantastic dinner. It is also safer to store because the meat is thoroughly cooked. More on how to store the leftover coming up!
- In a frying pan, add the oil, and when hot, fry the steaks in batches. Make sure to brown both sides of the steak slices, cook on high heat. Crowding the pan will slow the process of browning the meat. When the meat slices touch the pan, the temperature decreases and force the meat to release the juices instead of capturing it inside.
- Remove the meat after browning and cover it with foil properly; this step will allow the meat to rest and continue cooking using the heat in the juices captured inside it.
- In the same pan, add the onion and fry on high until translucent. Remove from the pan and keep aside.
- Fry the bell peppers for a few seconds and remove from the pan and keep aside.
- Return the meat to the pan and season with salt and black pepper, stir for a minute and then add the boiling water and cook for 45 minutes until the meat is tender.
- Now add the onion and bell pepper and stir for a minute.
- Mix the sauce ingredients and pour over the Steak. Stir the mixture until the sauce thickens.
I cook the meat for 45 minutes to make sure of two things:
- The meat is tender and thoroughly cooked.
- If I store it in the fridge or freezer, I know for sure that it’s safe to reheat it.
If you want a faster version of cooking the meat, then do the following:
- In a frying pan, add oil, keep the heat on high.
- Add the meat, don’t crowd the pan with the meat.
- Do not touch the meat at all for 1 minute. Flip the meat and cook for another minute on the other side. Remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes, and then follow the recipe skipping the step where you add water to cook the meat for 45 minutes.
How to Make Crockpot Pepper Steak
Making pepper steak in a crockpot saves time, and you get to have the same flavor but with less work. It will take you 10 minutes to prepare your ingredients when you make crockpot pepper steak, and it includes cutting the vegetables, slicing the Steak, and mixing the sauce.
- Place the Steak at the bottom of the crockpot, then add the rest of the vegetables and seasoning. Pour the sauce mixture and close the lid.
- Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours or on high for 4 hours.
- If you want the bell peppers to stay a little crisp, then add them an hour before the cooking time is up.
Notes on Cooking Pepper Steak in a Crockpot
- For more flavor, brown the meat in a frying pan and then add it to the crockpot.
- Fry the onion until translucent and add it to the crockpot with the rest of the ingredients.
- Do not velvet or tenderize the meat for cooking in a crockpot. The meat should be tender since it is cooking on low heat for a longer time.
- To further thicken the sauce, an hour before the dish is ready, mix half a cup from the sauce with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, then add it to the crockpot and mix gently. Close the lid and continue cooking.
How to Cut the Steak Against the Grain
There is another way to enjoy a tender cut of steak, and it’s by cutting the Steak against the grain. The grains in the meat are the muscle fibers; you will find thin lines running across the beef when you look closely.
If you cut the meat parallel to those thin lines, you will end up with a very chewy piece of meat. You must cut against the muscle fibers, and you do this if you are cutting raw or cooked Steak; in both cases cutting against the grain will give you a tender slice.
To make cutting a raw steak easy and fast, you should use a sharp knife. Another tip to make the slicing of a raw steak easy is by freezing the Steak for 30 minutes and then cutting it into thin slices.
How to Store Pepper Steak Leftovers
The pepper steak leftover can last up to 4 days in the fridge if stored in an airtight container. Reheat by either microwaving it or heating it on the stovetop in a pan.
You can freeze the leftover after putting it in an airtight container for 3 months. Thaw the pepper steak in the fridge for 6 to 7 hours and then heat it in the microwave or stovetop.
Note: Although you can freeze the pepper steak, keep in mind that the bell peppers will come out a little mushy!
Pepper Steak Variation Ideas
This Pepper Steak recipe is all you can dream of, but here are a few ways you can change up the flavor and make this recipe your own:
Add sweet heat to this dish by adding in some sweet chili sauce.
Make it hot and spicy by adding some homemade Schezwan Sauce or red pepper flakes to it.
Make it sweeter by adding more sugar to the recipe.
Add herbs such as Thai basil or cilantro to make it refreshing.
Add a crunch by adding some nuts such as peanuts, or water chestnuts.
Make it tropical by adding mangoes, pineapple, or Mandarin oranges.
Other Recipes You’ll Love
Perfect Parboiled Rice: Want to whip up some rice to serve with your Pepper Steak? Here’s a foolproof rice recipe that’ll give you perfectly cooked rice every single time. You have got to try this one!
Schezwan Sauce: Looking for a spicy, homemade Chinese sauce? This Schezwan sauce recipe requires minimal effort, is healthier, and tastes better than most restaurant and store-bought versions. It's simple, it's quick and it's tasty. Plus, you don't need any exotic ingredients to make it at home. It’s the perfect sauce for some stir fry rice or noodles, or to even add to your Pepper Steak to spice things up!
Chicken Fried Rice: Craving a delicious stir fried rice? This Chicken Fried Rice recipe is absolutely incredible and so easy to make that you’ll be amazed! Whether you have it with your favorite stir fry, or on its own, this fried rice is delicious in every way!
Pepper Steak with Onions
- 1 lbs chuck steak cut into medium slices
- 1 large onion cut into medium strips
- ½ green bell pepper cut into medium strips
- ½ red bell pepper cut into medium strips
- 1 leveled teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 2 cup Boiling water
- 3 tablespoon oil
- FOR THE SAUCE
- 3 tablespoon soy sauce I used low sodium
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup warm water
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon ginger powder you can use fresh
- In a pan, add three tablespoon oil and fry the chuck in two batches until brown on both sides. Remove and keep aside. Don't crowd the pan when browning.
- In the same oil fry the onion until translucent. Remove and keep aside.
- In the same pan, fry the bell peppers for few seconds and keep aside.
- Add the fried chuck back to the pan, Season the chuck with salt and black pepper. Add two cups boiling water and let it cook on medium heat for 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Add water if the meat is still tough and continue cooking.
- When the meat is cooked add the onion and bell pepper.
- Mix the sauce ingredients and pour over the steak, stir until the sauce thickens.
- Serve hot.
- You can use other cuts of meat, like T-Bone, Rib Eye, and Tenderloin.
- How to cut the Steak against the grain in the post above.
- The crockpot pepper steak recipe is in the post above.
- Tips on tenderizing and velveting the beef in the post above.
- You can add more vegetables to the pepper steak, like mushrooms, carrots, and zucchini.
- This post was originally posted in 2017, updated in November 2020, and again in March 2022.