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What Is The Biggest Difference Between Hunan Beef & Szechuan Beef?

Interested in cooking native Chinese cuisine? Or just found the delicious recipes that make hunan beef and Szechuan beef.

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just beginning to cook in the kitchen at home, knowing the difference between Hunan and Szechuan beef can be challenging.

With unique characteristics that make them worthy of being in your weekly dinner rotation, it’s important to know what you’re cooking.

What Is The Biggest Difference Between Hunan Beef & Szechuan Beef?

In this article you’ll find the defining characteristics that separate hunan beef from Szechuan beef. You’ll know exactly what you’re cooking and how to make it perfectly. You will soon become the designated chef in your household. 

Hunan Beef

In this method, a spicy brown sauce is created with an overnight marinade and used with meat. Flank steak is swiftly cooked with peppers and garlic after marinating ideally overnight.

This approach gives a stronger flavor to the beef. The spices and tastes from the fresh chili and garlic are what make it unique. 

There are certain procedures that can be utilized to prepare Hunan Beef, even though there are some variations in the cooking techniques employed based on the dish.

Hunan Beef History 

Created during the 17th century, Hunan Beef is the most influential dish from the Xiang region. With components that are symbolic of the agricultural contribution of the Huna Province, Xiang River and Dongting Lake.

This is what gives Hunan Beef that nostalgic feeling through the use of so many fresh ingredients. 

Served hot or cold depending on your preference, Hunan Beef is always a favorite. 

Whilst there are a range of techniques used to prepare Hunan food, Hunan Beef is more popularly made by stir-frying the beef with fresh spices and vegetables.

The aim is to give the meat a crispy taste and texture so you always get that perfect crunch. 

Prepare And Present Hunan Beef 

In order to create the perfect Hunan Beef, the most important parts are the preparation and presentation of the dish. 

When preparing the hunan beef, the marinade is what gives it the depth that keeps us coming back for more. The marinade is generally made up of baking soda, water and oyster sauce with a mixture of spices.

The goal is to let the baking soda soak into the beef and when it hits the frying pan or wok it gets that gorgeous sizzle. 

When it comes to cooking the beef, it’s important to include a mixture of peppers. These can be chosen based on personal preference, however a combination of sweet and spicy are recommended. 

Make sure to throw in some extra fresh chillies and fresh garlic to get the full Hunan beef experience. 

Presenting the dish is rather simple. As it is of the stir-fry family this dish can be presented on a plate or a bowl. However, we recommend presenting it in a large dish with a spoon or tongs for everyone to dig in. 

Features Of Hunan Beef 

Whilst this dish is inherently simple to create, this dish is still a show stopper. Traditionally, this dish requires dried beef which is similar to beef jerky in texture. However, regular stir-frying beef can be used once coated in cornstarch. 

The most important feature of Hunan beef is to get the beef nice and crispy. From here you can personalize the recipe as much as you wish.

Add Shaoxing cooking wine to the marinade for a sweetness that compliments the stiffness of the oyster sauce. If you can’t get your hands on shaoxing cooking wine you can use a dry sherry.  

Not to mention the abundance of spices which can be used to tweak the recipe time and time again. We recommend adding a teaspoon of ground cumin for an extra kick.

Or if you prefer a more mild taste then you can leave the recipe as is. 

Make It At Home 

When faced with recreating Chinese inspired cuisine at home, people often find themselves intimidated. Hunan Beef is the perfect entry dish. With a few simple ingredients you could be serving a delicious home-cooked meal. 

Marinade Ingredients

  • 12 oz Flank Steak or thinly sliced stir-frying beef
  • ½ tbsp Shaoxing cooking wine 
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce 
  • ½ peanut oil

Cooking Ingredients 

  • 4 dried thai chili peppers
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • ⅛ tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil


Start by thinly slicing your beef and adding in the marinade ingredients to one bowl. Mix until your beef is nicely coated in the marinade.

Leave this to marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. 

Once your beef has been marinating for 30 minutes or more you can now begin cooking. Add your beef to a pot of boiling water. Let the meat tenderize for 1 minute before taking it out.

This is called velveting and will give your meat a juicy, tender finish. 

Now that your beef is resting to one side, grab a wok or a deep frying pan. Add 1 tbsp of peanut oil to your pan over a high heat and your 2 cloves of minced garlic and the chopped chilis.

Let them fry off for 1 minute to release the gorgeous aroma and then add your beef to the pan. Add your soy sauce, rice vinegar, ground ginger and sugar to your pan and mix. 

You can add any peppers you’d like to give the dish more flavor and depth.

Let this cook and then you’re ready to serve! 

Serve with some whit rice and dumplings to make a full Asian inspired meal. 

Szechuan Beef 

The Szechuan province, renowned for producing the strongest flavors in China, is perhaps one of the most well-known for Chinese food both inside and outside of China.

Szechuan is unique due to the implementation of the Szechaun peppercorn. This pepper gives a numbing effect to the mouth and allows for a much greater flavor to be experienced.

This style of cooking is iconic and one of the most popular forms of Chinese cooking. 

History Of Szechuan Beef

History Of Szechuan Beef 

The cooking style of the Szechuan Province was produced in the era of the  Qin and Han dynasties. Although the addition of the Szechaun pepper is more recent, only being added in the late 17th century. 

Known as the land of the plenty, it produces a wide variety of meats, poultry and fish. With over 5,000 Szechuan recipes to be enjoyed it’s no wonder it has taken over the world. 

The main components of the dish are thinly sliced beef, broccoli, onions, peanuts,water chestnuts and of course chili, all stir-fried in a delicious Szechuan pepper sauce. Keep reading to find out how you can cook Szechuan Beef at home. 

Preparation And Presentation Of Szechuan Beef 

A chili paste is typically used in Szechuan beef preparations. When a chili paste is used, the food that results has a red sauce rather than a brown sauce.

This red sauce immediately gives the food the appearance of being spicier on the outside.

Similar to Hunan Beef, Szechuan beef requires the beef to be marinated before cooking. The creation of the Szechuan marinade and sauce can be completely customized depending on the level of spice you enjoy. 

The more traditional version of Szechuan Beef is rather spicier. Using a mix of fresh chilis, Szechuan peppercorns and dry heat to give a crispier, spicier result. 

To present this dish to your family and friends, serve with steamed rice or veggies. Perfect as a sharing dish and you can be sure there will be nothing but the dishes left for cleaning.

If you do happen to have leftovers, simply store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days!

Features Of Szechuan Beef 

Much like Hunan beef, the main defining feature of Szechuan beef is the crispy crunch of the beef with every bite.

However, if you prefer to have a more saucy version of the dish you can add chicken stock or water to great a tasty broth. Either way the dish is delicious!

Szechuan Beef is often considered as being spicy and sweet rather than a full-on, mouth burning heat.

Adding the Szechuan peppercorns is what takes this dish to the next level with the garlic and ginger bringing a nice, calming sweetness to the dish. 

The customization of this dish is what makes it a world favorite. Whether you prefer to feel the burn and numb your mouth or enjoy a sweeter taste, Szechuan Beef is literally whatever you make it!

Make It At Home 

Creating Szechuan Beef at home is simple. With simple yet flavorsome ingredients you will create an all-around pleasing dish for everyone to enjoy. To help you start making Szechuan beef today we’ve put together a simple recipe below. 

Marinade Ingredients 

  • Beef tenderloin 
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch 
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce

Cooking Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil 
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp chili oil 
  • Water
  • ½ tbsp sesame oil 
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar


Begin by slicing your beef into thin strips. Place the beef and the marinade ingredients into a bowl and mix until the beef is evenly coated. Set the bowl aside and let it marinate for at least 15 minutes. 

Once marinated you can now grab a large skillet or wok and place it over a high heat. Coat the pan in your oil and add the beef.

The beef must cook quickly over a high heat to become crispy. Sear the beef for 2-3 minutes then remove and place to one side. 

Now you are going to add the remaining oil to the pan and add in the rest of your ingredients. Sautee for 3-4 minutes until tender.

Now you add both your beef and sauce to the pan and let it simmer for 2 minutes to thicken. Serve immediately with steamed rice and veggies. Top with sesame seeds for a professional finish. 

Add in a small amount of red chili paste to get that stunning red color to your beef.

There you have your impressive, home-made Szechuan beef! Ready to be enjoyed with friends and family. 

What’s The Difference?

Whilst both dishes seem rather similar in terms of ingredients and cooking styles there is one main difference. 

Szechuan includes the mind-numbing heat of the Szechuan peppercorn. Both use Chinese cooking staples of chili and garlic but the Szechuan peppercorns give way to those powerful flavors in a unique way. 

Try out these recipes and discover which one is for you. Hunan beef or Szechuan beef, you be the judge!

Jess Smith