What is Pepper Steak?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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Pepper steak is a Chinese-American dish featuring strips of steak heavily seasoned with pepper. It is believed to have its origins in the cuisine of Fujian Province in China, where it was probably originally made with pork. This dish can be served as an appetizer or entree with rice or noodles or on its own. Chinese-American restaurants often have a version of pepper steak on their menus and this dish can be made at home very easily. In addition to being consumed hot, it can be eaten cold.

This dish typically includes thin strips of steak sauteed with bell peppers and seasoned with pepper, ginger, and soy sauce. Cornstarch may be added to thicken the sauce. Some cooks add onions for additional flavor and the dish can also include water chestnuts and other additions. Lots of pepper is added to make the dish strong and spicy and the dish can include a blend of different kinds of pepper. The spiciness can be increased by adding hot peppers, if desired.

People have been making various versions of this dish in the United States since at least the 1940s. The seasoning used in pepper steak tends to be stronger and heavier than the seasoning in traditional Chinese dishes. Chinese-American food in general often has more bold, aggressive flavors, reflecting American tastes in food. The sauce can also be very soupy, designed for absorption by noodles or rice served alongside the pepper steak.


Cooks interested in making pepper steak at home can use a variety of cuts of steak. If the steak is difficult to slice, putting it in the freezer for several hours to firm it up before slicing can be helpful. The peppers and other inclusions should be uniformly sliced so the dish will cook evenly, and it is advisable to avoid overloading the dish with extra vegetables, to allow the flavor of the steak to dominate.

To cook pepper steak, cooks should brown the meat in the pan before setting the meat aside, draining the pan, and cooking the vegetables. As the vegetables soften, the meat can be added back to the pan, along with the seasonings. Pepper and other spices can be added to taste and if the sauce is too thin, cornstarch can be added to thicken it as desired. Pepper steak should be served hot or refrigerated immediately to reduce the risk of attracting bacteria known to cause foodborne illness.


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Post 9

@letshearit - You probably just used too many onions if you pepper steak lost its peppery taste. There is an amazing little Chinese restaurant near my house that serves pepper steak, and they always add in some onions for a bit of extra flavor. If you are careful with how much of the ingredients you use you should have fewer problems in the future.

For myself, I always make sure to either leave something out if I am unsure of how it is going to taste, or I just add a small bit. I suppose I am a bit more of a cautious cook than you.

Post 8

When you cook your own pepper steak at home make sure that you don't go to town with any vegetables that have a strong flavor. I was feeling a bit to experimental one day and decided pepper steak with sautéed onions would hit the spot. Unfortunately the onions I used completely drowned out the taste of the peppers I was using.

This was certainly a lesson hard learned. While my meal was still delicious, I wouldn't say I could call it pepper steak any more. I guess onion steak just won't be as popular as pepper steak. The same also goes for using garlic, it just doesn't jive with the peppers.

Post 7

I have made pepper steak many times, and most bell pepper steak recipes I have found are pretty similar in the ingredients they use.

I came across one recipe that called for water chestnuts and I thought this sounded like it would be good. I really liked the added crunch they gave to the recipe, and they blended in well with the peppers and onions.

This is one dish that always goes over well and is pretty hard to mess up - those are the kind of meals I like to make!

Post 6

In the summer when I have an abundance of peppers, I will make pepper steak stir fry about once a week.

I like to use top sirloin for the meat and cook all of this on the stove top. I use a combination of red and green peppers, and when I have cherry tomatoes ready, always add them to the recipe along with some onion.

This is a great way to use some of my fresh vegetables and is quick and easy. I never have to worry about having leftovers when I make this meal.

Post 5

Pepper steak is one of my husbands favorite meals. He loves steak fixed just about any way, and also loves the taste of peppers, so this is a perfect combination for him.

I have a slow cooker pepper steak recipe that I find myself using over and over again. It is so easy to put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker, turn it on low and it is ready when I walk in the door from work.

I usually serve this over rice or noodles, but if I want a little crunch, will also add some chow mein noodles on top.

Post 4

I think pepper steak is being too Americanized. I looked up several recipes because I have it for lunch a lot. There is a Chinese restaurant near where I work and it's one of my favorite spots for lunch and they make really good pepper steak.

I decided I would try and make it at home for some guests I'm expecting tomorrow but the recipes I've found so far are not very "Chinese" so to speak. Quite a few of them actually call for potatoes and cream for sauce! Since when has potatoes and cream become regular ingredients in Chinese cooking?

I know that what I have at the restaurant isn't 100 percent authentic Chinese food but it's

very similar. It has the spices, the soy sauce, the same style of cooking. I think the pepper steak that most of these recipes call for are something totally different despite having been labeled as "Chinese pepper steak."

Maybe it's time we separate them and call what's American "American pepper steak" and what's Chinese "Chinese pepper steak." I still think that the "Chinese-American pepper steak" is closer to Chinese cuisine than American. But it's definitely moving towards American cuisine, which I'm actually sad about.

Post 3

I thought that pepper steak just existed in Chinese and American cuisine, but it's in French cuisine too!

I had this several times when I went to France. Pepper steak in France is called "steak au poivre." It's made much differently than the Chinese-American version. The meat is not cut into strips. It just requires sirloin steaks and good quality peppercorns.

Both times I had steak au poivre in France, I could taste the butter that it was cooked in and it looked like the crushed peppers were just pressed into the steaks before it was cooked. It was very tasty though and usually accompanied with some veggies or a starch like potatoes.

The second one I had also had a little bit of creamy sauce on top of the steak but I'm not sure how that was made. It's definitely a different version of the Chinese pepper steak I've had in the U.S. but equally tasty.

Post 2

I do like trying new and different foods but I also have a very American taste in food. This is one of my favorite Chinese foods because I think it's more American in flavor than the others. I can't get myself to have sweet and sour chicken for some reason but I can easily have two plates of pepper steak and rice. It's great!

Post 1

I love Mongolian beef and pepper steak. These are my absolute favorite Chinese dishes. I recently saw a slow cooker pepper steak recipe that really seemed easy to make.

You first have to brown the sirloin steak and then you place it in the slow cooker along with the pepper, onions, beef bouillon cubes, garlic, soy sauce, canned tomatoes and some sugar with a dash of salt. You just cook it on high for about four hours and that is all you have to do.

I think I am going to try it because this because really sounds easy to make. I also love the fact that I can throw the ingredients in the slow cooker and then clean around the house and not have to worry about watching the stove.

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