Takeout is super convenient, but all those to-go orders can add up to a pretty penny. But spending less on takeout shouldn’t mean ditching those weekly favorites entirely. Instead, whip out your slow cooker and make a classic dish like kung pao beef right at home! This appliance does all the work of cooking the beef, vegetables and other ingredients until they’re sweet, spicy and tangy. Even better, this method doesn’t require tons of oil or cleanup afterwards. Just set aside 10 minutes to prep the ingredients for the slow cooker. Then, give this DIY takeout dish time to cook before serving it over a bed of rice or salad. Here’s how to make slow cooker kung pao beef so you can get your takeout fix without breaking the bank!
What is kung pao beef?
Kung pao beef is a stir-fried dish consisting of thin sliced beef, vegetables, chili peppers, peanuts and sauce. It’s a variation of kung pao chicken, a centuries-old dish from the Sichuan province of China. The combination of ingredients in kung pao beef produces a dish that’s sweet and sour, with a noticeable spiciness. Although it’s often cooked in a wok or skillet, using the slow cooker is an alternative option that doesn’t involve standing over a hot stove.
How the slow cooker helps create tasty kung pao beef
The gentle heat from a slow cooker helps break down the beef’s fibers, which produces tender meat. Similarly, the heat gradually cooks vegetables so they’re soft but still maintain a slight firmness. Ingredients within the sauce like soy sauce and garlic also have a chance to meld together and infuse the entire dish with delicious flavors.
Chef’s #1 tip for the best-ever kung pao beef dish
When making kung pao beef in the slow cooker, culinary creator Peter Som suggests letting the meat cook before adding the vegetables. “Remember to add the vegetables at the end of the cooking process so they don’t overcook (overcooking your veg will decrease nutrient levels) and maintain a nice tender crunch,” he says. Vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli are great choices as they’re sweet and earthy. Also, they’re rich in vitamin C and potassium — which help strengthen your immune system, reduce cancer risk and regulate cell function. For maximum flavor and health benefits, add the vegetables during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Delicious slow cooker kung pao beef recipe
This Slow Cooker Kung Pao Beef recipe from Robert Smith, private chef at Culinary Collective ATL, is a toss-together weeknight wonder! While the recipe uses 1 teaspoon of chili flakes for that signature spiciness, you can use less for a milder yet equally tasty dish. (If you’re looking for another cozy dish to whip up, try chicken cobbler.)
Slow Cooker Kung Pao Beef
- 1½ lbs. flank steak, thinly sliced
- ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- 2 Tbs. honey
- 2 Tbs. hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbs. cornstarch + 2 Tbs. water
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. ginger, grated
- 1 tsp. chili flakes
- 1 cup bell peppers, sliced
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- ½ cup unsalted peanuts
- Green onions, chopped (for garnish)
- Yield: 4 to 5 servings
- In medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, hoisin sauce, minced garlic, grated ginger and chili flakes.
- Place thinly sliced beef in slow cooker and pour sauce mixture over it. Stir to coat beef evenly.
- Cook on low 4 to 6 hours or on high 2 to 3 hours, until beef is tender. In small bowl, mix together cornstarch and water until completely smooth.
- During last 30 minutes of cooking, turn slow cooker on high and add cornstarch mixture, bell peppers, broccoli florets and peanuts. Stir to combine and cover.
- Once vegetables are tender and sauce is thick, garnish with green onions and serve.
Note: Omit peanuts if needed.
What to serve kung pao beef with
Once cooked, pair your kung pao beef with any of these five delicious sides.
1. Steamed rice
Fluffy white, brown or cauliflower rice is a hearty starch that absorbs the dish’s sweet and savory sauce.
2. Egg or rice noodles
The thick sauce also clings well to rich and filling egg or rice noodles.
3. Shredded vegetable salad
For extra crunch, serve the kung pao beef with a salad full of shredded cabbage, carrots and/or raw onions.
4. Plain fried rice
Serving the dish with fried rice offers a nice combination of salty and nutty flavors.
5. Spring rolls
Light and crispy spring rolls perfectly contrast the dish’s tender meat and vegetables.
For more slow cooker dishes, try these recipes!