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Thai Basil Beef

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Calories: 296
thai basil beef over white rice in a large white bowl

A speedy, savory Thai beef basil stir fry that’s just a bit spicy and really hits the spot.

We Had You At “Thai Basil”, Right?

Have you had that revelatory moment yet? You know the one, where you’re eagerly gobbling up your favorite Thai dishes, and you suddenly realize that the thing you love most about Thai food is the abundant use of basil. It shows up in curries, stir-fries, noodle dishes—so many dishes get a fragrant boost from this simple herb. There are many different varieties of basil, though, and in America the most readily available variety is not the kind that’s typically used in Thai cuisine. Authentically Thai dishes would ideally be made with holy basil, but that’s OK! We’re calling for sweet basil here, simply because we know you’ll be able to find it—though if you can find holy basil, by all means use it. Even with this non-traditional swap, this dish is still very delicious and brims with Thai flavors thanks to fresh lime juice, fish sauce, and plenty of garlic and chili paste.

thai basil beef in a large white skillet with a wooden spoon

Chili Paste: Let’s Discuss.

For Asian stir-fry recipes like this, when we call for “chili paste” we mean this stuff—simple, spicy, delicious sambal oelek. Sambal brings heat (but not too much) and not much else, which is exactly how we like it. Sriracha has its place, but it is flavored with sugar and other spices and it can complicate things. In our Thai basil beef recipe, sambal stands in for fresh chilis—scooping some chili paste out of a jar is a lot easier than messing around with fresh chilis.

ingredients for thai basil beef in small bowls

Now You Know You Need Chili Paste! What Else?

While this recipe—the simple, Thai flavors and quick stir-frying method—works well with almost any kind of ground meat you have on hand, we love it most of all made with ground beef. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:

  • Neutral oil—vegetable or canola work best.
  • Ground beef
  • A bell pepper
  • Onion
  • A lot of fresh garlic
  • Soy sauce or tamari
  • Fish sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Fresh lime
  • Basil—using Thai holy basil (if you’re lucky enough to find it) makes this spicy beef stir-fry worthy of the name “phat ka-phrao” which means “holy basil stir-fry”. If you can’t find Thai holy basil (it can be hard to track down) just use sweet basil.
ground beef cooked in a large white skillet
ground beef with onions and bell peppers in a large white skillet
thai basil beef topped with fresh basil
thai beef basil in a large white skillet

Thai Beef Basil: 15 Minutes from Start to Finish!

Bold flavors and high heat team up to make for a delectable dinner that you’ll barely believe you made yourself. We’re not trying to put your favorite Thai restaurant out of business, but you’ll be amazed how easy it is to cook Thai basil beef at home. Give it a try next time the craving strikes! Here’s how:

  1. Whisk a quick sauce: chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice. P.S. this sauce is good on everything. Marinate chicken in it, drizzle it on fish before roasting—there’s no wrong way.
  2. Crank the heat! When your oil is nice and hot, begin to stir-fry the beef. After a few minutes add the vegetables.
  3. Pour the sauce over the stir-fried beef and veggies, and toss in the basil.
  4. Serve! With white or brown rice, or if you’re trying to avoid carbs, you could even serve it in lettuce cups.
Thai basil beef in a large white skillet
thai basil beef over white rice in a large white bowl

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Swap take-out in favor of staying in and getting cozy with these easy Thai recipes:

Tools You’ll Need:

Spicy Date Night In, Anyone?

Whether you’re feeding a crowd, or just need a quick dinner for two, Thai beef basil is as easy and delicious as you can get. Snap a photo of your Thai basil beef and maybe even a video of the beautiful people you feed it to. Tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper so we can see and share!

Thai Basil Beef

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 15 min
  • Calories: 296


  • 2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb ground beef 90/10
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, divided
  • fresh cilantro (optional)

Thai Basil Beef Sauce

  • 1 tbsp chili paste
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free alternative)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice


  1. In a small bowl combine chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice until incorporated, set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon and stirring often, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic to the beef and cook until vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the sauce mixture along with the fresh basil (reserving a fresh few leaves for the top) and continue cooking until basil starts to wilt.
  5. Serve over rice topped with fresh basil and fresh cilantro. Enjoy!

Note: If using low sodium soy sauce, add ½ tsp salt to ground beef.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories 296
  • Protein 25 g
  • Carbohydrates 11 g
  • Total Fat 18 g
  • Dietary Fiber 1 g
  • Cholesterol 70 mg
  • sodium 540 mg
  • Total Sugars 6 g

Thai Basil Beef

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • KC

    I can not get fish sauce at my grocery store.. is there anything I can replace that with? Thanks

    Nothing will give the exact flavor but you could try to swap oyster sauce which will be a different flavor or just leave it out.

  • Laura

    One more question, :) how is this with minced garlic from the jar?

    That will work fine!

  • Laura

    What brand of fish sauce do you use? I find there to be a fairly big flavor variety amongst the brands, and a I always like to try the recipe as close to the original creation as possible. ;)

    We love red boat!

  • kenya

    Will it make a difference with what chili paste I use?

    Any brand will work fine! Hope you enjoy Kenya!

  • Tina Crispin

    My husband is allergic to fish sauce, is there a good substitute? Or will it be good without it.

    You can probably just leave it out. You could try subbing with oyster sauce but it will be a bit sweeter. Hope you enjoy Tina!

  • Cat Russell

    A new favorite! We had the more common chili-garlic paste on hand so I used that and left out most of the sugar and garlic to compensate. Spice level was just right. Such a delicious alternative for ground beef!

    Thanks Cat, so glad you enjoyed it! We love using ground beef in this way!

  • Hannah

    Perfect, easy meal for week night dinner! My fiance doesn't like fish sauce so we skip but still just as good. This is something we come back to again and again when we don't know what to eat-- delicious!

    Thanks Hannah, love to hear it's a usual for you. Glad you both enjoy it!

  • Jen

    Easy and delicious! I've made it with ground chicken and Turkey as well...both good but best with the beef!

    Thanks Jen, so happy you love it.

  • Jessica Coplans

    YUM! This was super easy and straightforward. I appreciate the mention of salt because I always use low-sodium soy sauce. I used basil paste and dried basil because my store didn’t have fresh basil but it was still really good!

    Thank you Jessica, we are so glad you liked it and great to know basil paste and dried basil worked out!

  • Michelle B

    This recipe has become a staple and a week night go to in our house and has been pre-pandemic! The ingredients are basic to most kitchens, it's simple to prepare and it's just darn yummy- wholesome comfort food at its best!

    Thanks Michelle, so glad you love it!