Skip to Content

Thai Basil Beef

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


thai basil beef over white rice in a large white bowl

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

5 Thai Recipes We Can’t Get Enough Of:

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
  • Calories296
  • Protein25 g
  • Carbohydrates11 g
  • Total Fat18 g
  • Dietary Fiber1 g
  • Cholesterol70 mg
  • sodium540 mg
  • Total Sugars6 g

Thai Basil Beef

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • Me so hungry

    Can i use chili sauce? Couldn't find paste.

    Try to find Sambal Oelek, it's not a typical paste like you would think but sweet chili sauce will create a much different flavor.

  • Adrian

    What kind of beef cut is it?

    We use ground beef in this recipe.

  • Autumn

    When I've made this (twice), it always ends up with way too much liquid (from the beef and, even when draining the meat, from the vegetables). This dilutes the flavor. Any tips for improving this?

    How interesting, we haven't experienced this. Perhaps try using less or no olive oil and see if that helps you and then if you still feel it's too liquidy, drain it before adding the sauce.

  • Diane

    Had a hard time finding fresh Thai holy basil. I did find Thai holy basil paste. Will that work?

    You can find it an an asian market, hope you enjoy Diane!

  • Cy

    I can't easily get fresh basil. Is there any way I can use dried basil and if so, how much? Thank you.

    Most stores sell dehydrated basil in the produce section that comes in a small plastic container that is the best substitute for fresh basil in this recipe.

  • Amy

    Delicious. I know it probably wasn’t the same but I didn’t have limes on hand so I used 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar instead.

    Thanks Amy, glad you enjoyed it!

  • Diana

    This recipe is such a winner!! My husband is a picky eater, but one night I was reaaaally craving Thai Basil, so I talked him into letting me make it. As he is a picky eater, I didn’t tell him about the fish sauce. He ate the dish and was ravenous over it, and I’ve sent made it for several family members who all love it. I use ground sirloin instead of ground beef because I like the taste more, otherwise this is one recipe I don’t have to modify at all, and it’s been on rotation for over a year now.

    Thanks Diana, we are so happy you loved it!

  • Jo

    Fantastic! The flavors are intense and the combination of ingredients is outstanding. The only thing I changed was to add some fresh ginger. We served them as lettuce wraps with extra “sauce”. Wow!

    Thanks Jo, we are so glad you loved it so much! Delicious idea to make it a lettuce wrap!

  • Jenn L

    I modified this by simply draining the meat and then sautéing the vegetables before adding the meat back to the pan. It was a winner for me and my teen :)

    Thanks Jenn, so glad you loved it!

  • Caitlin

    Super simple and deliciious! Easy to throw together, yet tastes like a meal that takes longer to cook. Hubs loved it!

    Thanks Caitlin, we are so glad the two of you enjoyed it!