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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

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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!

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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.

  • Cara

    If serving to a toddler, should the chili paste be omitted or does it turn out to be pretty mild?

    It's fairly mild. you could always start with 1/2 tablespoon if you're worried then dish some out for your child before adding the rest. hope you enjoy cara!

  • Daniela

    What if I don't have fish sauce?

    You can leave it out, hope you enjoy Daniela!

  • Kelly

    Is the nutrition facts with rice?

    It does not include rice.

  • Jenifer

    do you have a recipe for lettuce wraps?

    If you search "lettuce wraps" on our site we have 4 different recipes. Tofu Lettuce wraps, sticky shrimp lettuce wraps, thai steak lettuce cups and larb lettuce cups (ground chicken). Hope you enjoy Jennifer!

  • Me

    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.

  • Holly

    Haven’t made this is a while and it hit the spot tonight! Can confirm it’s just as good without fish sauce (daughter is allergic). So easy to throw in whatever vegetables you have on hand. Didn’t even have all the basil recipe called for since the store substituted a smaller amount. These recipes continue to be so delicious and so forgiving. Make this!

    Thanks Holly, we are so glad you loved it!

  • LS

    Amazing, delicious and super easy!

    Thanks LS, we are so happy you loved it!

  • Mary

    This turned out delicious! I will definitely be making this again! I used gochujang paste for the chili paste.

    Thanks Mary, we are so glad you loved it!

  • renee

    fast and easy and flavorful! made two sauces one spicy one without chili paste and Thai chili peppers for the kids. a hit across the board.

    Thanks Renee, we are so happy you loved it!

  • Elizabeth

    Great easy meal!

    Thanks Elizabeth, so happy you loved it!