Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | What Is The Difference?

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When it comes to Chinese cuisine, there is a wide variety of dishes to enjoy. Szechuan beef is one of the very popular Chinese dishes famous for its sweet and spicy flavor. But people often confuse it with Hunan beef. Are they the same or different?

Hunan Beef

Szechuan beef and Hunan beef both have a common ingredient (obviously beef). However, they both are very distinct in flavor. When we talk about Szechuan, beef is sweet and spicy, whereas Hunan beef is hot, spicy, and flavorful.

This is because they have very different cooking techniques and ingredients.

When it comes to Szechuan beef, the ingredients are stir-fried, while Hunan beef is cooked slowly. Szechuan beef is served with brown rice, whereas Hunan beef is served with sticky white rice. Both dishes are widely popular in Chinese cuisine as they have very robust flavors of chilis and garlic. 

Today, we will discuss everything about Szechuan beef and Hunan beef. We will compare both China-originated dishes and understand their flavors and texture differences. Please stick with me as I will share delicious recipes for both cuisines.

Let’s begin with this flavorful discussion on Szechuan beef vs. Hunan beef, but before that, look at the difference table between the two.

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | The Difference Table

Basis Of DifferencesSzechuan BeefHunan Beef
BeefFreshly sliced beefDried and smoky beef
Spicy IngredientsSzechuan peppersChili peppers, whether fresh, dried, or pickled
Marinade/SauceSoy sauce, red pepper flakes, garlic, Szechuan peppers, and cornstarchChinese condiments, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and celery
FlavourSweet and spicy with umami flavor; has numbing spicinessSpicy and salty and has a smoky flavour
TextureCrunchy because of peanuts and water chestnuts; Juicy as it is cooked in marinade.Dry texture; tender and soft meat; a little bit crunchy
Other Ingredients

Vegetables like broccoli, water chestnut, carrots, baby corn, pea pods, and also have peanuts or water chestnuts.Sesame seeds and some vegetables like Onions, fermented black beans, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots.
AppearanceRed in colorDark brown

What Is Szechuan Beef?

Szechuan Beef

Szechuan, also spelled as Schezuan or Sichuan, is initially from Sichuan Province, which lies in Southwestern China. It is widely known for using chili peppers, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorns.

The flavor of Szechuan is hot and spicy and has a numbing sensation. Szechuan beef is a Chinese dish in which beef is prepared with Szechuan, which possesses a sweet and tingly feeling. 

Szechuan beef is one of the delicious dishes from Sichuan cuisine. Many will think that Szechuan beef is rich in flavors, but it is considered simple compared to other traditional Sichuan dishes.

In order to make Szechuan beef, garlic, chili, Szechuan peppercorns, onions, nuts, and water chestnuts are fried with marinated beef strips. You can serve this with brown rice, noodles, or sticky white rice. 

As the Szechuan beef uses water chestnuts, it has a crunchy texture, and many times chicken stock is used for a saucy dish. To prepare Szechuan beef, you can choose many different recipes.

Different cuts of beef can be used; however, the tenderloin is ideal for getting the softest end result. The best part of Szechuan beef is its bolder flavor and milder taste. 

What Is Hunan Beef?

Hunan Beef

Hunan beef is a dish that originated from more than one region. Hunan beef is believed to come from areas near the Xiang River, Dongting Lake, and the western Hunan Province. 

Hunan beef is famous for its hot taste. It uses chili peppers, garlic, and shallots in heavy amounts. This dish is from the 17th century, and an exciting point about Hunan beef is that it is served cold in summer and hot in winter. 

Traditional Hunan beef is not so readily available, and many restaurants use some of the conventional ingredients calling it Hunan beef. Similar to Szechuan beef, Hunan beef possesses many unique flavors. 

It has hot and spicy flavors as it uses chili pepper significantly. It is made using sliced beef and colorful veggies and tossed in a hot and spicy sauce. Different types of chilis are used, like dried, fresh, or pickled.

No sauce or marinade is used, and all the juices in the dish are from tender meat and juicy vegetables. Hunan beef is served with rice and steamed vegetables. 

You can also enjoy it with thick noodles or brown rice. Hunan beef uses dry and smoked beef strips which are not easily found. One can also use beef jerky, but it misses the smoky flavors. 

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | Similarities Between The Two

Hunan Beef

Both dishes originated from different regions of China. Szechuan beef and Hunan beef both use beef stir-fries. Also, they both use spices in various forms. The main ingredient in both dishes is the use of chili flavor.

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | Differences Between The Two

The major differences between Szechuan beef and Hunan beef are as follows : 

1. Beef Ingredients 

The most common ingredients used in Hunan beef are chili peppers, garlic, and shallots, whereas Szechuan beef has sesame paste, ginger, and peanuts.

Hunan beef also has shredded ginger, sherry, soy sauce, scallions, chili peppers, chicken broth, wine vinegar, garlic, cornstarch, salt, shallots, sugar, and anise pepper. 

Other than chilli paste, Szechuan beef has egg whites, cornstarch, rice, cooking wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and sesame paste.

It also contains Worcestershire sauce, crushed chili peppers, onions, peanuts, vegetable oil, minced ginger, carrots, and red bell peppers, making the Szechuan sauce flavor more intense. 

Another difference between these two dishes is that Hunan beef is mainly made using smoked or cured beef, but the same is not the case for Szechuan beef as it uses dried beef and more pickled and salted ingredients. 

When it comes to other ingredients like vegetables, Hunan beef contains a lot of vegetables which brings most of the crunchiness. In contrast, Szechuan beef has less vegetable content, and the most crunch comes from peanuts and water chestnuts. 

2. Flavor 

If we talk about the flavors, Szechuan beef has a spicy flavor but has some hint of sweetness as well. On the other hand, Hunan beef is also spicy, but the difference is that Hunan beef has a burning spiciness, whereas Szechuan beef has a numbing spicy flavor. 

Hunan Beef is hotter as it uses lots of chilies and garlic, and Szechuan beef has a hot and sour or sweet taste because of the Szechuan peppercorn used in the dish. Also, if we compare the spiciness of both dishes, Hunan beef is a lot spicier and saltier.

In contrast, Szechuan beef is less spicy and has a sweet undertone with umami flavors.

3. Appearance and Texture 

The appearance and texture of both dishes differ a lot. Szechuan beef has a red shade because of the sauce.

As Szechuan beef is made in marinade, therefore it is juicier, whereas Hunan beef is not cooked in any sauce or marinade, so it is a lot drier.

Any amount of juice in Hunan beef is from the meat and vegetables. Hunan beef has a dark brown color and has a soft texture. 

How to make Szechuan beef?

Szechuan Beef

If you want to make Szechuan beef, you must prepare the marinade first. You will require Beef tenderloin, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, egg, cornstarch, and hoisin sauce for that. Start by preparing your beef by slicing them into thin strips.

Now take a bowl and mix the beef and marinade ingredients and let the marinade properly coat the beef.

 Now let it properly soak all the flavor for at least 15 mins. After 15-20 mins, heat a large skillet and drizzle little oil over a high-heat flame. Transfer the marinated beef to the skillet and cook it over high heat until the beef becomes crispy. 

Cook it for 2-3 minutes more and keep it aside. Add more oil in the same pan and bean paste, dried chilis, peppercorns, garlic, green onion, and a pinch of salt. You need to cook all these ingredients for 2-3 minutes. 

For spiciness, add chili oil and some vegetables like bell peppers and carrots, and stir the veggies until they are softened.

At this point, you can add broth and cook everything in the broth for 3-4 minutes so that the beef and vegetables are tender.

Now add hoisin, sambal oelek, and the prepared marinade. Let it cook together. Put the heat on a simmer. 

Now add the beef and stir until the sauce thickens and mixes well with the beef. When the sauce thickens, and proper coating is done on the beef, please remove it from the heat. 

After this, add sesame oil and Chinese black vinegar. You can now serve by adding sesame seeds and green onions for garnishing. 

How to make Hunan Beef?

Hunan Beef

Makin Hunan beef is much easier than Szechuan beef and takes a little less time. Firstly you need to prepare the sauce in which beef is coated. You will need to mix Shaoxing cooking wine, cornstarch, soy sauce, peanut oil, oyster sauce, chili paste, beef broth, and sugar. 

Whisk all the ingredients and keep them aside. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables like broccoli florets, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, green onions, onion, and minced garlic. Slice the beef also very thinly. Heat a skillet and transfer the beef into it.

Cook the beef for 10 minutes until it turns golden brown.

Remove the beef and keep it aside. In the same skillet, add oil and put all chopped vegetables. Mix the vegetables nicely and cook them for the next 5-7 minutes.

When the vegetables are softened, add the cooked beef back into the skillet together with the vegetables. 

Now it is time to add the prepared sauce. Pour the sauce on the beef and vegetables. Mix everything properly and cook for five minutes. Keep stirring in between so that everything is well cooked. Your Hunan beef is ready to be enjoyed. 

You can serve this delicious dish with steamed rice or any other choice of grains. You can adjust the spiciness by adding more chili paste and serving it after garnishing it with cilantro. 

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | Which is tastier?

When it comes to flavor, Szechuan beef has a spicy flavor with a hint of sweetness, whereas Hunan beef is spicy, hot, and salty. Clearly, if you love spicy food, then Hunan beef is your right choice. 

Hunan beef has a slightly dry texture and burning spiciness, whereas Szechuan beef has a juicy and crunchy texture with an umami flavor and numbing spiciness. 

We can say that if you want to try a dish that possesses most of the flavors, then Szechuan beef is the one for you. So, in terms of taste, Szechuan beef is the winner.

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | which is more healthy?


All the ingredients used in Szechuan beef and Hunan beef are almost the same. However, if we talk about the health benefits, Hunan beef has fewer points as it is spicier in flavor, and the vegetables used in the recipe are also less than Szechuan beef.

Szechuan beef has more veggies and balanced spiciness because of the added sweet flavor. 

Therefore, Szechuan beef can be considered to be more healthy. It is important to note that there are no significant differences in the nutrients of both dishes.

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | which is more versatile?

Szechuan Beef

Now as we know that both dishes have specific cooking techniques and have different and unique flavors, when compared, Szechuan beef is more versatile than Hunan beef mainly because you can add a lot of vegetables. 

The spiciness of Szechuan beef is also balanced with sweetness, whereas Hunan beef is really hot and salty. Szechuan beef also has an umami flavor, making it a great Chinese cuisine. 

It is not false to say that Szechuan beef uses many different sauces and ingredients when it comes to cooking. Therefore we can conclude that Szechuan beef is more versatile.

Szechuan Beef Vs. Hunan Beef | which is better?

Hunan Beef

After comparing both the dishes on different levels, it is very clear that Szechuan beef has earned most of the points, whether it is about taste, health, or versatility. 

However, both dishes have their own flavors and unique taste; most people prefer the one with a balanced flavor with maximum health benefits. So, Szechuan beef is better, and if you love Chinese and umami-flavored dishes, you must try the recipe. 


Finally, we are at the end of this fierce conversion, and I am sure many of you plan to try either dish. Both dishes are very popular in Chinese cuisine. The difference in the cooking style and ingredients make them stand apart from each other.

Szechuan beef has a spicy and sweet flavor, whereas Hunan beef is hot and spicy beef. You can try either of them as per your taste preference. I recommend you try Hunan beef and test your spicy tolerance.

I hope this conversation about two Chinese cuisines was flavorful. I will be back with more exciting food conversions. Until then, cook some rice and try it with Hunan beef.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is Hunan Sauce like?

Hunan sauce is dark in color and thick spicy sauce mainly made from chilis and garlic. It has a burning spiciness and an enticing aroma when cooked with beef, pork, or other types of meat. 

Is Szechuan sauce and Hunan Sauce similar?

No, both sauces are not similar. However, they have some common ingredients, like soy sauce, chilis, and garlic, which are used in the preparation.

Which is hotter – Szechuan beef or Hunan beef?

Hunan beef is hotter than Szechuan beef. Szechuan beef also has a hint of sweetness, which makes Hunan beef more spicy and hot.

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