The best 3-Ingredient stir fry sauce

Grabbing take-out on your way home from work always seems like a good idea. It's easy and convenient, and you won't have to clean up a bunch of pots and pans. But take-out isn't always what it's cracked up to be. It's not always affordable, and it's not necessarily healthy, either. That's where stir fry comes into play. Our 3-ingredient stir fry sauce can be used with a variety of different meat and vegetables, so you don't even have to make a last-minute trip to the store to make it happen. Better yet, this one-pot dinner will be ready in less than 20 minutes.

We figured out a way to make a stir fry sauce that's bursting with flavor, all with only using three simple pantry ingredients. With a few small tweaks, you can modify the recipe to suit your dietary needs, too. It's already dairy-free, but you can also make a gluten-free version, or a vegan stir fry made with all plant-based ingredients. Read on to learn how to pull off this super simple, extra delicious dish.

Gather the ingredients for this 3-ingredient stir fry sauce

The ingredients list for this 3-ingredient stir fry sauce is short and sweet: soy sauce, honey, and cornstarch. The soy sauce is salty and filled with savory, umami flavor, while the honey balances out the soy sauce's sharp edge with a little sweetness. The cornstarch brings it all together, thickening up the sauce as it's exposed to heat to coat the ingredients in the stir fry.

Feel free to make a few modifications to our base recipe to suit your dietary needs. If you're on a gluten-free diet, you can use gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. And anyone following a plant-based or vegan diet can use maple syrup as a sweetener instead of honey. We don't recommend using refined white sugar, which will burn more easily at the high stir-fry temperatures, but you could use brown sugar in a pinch.

You'll find exact ingredient quantities and step-by-step instructions in the directions section at the end of this article.

Other ingredients you can use with 3-ingredient stir fry sauce

The beauty of this simple 3-ingredient stir fry sauce recipe is that you really only need three ingredients to make a delicious sauce. But if you want to amp up the flavor, feel free to add a few extra ingredients. According to Serious Eats, ginger, garlic, and green onions are the aromatic base for many Chinese dishes, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to add those to the mix if you have some on-hand. Try sauteing a tablespoon of minced ginger, three minced garlic cloves, and one chopped green onion in oil before you add your vegetables. You could also add 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes to create a little heat, a teaspoon of sesame oil to add a nutty flavor, or the juice of a lime for its tangy acidity.

From there, round out the meal by adding rice or noodles, one pound of chopped meat, and about six cups of chopped vegetables. Choose from a variety of hearty vegetables like onions, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, or mushrooms, and quick-cooking veggies like bell peppers, zucchini, snow peas, bok choy, or cabbage. Just be sure to cut the meat and vegetables into small, equal pieces so they cook quickly and uniformly.

What type of meat is best with this 3-ingredient stir fry sauce?

If you want to increase the protein content of your stir fry, adding a pound of meat is a great way to go. It will make the stir fry more filling, and it only takes an extra three to five minutes. There are so many great options here, so have some fun and vary it up. We like using boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut into one-inch cubes) with our 3-ingredient stir fry sauce because they turn out juicier than chicken breasts, but the latter is a fine option, too. When it comes to beef or pork, look to tender, lean cuts like beef tenderloin, top sirloin, or pork tenderloin. Instead of cutting these cuts into cubes, slice them into thin strips so they cook quickly. You could also use ground meat, if you prefer.

As far as seafood goes, shrimp or scallops are our top choices. You don't have to cut these proteins at all because they're naturally small and compact, but you will want to remove the shells from shrimp before cooking them. You could also look to plant-based proteins, too, like edamame, tofu, or tempeh.

Is this 3-ingredient stir fry sauce better with rice or noodles?

This 3-ingredient stir fry sauce is incredibly versatile, so you can use it with either rice or noodles. For a gluten-free stir fry, cook one cup or white or brown rice in advance. We've found it's best to serve the stir fry over top of the cooked rice instead of trying to mix the rice in. The rice can soak up too much sauce, causing the dish to taste a little dry.

When it comes to noodles, you definitely have your choice. Beginners should start with ramen or lo mein noodles. If you can find fresh noodles in the refrigerator section of a specialty market, all the better, but dried noodles work just fine. Once you start feeling comfortable with stir-frying noodles, you can branch out to other types — soba noodles, udon noodles, and rice noodles also work really well. In a pinch, you could also use regular spaghetti noodles or spiralized vegetable noodles. It's best to toss the cooked noodles directly with the 3-ingredient stir fry sauce instead of ladling it overtop. That way, the noodles will be perfectly coated with the flavorful sauce.

Do you need a wok to make 3-ingredient stir fry sauce?

A wok is a specialty pan that features a round bottom and high-walled sides. Unlike a regular frying pan, woks distribute heat more evenly, helping all the ingredients inside the pan to finish cooking at the same time. You certainly don't need one to make stir fry — a cast-iron skillet or a large nonstick frying pan will work just fine. But woks are fun to use, and they make it easy to cook a large quantity of meat and vegetables in a single pan.

If you're ready to make the plunge and invest in a wok, now is the time. It's not only good for stir-frying meat and vegetables with our 3-ingredient stir fry sauce, but you can use it for a variety of other kitchen tasks, too. Woks are also useful for steaming, deep-frying, smoking, and making popcorn. The only decision you'll need to make is if you want an easier-to-clean nonstick wok or a more traditional carbon-steel wok, which requires seasoning and additional care.

Get everything ready before you add your 3-ingredient stir fry sauce

When you're ready to make your stir-fry, it's important to get everything ready and prepare your mise en place. The process will go very quickly, and you'll want to be ready to avoid burning anything. Start by preparing the 3-ingredient stir fry sauce and whisking together the soy sauce, honey, and cornstarch. This step can be done several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container or mason jar. Then, cook the rice or noodles according to the package directions. From there, chop up the vegetables and meat, and you'll be ready to go.

When everything's ready, heat the sesame oil over high heat in a wok or large frying pan. Add the ginger, garlic, and green onion and cook until they become fragrant, about one minute. Now it's time to add the protein — beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, or tofu — and cook until it's cooked all the way through. This could take anywhere from one to five minutes, depending on the size of the slices. Remove the meat to a bowl and set aside.

If the wok is dry, add an extra splash of sesame oil before adding the vegetables. Cook the veggies for one to five minutes, until they're nice and tender.

Combine the cooked meat and vegetables with the 3-ingredient stir fry sauce

At this point, you can return the meat back to the pan and give it a quick toss to combine the ingredients. Then, add the prepared 3-ingredient stir fry sauce and stir it into the meat and vegetables. It should start to bubble up immediately, and within three minutes, the cornstarch will have activated. Instead of being cloudy and thin, the sauce will become clear and thick, clinging to the meat and vegetables. If it looks too thick, you can add a splash of water to loosen it up a bit.

From here, you're almost ready to serve. If you're using noodles, drain them from the cooking water and add them to the wok. Give the pan a quick toss to coat the noodles evenly with the sauce before dividing it into four bowls. For a rice-based stir fry, portion the rice into the bowls before adding the stir-fried meat and vegetables. If you wish, you can garnish each plate with chopped green onions, cilantro, and sesame seeds. You'll want to serve this dish immediately, as the ingredients can become soggy and the noodles will stick together as they cool.

How did our 3-ingredient stir fry sauce taste?

This dish is not only quick and easy, but it's so delicious! It tastes just as good as stir fry dishes we've had at fancy restaurants. The base 3-ingredient stir fry sauce is perfect as is: It's sweet and salty with a deeply savory flavor, and it was thick enough to coat the meat, vegetables, and noodles. When we combined it with the aromatic ginger, garlic, and green onions, the sauce got even better. Although adding the optional ingredients of lime juice, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes requires additional ingredients, we loved the way it added depth to the dish.

The best part about this recipe is how easy it is to scale. Feel free to double or triple the recipe and store it in a mason jar in the refrigerator. That way, it will be ready to use whenever you're ready to stir fry. It's the ideal last-minute dinner recipe for busy workdays.

3-ingredient stir fry sauce directions

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 1 cup (or one four-person batch of stir-fry)

Ingredients:

(For the 3-ingredient stir fry sauce)

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or vegan-friendly maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Optional additions

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 lime, juiced

(For the stir fry)

  • 2 cups cooked rice or an 8-ounce package of noodles
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil, plus additional as needed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 pound protein (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or firm tofu), cut into slices or 1-inch cubes
  • 6 cups chopped vegetables
  • Chopped green onions, cilantro, and sesame seeds, for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl or mason jar, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, and cornstarch. Add in any of the optional additions, if using. Store the sauce in the refrigerator until you're ready to use.
  2. When you're ready to make stir fry, cook the rice or noodles according to the package directions. You'll also want to chop all the meat and vegetables. The stir fry experience will go by very quickly, so it's important to prepare the ingredients in advance so they're ready to add to the wok.
  3. In a wok or a large frying pan, heat the sesame oil over high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and green onion and cook until they're fragrant, about one minute.
  4. Add the protein and cook until it's cooked through, anywhere from one to five minutes depending on the size of the slices. Remove the cooked protein to a bowl and set aside.
  5. If the wok is very dry, add an extra teaspoon of sesame oil before adding the chopped vegetables. Cook for one to five minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Return the cooked meat to the pan along with the prepared stir fry sauce. Cook for three minutes, until the sauce is warmed through and becomes clear and thick. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of water.
  7. Toss the noodles with the stir fry before serving, or divide the stir fry into four portions and serve it over the cooked rice. Garnish each plate with chopped green onions, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.