Crying Tiger (Thai-Style Grilled Steak With Dry Chili Dipping Sauce) Recipe

Crying Tiger Steak with Jaew dipping sauce
Leela Punyaratabandhu

Why It Works

  • The smoky aroma achieved from grilling is what makes this classic version special, far superior to deep-fried or sautéed renditions of Crying Tiger.
  • Serving the steak with the dry chile dipping sauce (Jaew) on the side as opposed to dressing it like a salad retains the steak's smoky aroma and flavors.
  • Using the piquant Jaew as a dipping sauce instead of a dressing also allows its clean, crisp flavor to shine.

Here we are again, a classic Thai dish with a name of dubious origin and meaning. Is it Tiger's Tear? Tiger Cry? Crying Tiger? Weeping Tiger? Why Tiger? Why cry? How? Who? What?

Let me enlighten you with my answer: I don't know.

Some say the dish is called such because, in the old days, it was made out of a cheap cut of beef so tough that even a tiger can't chew it (then, apparently, it gets all sad and weepy). Some say that it's the opposite: the steak comes from the most tender, the most marbled part of the cow leaving a tiger nothing but the tough parts. A much less convincing theory says the dipping sauce is so hot it makes a tiger cry.

Regardless of which is correct, the tiger doesn't come off looking particularly good.

But we'll let the animal mourn in its own way while we enjoy this delicious grilled steak with a dipping sauce that goes so well with it.

Crying Tiger is sometimes reinterpreted by Thai restaurants stateside as a grilled beef salad. I personally don't believe that this represents the classic version. But no harm done; in most cases, that's just the same grilled steak with the dipping sauce re-purposed as a dressing. The smoky grill aroma which makes this dish special is, in my opinion, lost when the dish is served as a salad. But that's still far better than when some restaurants deep-fry or sauté the beef instead of grilling it.

For this recipe, I've added some tomatoes to the dried chile dipping sauce (Jaew) as that is what my favorite Isan joint in Bangkok does. You certainly don't need to.

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 30 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) dark soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) oyster sauce

  • 1 tablespoon (14g) light or dark brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) plain vegetable oil

  • 4 ribeye or New York strip steaks, about 1 1/2-inches thick (about 12 ounces or 342g each)

Dry Chile Dipping Sauce (Jaew):

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) fresh lime juice (about 6 to 10 limes)

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) Thai fish sauce

  • 1 teaspoon (4g) sugar

  • 2 tablespoons (8g) finely-chopped fresh cilantro leaves

  • 2 tablespoons (11g) finely-chopped green onions

  •  1 1/2 tablespoons (12g) toasted rice powder (see note)

  • 1 tablespoon (8g) dried red pepper powder

  • 2 plum tomatoes (optional)

For Serving:

  • warm sticky rice


  1. Mix together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable oil in a medium mixing bowl. Coat the steaks with the soy sauce mixture and let them marinate while you work on the dipping sauce.

  2. Combine all ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl and mix. If using, peel and deseed the tomatoes. Chop the pulp finely, and add it to prepared dried chile dipping sauce; set aside.

  3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set all the burners on a gas grill to high heat. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

  4. Grill the steaks, turning frequently, until desired doneness is reached (medium-rare is recommended—steaks should register 125°F on an instant read thermometer when removed from grill). Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. (See the importance of resting meat).

  5. Cut the steaks into 1/4-inch slices and serve with the dipping sauce. Warm sticky rice on the side is highly recommended.


Although any cut of beef that is well suited for grilling will work for this recipe, rib eye and New York strip are recommended.

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