Comprehensive guide to making Pad Kra Pao

Introduction to Pad Kra Pao

Pad Kra Pao is a cornerstone of Thai cuisine, beloved across Thailand for its vibrant flavours and aromatic presence. This dish, which masterfully combines meat with fragrant basil, captures the essence of Thai cooking. It’s not just a meal; it’s a cultural experience, offering a taste of Thailand’s rich culinary traditions. The inclusion of basil not only adds depth to the dish but also highlights the importance of fresh herbs in Thai cuisine, making Pad Kra Pao a true representation of the country’s food culture.

Types of Basil for Pad Kra Pao

When it comes to making Pad Kra Pao, a famous Thai dish known for its spicy and aromatic flavour, understanding the difference between Thai basil and Holy basil is crucial. Both are herbs with aromatic leaves, yet they contribute distinct tastes to this beloved dish.

Thai basil is known for its sweet, slightly spicy flavour with a hint of anise. It has a robust taste that can withstand high cooking temperatures, making it a popular choice in various Asian cuisines. Its leaves are a bright green with purple stems, and when added to Pad Kra Pao, Thai basil imparts a unique sweetness balanced with a peppery kick.

Holy basil, on the other hand, has a more peppery, clove-like taste that’s considered essential for an authentic Pad Kra Pao. This variety of basil is slightly less sweet compared to Thai basil but offers a spicy, earthy flavour that is key to the dish’s distinctive taste. Holy basil has lighter green leaves and is revered for its medicinal properties in addition to its culinary uses.

Both Thai basil and Holy basil are integral herbs that add depth and complexity to Pad Kra Pao, but choosing between them can alter the flavour profile of the dish. While Thai basil adds a sweet and spicy note, Holy basil brings a more peppery and robust taste, making each version of Pad Kra Pao uniquely delicious.

Best Meats for Pad Kra Pao

Pad Kra Pao is a flavorful Thai dish that can be made with various types of meats. Each type of meat offers a unique taste and texture to this beloved dish. Here’s a comparison of beef, pork, chicken, and other meats, focusing on their suitability for Pad Kra Pao:

  • Ground Beef
    • Ground beef is a popular choice for Pad Kra Pao due to its rich flavour. It’s one of the lean meats that blend well with the spicy and aromatic components of the dish. Being a good protein source, ground beef adds a hearty character to Pad Kra Pao, making it a satisfying meal.
  • Pork
    • Pork is another excellent option for Pad Kra Pao. It’s tender and absorbs the flavours of the herbs and spices used in the dish very well. Pork also adds a slight sweetness that complements the spicy profile of Pad Kra Pao. It’s a versatile protein source that can be used ground or chopped into small pieces.
  • Chicken
    • Chicken is a lighter alternative to Pad Kra Pao. It’s a lean meat that cooks quickly and easily and takes on the dish’s signature flavours. Chicken is a great protein source for those looking for a healthier version of Pad Kra Pao. It’s usually used ground or finely chopped.
  • Other Meats
    • While ground beef, pork, and chicken are the most common choices, other meats can also be used in Pad Kra Pao. These include duck, turkey, and even seafood for those looking to experiment with different flavours and textures. Each alternative meat brings its unique qualities to the dish, expanding the options for Pad Kra Pao enthusiasts.

In summary, whether you prefer the richness of ground beef, the sweetness of pork, the lightness of chicken, or the uniqueness of other meats, there’s a version of Pad Kra Pao that will satisfy your taste buds. Each of these protein sources has its benefits, making Pad Kra Pao a versatile dish that can cater to various dietary preferences.

Choosing the Right Chilies

When it comes to adding a kick to your dishes, choosing the right chillies is crucial. Birds-eye chillies and Thai chillies are popular options for those who love their food with a bit of heat. Both of these types of chillies contain capsaicin, the component that gives chillies their characteristic spice levels. Depending on your heat preference, you can decide which chilli suits your palate better.

Birds’ eye chillies, often found in Southeast Asian cuisine, are known for their fiery heat and are used to add a sharp spice to dishes. If you’re someone who loves a high spice level, bird-eye chillies are a perfect choice. They can instantly elevate the heat of any meal, making it more exciting and flavorful.

On the other hand, Thai chillies, while still hot, can offer a different experience. They are also used extensively in Thai cooking to bring a balanced heat to dishes. For those who prefer their food to be spicy but not overwhelmingly so, Thai chillies provide a suitable option. They allow you to enjoy the warmth and flavour without the intensity that comes with bird’ s-eye chillies.

In conclusion, whether you prefer the intense heat of bird-eye chillies or the moderate warmth of Thai chillies, understanding the spice levels and capsaicin content can help you make the right choice for your dishes. This knowledge ensures that you can enjoy your meals exactly how you like them, with just the right amount of kick.

The Role of Dark Soy Sauce in Pad Kra Pao

  • Adds Deep Flavor: Dark soy sauce brings a rich, deep umami taste to Pad Kra Pao. This flavour comes from the fermentation of soybeans, creating a complex taste profile.
  • Enhances Color: It also gives Pad Kra Pao its distinctive, appetizing colour. The dark hue of the sauce, resulting from the long fermentation of soybeans, adds an appealing look to the dish.

Step-by-Step Pad Kra Pao Recipe


  • 1 lb (450g) ground meat (chicken, pork, or beef)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 Thai bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 2 cups Thai holy basil leaves (or substitute with regular basil leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Steamed rice, to serve

Cooking Equipment:

  • Wok or large skillet
  • Spatula
  • Cooking spoon

Step 1: Prepare Ingredients

  • Gather all the ingredients listed above.
  • Mince the garlic cloves.
  • Finely chop the Thai bird’s eye chillies.
  • Wash and pat dry the Thai holy basil leaves.
  • Have your wok or skillet ready on the stove.

Step 2: Heat the Wok

  • Place the wok on the stove over high heat.
  • Allow it to heat up for a minute or two until it’s smoking hot.

Step 3: Add Oil and Garlic

  • Pour the vegetable oil into the hot wok.
  • Add the minced garlic to the hot oil.
  • Stir-fry the garlic for about 15-20 seconds until fragrant. Be careful not to burn it.

Step 4: Add Chilies and Meat

  • Toss in the chopped Thai bird’s eye chillies.
  • Stir-fry for another 30 seconds to release their flavours.
  • Add the ground meat to the wok.

Step 5: Cook the Meat

  • Break up the meat with your spatula and spread it evenly in the wok.
  • Cook the meat for 3-4 minutes until it’s browned and cooked through.

Step 6: Season the Dish

  • Pour in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce over the cooked meat.
  • Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the mixture.
  • Stir everything together until the meat is well coated with the sauces.

Step 7: Add Basil Leaves

  • Toss in the Thai holy basil leaves.
  • Stir-fry for an additional minute until the basil wilts and releases its aroma.

Step 8: Taste and Adjust

  • Give the dish a quick taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  • Add more soy sauce, fish sauce, or sugar according to your preference.

Step 9: Serve

  • Transfer the Pad Kra Pao to a serving dish.
  • Serve hot alongside steamed rice.

Step 10: Enjoy!

  • Enjoy your homemade Pad Kra Pao with friends and family.
  • Pair it with a refreshing Thai iced tea for a complete culinary experience.


What type of basil is best for Pad Kra Pao?

Holy basil is the best type for Pad Kra Pao due to its spicy and peppery flavour.

Can I substitute chicken for beef in Pad Kra Pao?

Yes, you can substitute chicken for beef in Pad Kra Pao for a lighter version.

What are the benefits of using dark soy sauce in cooking?

Dark soy sauce adds rich colour and deeper flavour to dishes compared to light soy sauce.

How do I control the spiciness of my Pad Kra Pao?

Control the spiciness by adjusting the number of chilli peppers used in the recipe.

What is the ideal way to serve Pad Kra Pao?

Pad Kra Pao is best served over steamed rice with a fried egg on top for added richness.