Evidence for the dish's existence in the United States dates from at least 1948. The dish originated from Fujian cuisine, where it was known as qīngjiāoròusī (青椒炒肉絲). In the original dish the meat used was pork and the seasonings were relatively light compared to pepper steak.
The dish was mentioned in the film The Blues Brothers as being served in the Joliet State Prison on Thursdays by Jake Blues (John Belushi). It was also mentioned in the first episode of the Japanese Anime "Cowboy Bebop" with the exception that there was no meat in it, because the crew members were too poor to afford it.