Sweet and Sour Chicken

Update 6/2012: Easily the most popular recipe on my blog, this sweet and sour chicken is a miracle of a dish. My husband, Brian, requests it for his birthday, Father’s Day and any other day he has the craving (which seriously would be every day if I was willing to make it that often). Invented on a college budget more than ten years ago, it is absolutely divine and remains one of our family favorites. A million percent better than any takeout, the chicken bakes up tender with a beautiful crust and is coated perfectly with the sweet and tangy flavors of the sauce. Over the years, I’ve barely changed the recipe – but thanks to your comments, I have added a few tidbits to help make the whole coating-and-cooking chicken thing a bit less messy. Make this! You’ll love it, I promise.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Sweet and Sour FAQ: Here are a few commonly asked questions about this recipe (so you don’t have to read through all 660+ comments to find the answer you are looking for!
Question: Can I cut down the sugar?
Answer: Many people have commented that they have reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup and I’ve done the same (if not more) over the years, too.

Question: The vinegar smell is really overpowering when I bake this. Is that normal?
Answer: Yes. Vinegar, while baking, gives off a strong aroma, but the strong aroma/taste bakes off during the recommended time in the recipe leaving a delicious sweet and sour taste.

Question: Can I cut down on the amount of vinegar because of the aforementioned question?
Answer: That’s up to you. Many people in the comments have adapted the recipe ingredients; however, other than sometimes reducing the sugar to 1/2 cup and using a different type of vinegar (see the question below), I make the recipe as written and can’t vouch for results for other adaptations. I have made this recipe at least 50 times (probably more) and even though the vinegar seems overpowering, the recipe works. Promise. If you are determined to adapt the vinegar, several others have used half vinegar and half pineapple juice for a milder taste (but you’ll lose a bit of the sweet and sour punch).

Question: I don’t have apple cider vinegar OR I hate apple cider vinegar OR {insert a reason you don’t want to use apple cider vinegar}, can I substitute another type of vinegar?
Answer: Why yes! I often substitute rice vinegar which has a slightly milder/sweeter taste and many others in the comments have substituted the same or even used white vinegar. Feel free to experiment.

Question: Surely there is a misprint in baking time. An hour for small chicken pieces? What’s the deal?
Answer: I encourage you to make the recipe as written. Like I said above, I’ve made this recipe many times and the hour baking time is not a typo. Keep in mind that you don’t want to cook the chicken through while browning it. That step should be a quick flash in the pan in hot oil in order to give the chicken a crispy outer layer, but the pieces should still be raw in the center. Many have commented that they have cut the baking time down to 30 minutes. You can try that; the sauce won’t thicken as much as if baking for the full hour.

Question: Are you sure I’m supposed to put the chicken in the cornstarch mixture before the egg? That just seems wrong.
Answer: I’m not often right, but in the case of cornstarch and egg, I am. The chicken is coated with cornstarch and then dipped in egg.

Question: Can I add pineapple or other veggies to this while baking?
Answer: I don’t see why not! Many commenters have tried that with good results.

Question: Can I prep this ahead of time? Can it be made into a freezer meal?
Answer: I have not tried either but feel free to experiment! Someone commented in the 500’s about freezing it if you want to look up specifics.

Question: What kind of ketchup do you use?
Answer: I always try and use the Heinz Natural brand (without HCFS) but when I can’t find it, I go with regular Heinz.

What To ServeBaked Brown Rice
Steamed Broccoli
Creamy 5-Cup Fruit Salad or fresh, seasonal fruit

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Yield: Serves 4-6

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Note: if you like extra sauce, double the sauce ingredients – pour half over the chicken and follow the recipe instructions; pour the other half in a small saucepan and cook the sauce on the stovetop at a simmer for 8-10 minutes until it reduces and thickens. Serve it on the side of the chicken.

Ingredients

    Chicken:
  • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola, vegetable or coconut oil
  • Sauce:
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you want the sauce)
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Place the cornstarch in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Put the chicken into the bag with the cornstarch and seal, tossing to coat the chicken.
  3. Whisk the eggs together in a shallow pie plate. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until very hot and rippling. Dip the cornstarch-coated chicken pieces in the egg and place them carefully in a single layer in the hot skillet.
  4. Cook for 20-30 seconds on each side until the crust is golden but the chicken is not all the way cooked through (this is where it's really important to have a hot skillet/oil). Place the chicken pieces in a single layer in a 9X13-inch baking dish and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
  5. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl and pour over the chicken. Bake for one hour, turning the chicken once or twice while cooking to coat evenly with sauce. Serve over hot, steamed rice.
http://www.melskitchencafe.com/sweet-and-sour-chicken-updated/

Recipe Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe original recipe

857 Responses to Sweet and Sour Chicken

  1. Nkechi says:

    I made this last night for my son, but with a few changes, since I was trying to make orange chicken for him. He proclaimed it the best ever. I used thighs. I did half of the vinegar and added 1/4c OJ concentrate. And since that is sweet, I took out 1/4c of the sugar. I don’t know what it was supposed to taste like, but what I made was fantastic. I’d make more sauce next time. The frying was a pain but doable. Now I see how they get it fluffy like that, it was tempura like. It really soaks up the sauce well. I am going to try the sauce with different things like meatballs (crockpot) and even on plain sauteed chicken (adding some cornstarch to the sauce of course). I need to be able to make something “like” this faster – a weeknight version.

  2. Sarah says:

    its in the oven!! 🙂 let me just say, a little tricky to prepare with two small children. the egg and oil part. my hands were a mess and not a lot i could do to tend to my kids while making this. might have to put it in the cue for another season of life. sure smells good!

  3. Suzanne Moore says:

    I made this dish tonight for my husband and I, oh my it was super easy and absolutely delicious The only change I made was to reduce sugar to 1/2 cup

    Thank you so much for sharing

  4. Kate says:

    Wow!! This recipe is amazing!!!! My picky kids loved it. My husband loved it, and ate 3 plates! They all want it for dinner tomorrow too, lol. Simple to make, and tastes amazing. I doubled the sauce, and it came out perfect. Thank you for a great recipe!!!! Yum!!!

  5. Katie says:

    This is a favorite in our house. Just curious – has anyone ever made it with pork? I happen to have a pack of boneless pork chops in the fridge and am wondering if this would work with them…

  6. stac says:

    Wow, my three kids are picky eaters and finding a meal that they all enjoy is pretty impossible. This one was a huge hit and they all cleaned their plates with rave reviews!!

  7. Vanessa says:

    I used 1 pd of chicken but kept the sauce amount the same. I didn’t see the note about doubling the sauce until after I dumped it in. I was just wondering if my mistake effected the crispness of the chicken. Although delicious, mine was a bit soggy.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Hi Mel,
    Do you double the sauce? Does that mean you use over a cup of sugar for this meal? Thanks!!!

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hi Mel,
    Do you double the sauce? Is that over a cup of sugar for one meal?
    Thanks!

  10. Laura says:

    This is delicious! And yes, bake it for the hour in the oven! Though not as gooey sweet as the stuff you get in restaurants, it was a little too sweet for my husband (it was fine for me). I am making it again tonight and will cut back on the sugar to a 1/2 cup. Very yummy and tender. Was not chewy or tough as you sometimes get in take out. Does anyone know how well it might freeze? I am thinking yes?

  11. Yurie says:

    This was delicious! I didn’t really want to wait for them to bake, so I just pan fried the chicken. I then separately cooked the sauce in a pan so that the vinegar would evaporate. I added a few pinches of starch to help the sauce thicken, and after the sauce tasted just right I took it off the heat and ate it with the chicken. Best sweet and sour chicken I’ve made!

  12. Barb says:

    Enjoyed the dish totally, used brown sugar instead and wonder if that is why I didn’t end up with crispy in the end.

  13. Julie says:

    What to you recommend as a sub for the eggs? I have a kiddo with an egg allergy.

    • Mel says:

      I don’t have a recommendation, Julie – sorry! I’ve never made it without the eggs. You might try googling to see if there’s a good sub out there.

    • Janet says:

      I have a kiddo with an egg allergy as well. I dipped it in rice milk (my kiddo also has a dairy allergy) and it worked great!

    • April says:

      I made this without frying in the eggs and it was still very good! I just put the raw chicken pieces in the sauce and baked it. Saves time and calories too. 🙂

  14. Kelly Wilhite says:

    This was a bit time-intensive…for someone slow like me it took over two hours to make. However, it was hands-down the best recipe for chicken I have ever made. The kids absolutely LOVED it. I was like the hero mom for the day!!

  15. Andrea says:

    This was darn delicious! I am wondering what would happen if I stirred in a tablespoon or so of jalapeño jelly (which I made last summer from a recipe on your site). I think that it would only be good things!

  16. Eileen says:

    I made this awhile ago. I made a huge mess. I shouldn’t be allowed near corn starch. Fast forward a couple of years and a 3,000 mile move to Seattle aka the land of no cheap chinese take out, and I needed it again. I also needed it to not destroy my kitchen, so I volunteered my engineer husband to do the frying part. It was the best thing ever. I absolutely loved it and ate all of the leftovers before he got to them. That was last week. I couldn’t stop thinking about it…so it’s in the oven for take two. I was wondering if you thought it could be made in the instant pot. I’m not sure how….but you’re an instant pot recipe loving lady!

  17. Lori says:

    Do you cover this dish while baking?

  18. Marti says:

    This was a hit tonight. i did have to substitute the cornstarch for flour cause i started making it and realized i didn’t have any and it still turned out great. It did take time to prepare and cook but it was worth it because all 4 kids loved it!

  19. Leah says:

    I just wanted to share the substitutions I used due to my son’s food sensitivities. Instead of cornstarch I used tapioca starch, instead of egg I used VeganEgg and instead of soy sauce I used coconut aminos. It was so delicious! Was gobbled up by my hungry boys when they got home from basketball practice. Thank you for making me look like a rockstar!

  20. Mary says:

    First time finding your site and this is the first recipe I made. Wonderful! I used 5 breasts for our family and doubled the sauce–poured 1/2 over the cooking chicken, and cooked the rest on the stove until bubbly. My family raved about it! I too wondered about the 1-hour long cooking; however, it is THE.MOST.TENDER chicken ever! Hubby couldn’t get enough. Thank you for this recipe–I’ll be trying more now!

  21. Jennfier says:

    I just bought some of the Panda Express Orange Sauce. Has anyone tried using this in place of the sweet and sour sauce? I want to try it tonight and I can’t decide if I should just back the chicken and put the sauce on after, or if the sauce should back with the chicken. We love the original recipe and thought we would switch it up a bit.

  22. Mandi says:

    Made this tonight however I came across it on another site. While they linked back to your site I followed the recipe on their site. That recipe decreased the chicken to 1 lb and left the sauce as is (thus double for the amt of chicken). I had 2lbs and assumed I needed to double the sauce recipe which would actually be quadruple! Sheesh. It was soupy but delish. Glad I clicked the link so I know next time. Adding this to a regular rotation. Trying to ditch the Chinese delivery addiction!

  23. Liz says:

    This has been on my list and I finally made it today – wonderful!!! I had 1 large and thick breast … didn’t weigh it, but made the full recipe of sauce and used all of the sauce which worked fine and was pretty much absorbed. So very good!

    I had it over leftover brown rice which I warmed up with some pineapple chunks and a bit of the pineapple juice. Roast asparagus for a side. A great meal.

  24. Machara says:

    is there anyway for me to not put the chicken in a pan filled with oil? my dad almost burnt down the house about a month ago because of oil in a pan, and to tell you the truth. i’m a little afraid to do that now.

  25. Rachel says:

    This is amazingly delicious! Thank you for the recipe and helping me make a recipe I never would have thought I could make

  26. KimG says:

    I have made this exactly as the recipe says and it is awesome! My grandkids love it! I use the chicken breast tenders. Great recipe! Thanks

  27. Jessica says:

    I have made this recipe several times and my kids and I absolutely love this! The forst time i made this i followed it to the “T”. Since then I have decreased the ACV but just a tad (just my personal preference). I will continue to make this, it’s excellent! Thanks for this recipe!

  28. JasUK says:

    Yurie’s idea is good – if you going to fry the chicken anyway, just enjoy it like that – simple, crispy, saves an hour. I cooked the recipe to the letter except for subbing xylitol for sugar, but was really disappointed. I don’t know why i thought something magical would happen, I mean if you tip liquid over fried food, it’s going to be soggy. Maybe that’s the point – to replicate a take out that’s been sat in a plastic bag for an hour? Have better expectations of food, people! Worst thing was the vinegar though. I add apple cider vinegar to my bath so I’m used to the smell, but even after resting this dish for 10 minutes before serving, this fumes literally brought tears to my eyes at the table. My finished dish looked pretty, but this isn’t for me, sorry.

    • Shawna says:

      JasUK, the reason your food was soggy and tasted of vinegar is because you skipped baking it for an hour. You can’t expect to skip such a large step and come out with a dish that tastes the same.

  29. Mary says:

    Greetings from Ireland.
    Hi Mel, I came across your site three days ago, purely by chance and I’m addicted ever since. I’ve been on it many times a day including up to 2.00am! I just had to make your sweet and sour chicken, did so today and it was so delicious. I followed recipe exactly, making one extra portion of sauce to pour over. Next time I am going to quadruple sauce, I honestly have such a sweet tooth!!! I am so thrilled you have so many chicken recipes as I don’t eat beef. Next on the list for a dinner party is orange chicken and your nobake chocolate cheesecake. Your deserts, omg, I can’t wait to try lots and lots of them!!! Wonderful site with super instructions and comments for which I thank you. I know you are going to be so (deliciously!) bad for my health, especially as I have just lost a stone in weight, by doing lots of exercise and healthy (I reckon that’s now gone out the window!) eating. Again thank you for such a wonderful site, I truly feel lucky to have found it. Mary.

  30. gbas says:

    Holy crap that was amazing! So easy and came out delicious on the first attempt, which is not normal for me when i try new recipes hahah. Followed your steps exactly except a bit less time in the oven as I made less chicken.

    Thank you, will be trying your other recipes for sure!

  31. Liza says:

    I’ve tried this a few times, the sauce is great but can never get the chicken to go crispy, and that’s before I add the sauce. Any tips on how to make it crispy ?
    Cheers

    • Mel says:

      Hi Liza – this isn’t going to be as crispy as a restaurant deep-fried version – if you want it really crispy, you’ll probably want to deep fry the chicken pieces and just thicken the sauce on the stove

  32. Terry Holt says:

    Can this be cooked in a crockpot instead of the oven? If so, for how long?

  33. Emily Bentz says:

    I’ve made this twice and my husband and I absolutely love it, but I don’t know if I can handle making it again because of the hot oil that is constantly splattering on my arms as I flip all the small pieces. An oil guard is great when its just cooking, but when I am flipping the chicken my arms get so burned. Mel, is this a problem for you? How do you avoid the burns? Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      I don’t find that my oil splatters that much, Emily – but I really use a small amount – just enough to barely cover the bottom of the frying pan. Often times I use my electric frying pan (so I can cook more pieces at at time) and the higher sides help with the splattering I think. Also, you might try turning the heat down just a bit.

  34. Shawna says:

    I love this dish! I use my deep fryer so it cuts down a good bit on frying time though it is still a labor intensive recipe.

    Any thoughts on freezing the meat, after frying/cooling but before adding the sauce?

    • Mel says:

      Hey Shawna – I haven’t tried freezing this so I’m not sure but I think it’s definitely worth a try – especially if you freeze it before adding the sauce.

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