Sweet and Sour Chicken is a Chinese takeout favorite that’s easy to make at home. With crispy chunks of chicken, bell peppers, and fresh pineapple in the most amazing sweet and sour sauce!
Better than takeout!
Chinese takeout can sometimes be hit or miss. But this Sweet and Sour Chicken always comes out perfect with crispy chicken, lots of bell peppers, yummy fresh pineapple, and a perfectly balanced sauce that’s simple, yet so full of flavor.
Tested and perfected recipe
This Sweet and Sour Chicken is a family favorite that I’ve been making for years. The sauce has been tweaked to perfection with just the right balance of sweet and sour.
To get the crispiest, best-tasting chicken, I tested countless batches with different coating ingredients and cooking methods. More about that below or just skip on down to the recipe if kitchen experiments aren’t your thing.
How to get perfectly, crispy chicken
I did a side by side test of several methods of cooking the chicken to see which was the best.
I like the crispy fried chicken pieces that you get in your favorite takeout, but achieving that perfect crunchy coating doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes I want something healthier and with less mess, so I tested both deep fried and pan fried versions. Several factors I was looking for was a crispy coating, juicy interior, easy, less mess.
Here are some of the versions I tested:
1 - I dipped the chicken into egg whites, then into cornstarch mixed with a little baking soda, and then it was deep fried.
This method was my favorite deep frying method. It was crispy, with little crunchy nubs, it stayed crispy the longest, and had a good flavor.
2 - I mixed the chicken with egg white and cornstarch, then pan fried it in one to two tablespoons of oil.
This was my favorite method of cooking that didn’t involve deep frying. It had a crispy coating. Although not as crispy as the deep fried method, it was satisfying and lighter.
It was the easiest method of cooking because there was no dipping.
One disadvantage of this method is that it pops in the oil and can make a big mess on the stove. I found that the more oil that is in the pan, the more it pops. On the other hand, more oil in the pan makes it crispier.
The best way I’ve found to cook with this method is to use one tablespoon of oil to brown the chicken on one side, then add a second tablespoon of oil when flipping it to the other side.
3 - I dipped the chicken into a batter of flour, cornstarch, baking powder and water and then deep fried it.
This chicken was fluffy and pillowy, like some takeout I’ve had. While enjoyable, it was somewhat greasy and it didn’t stay crisp if it stayed in the sauce for a while.
4 - I dipped the chicken in cornstarch, then egg, then flour and deep fried. This method produced crispy chicken, but it tasted too much like southern fried chicken.
5- I dipped the chicken in cornstarch then in egg, then deep fried. This chicken had an interesting texture. It was a little fried-eggy.
6 - I dipped the chicken into an egg and soy sauce mixture, then into cornstarch, then deep fried. This was the worst batch. The coating didn’t adhere well to the cooked chicken and crumbled off as it cooled.
Deep frying vs. pan frying in a small amount of oil
All of the testing resulted in two favorite methods for cooking the chicken, one deep fried (#1) and one pan fried in a small amount of oil (#2).
Between the two methods, I’m undecided, but I’ll give the pros and cons of both methods in case you find something there that helps you choose one method over the other.
Crispiness: The deep fried chicken is crispier and crunchier. It is very much like the chicken in takeout. The pan fried chicken has a very pleasant texture, it’s just not as crunchy.
The deep fried chicken is crispy on all sides and edges. Obviously the more oil in the pan and the higher up the side of the chicken it goes, the more surface area will get crisped. The pan fried chicken is mostly just crispy on 2 sides.
Messiness: Surprisingly, cooking the pan fried chicken is much messier than the deep fried chicken. Cornstarch in oil makes quite a splatter. I’m talking the stove AND the floor. Not only does it make more mess, the popping oil burns your hands and arms.
Less oil in the pan makes less spattering. The best way I’ve found to cook with this method is to use one tablespoon of oil to brown the chicken on one side, then add a second tablespoon of oil when flipping it to the other side.
As far as preparation goes, the deep fried method creates more mess on the countertop since you have to have 2 bowls, one for the egg whites and one for the cornstarch. You also have to use a baking/cooling rack to hold the chicken before frying.
The pan fried method only requires one bowl to mix the egg whites, cornstarch, and chicken in.
Ease of cooking: Both methods have their pros and cons here.
Deep frying pros: Once you get it in the oil, it cooks evenly without much effort.
Deep frying cons: You have to dip the chicken into the egg whites, then into the cornstarch, and then on a rack.
Pan frying pros: Mixing the egg whites, cornstarch, and chicken is super easy.
Pan frying cons: You have to pay more attention to the pieces, flipping them and trying to brown them.
Taste: Which one you like best will be up to personal preference. My family loves both. Some prefer the traditional crispy, fried chicken and some prefer the lightness of the pan fried chicken.
What's in Sweet and Sour Chicken?
- crispy chunks of chicken
- bell peppers - you can use red, yellow, green, or a mix of those
- pineapple - I use fresh pineapple or good quality frozen pineapple chunks
- minced garlic and ginger - for an authentic Asian flavor
- Sweet and Sour sauce
What's in Sweet and Sour Sauce?
Sweet and sour sauce is a sweet, tangy sauce that's full of flavor. It contains:
- white and brown sugars
- vinegar - my favorite is red wine vinegar
- pineapple juice - orange juice also works
- soy sauce
- cornstarch - to thicken the sauce
Sweet and Sour Chicken is quick and easy to make
Sweet and Sour Chicken is quick and easy to make in these easy steps:
- Combine the sauce ingredients
- Cook the chicken and remove from pan.
- Sauté the veggies for about a minute.
- Add the sauce and bring to a boil.
- Add the pineapple and chicken to the sauce.
How to cook the chicken for Sweet and Sour Chicken
Since my family loves both versions, I’ll give directions for both the deep fried chicken and the pan fried chicken.
How to pan fry the chicken in a small amount of oil
Combine the egg whites and cornstarch in a medium sized bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in chicken until all pieces are evenly coated.
Heat a large pan over high heat. You want the pan to be nice and hot so the outside of the chicken browns and crisps, while the inside stays juicy. If the pan isn’t hot enough or if the chicken is overcrowded, it will stew in its own juices without getting crispy or be overcooked.
Add oil to pan, let it get hot, then add half of the chicken, dropping in the pieces one by one without the pieces touching each other. Don’t stir or move the chicken until a brown crust forms on the bottom. Flip the pieces so the other side browns, then stir the chicken so some of the sides turn golden.
Remove chicken from pan and repeat with the second half of chicken.
How to deep fry chicken for Sweet and Sour Chicken
Whisk egg whites in a bowl or pie dish. Add chicken and stir until all chicken is coated.
In a second bowl or pie dish, whisk cornstarch and baking soda to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces in the cornstarch until all surfaces are covered. I like to add half of the chicken at a time rather than piece by piece. This creates nubs of coating on the chicken that get crunchy when cooked. Place dredged chicken on a baking/cooling rack and repeat until all chicken is coated.
Heat an inch of frying oil in a large pan over high heat until it reaches 380 F. The higher the sides, the less mess. A hot oil will let the chicken get a crunchy golden interior without overcooking on the inside. Hotter oil also means less oil absorbed by the chicken.
Fry the chicken in batches, being careful to not crowd the pan, until golden brown on the outside and done inside. Place on a baking/cooling rack.
How to make Sweet and Sour Chicken
Start by making the Sweet and Sour sauce. Simply stir all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl.
Cook the chicken using either of the methods described above.
Sauté the veggies. If you pan fried the chicken, you can use the same pan the chicken was cooked in. Wipe out any overly browned bits with a paper towel.
Cooking over medium high heat, put in a little oil, add the garlic and ginger, and stir for a few seconds. Add the onion and bell pepper and stir fry for about a minute. I like the onions and peppers to be tender-crisp and to keep their bright colors.
Pour in the sauce and let it come to a boil. It will thicken in about a minute. Add the pineapple and cook until just heated, then stir in the chicken and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with sliced green onion, if desired, and serve.
The steps here show how to make the pan fried version:
Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 6 1x
Sweet and Sour Chicken is a Chinese takeout favorite that’s easy to make at home. With crispy chunks of chicken, bell peppers, and pineapple in the most amazing sweet and sour sauce!
For the chicken:
- 1 ½ lb (680g) boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into 1-inch cubes)
To pan fry:
- 1 large egg white
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch ((20g))
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil ((25g) divided (See note))
To deep fry:
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 cup cornstarch ((112g))
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 3 cups vegetable oil (or enough to fill the pan 1-inch deep)
For the sauce:
- ½ cup sugar ((99g))
- ¼ cup brown sugar ((53g))
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch ((20g))
- ½ cup pineapple juice (or orange juice (128g))
- ½ cup ketchup ((136g))
- ½ cup red wine vinegar ((116g))
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce ((20g))
For the vegetables:
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil ((12g))
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger ((1 inch))
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic ((4 cloves))
- 1 medium red bell pepper (cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups total peppers))
- 1 medium green bell pepper (cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces (See note))
- 1 yellow onion chopped into 1-inch pieces ((about 1 cup))
- 1 ½ cups fresh pineapple chunks
- 4 green onions (green parts only, sliced thin)
For the Sweet and Sour sauce:
- Stir all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
To pan fry chicken:
- Combine the egg whites and cornstarch in a medium sized bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. Stir in chicken until all pieces are evenly coated.
- Heat a large pan over high heat. You want the pan to be nice and hot so the outside of the chicken browns and crisps, while the inside stays juicy.
- Add oil to pan, let it get hot, then add half of the chicken, dropping in the pieces one by one without the pieces touching each other. Don’t stir or move the chicken until a brown crust forms on the bottom.
- Flip the pieces so the other side browns. You can add an additional tablespoon of oil when flipping the chicken, if desired.
- Then stir the chicken so some of the sides turn golden. Cook until chicken is done inside.
- Remove chicken from pan and repeat with the second half of chicken.
To deep fry the chicken:
- Whisk egg whites in a bowl or pie dish. Add chicken and stir until all chicken is coated.
- In a second bowl or pie dish, whisk cornstarch and baking soda to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces in the cornstarch until all surfaces are covered. I like to add half of the chicken at a time rather than piece by piece. This creates nubs of coating on the chicken that get crunchy when cooked. Place dredged chicken on a baking/cooling rack and repeat until all chicken is coated.
- Heat an inch of frying oil in a large pan over high heat until it reaches 380 F. The higher the sides, the less mess. A hot oil will let the chicken get a crunchy golden interior without overcooking on the inside. Hotter oil also means less oil absorbed by the chicken.
- Fry the chicken in batches, being careful to not crowd the pan, until golden brown on the outside and done inside. Place on a baking/cooling rack.
- ( If you pan fried the chicken, you can use the same pan the chicken was cooked in. Wipe out any overly browned bits with a paper towel.)
- Cooking over medium high heat, put in a little oil, add the garlic and ginger, and stir for a few seconds. Add the onion and bell pepper and stir fry for about a minute. I like the onions and peppers to be tender-crisp and to keep their bright colors.
- Pour in the sauce and let it come to a boil. It will thicken in about a minute. Add the pineapple and cook until just heated, then stir in the chicken and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with sliced green onion, if desired, and serve.
Use about 2 cups of chopped bell peppers of any color or a mix.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Main Course
- Cuisine: American, Chinese
Keywords: asian, chicken breasts, dinner, easy, quick, sweet and sour chicken
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Love how you have shared the nuances of making this recipe. It looks fabulous and is certainly a keeper. thanks for sharing 🙂
Taruna, it was quite the project. And as I was doing it, I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested in the details of how I got to my favorite version. I stuck it in there though, in case someone would find it helpful. Thanks so much!
John / Kitchen Riffs says
Such a great post! Terrific recipe, and I like all the work you did experimenting with deep-frying and pan-frying the chicken. Hard to beat the taste of deep-fried anything, but getting rid of the cooking fat can sometimes be a challenge. Anyway, really good stuff -- thanks.
The deep fried chicken is perfectly crispy! I get rid of the cooking fat by funneling it into a used bottle, like an empty bottle of oil or used water bottles. Learned the hard way not to pour it down the sink drain 🙂 Thanks so much, John!
I prefer to frying the chicken...like what you said, it's less messy and the result is great. Your sweet and sour chicken looks so much better than the takeout.
Frying has such a bad reputation. It actually made much less oil splatter mess on the stove than pan frying. And if you want it to be like takeout - that's the way to go. Thanks so much, Angie!
This looks so good. You certainly put a ton of work into this recipe! I finally bought a deep fryer many years ago and have still not used it. I don’t know what my problem is. So, it will be the pan fried version here, which looks fabulous!
I love both versions, Mimi. It all depends on how I'm feeling when I walk into the kitchen. The pan fried version is nice and light and a little quicker than the deep fried version. Thanks so much!
Kelly, I'm always so impressed by all of your recipe testing - trying so many different methods to see what each one achieves. This is a really, really beautiful post! Your photos are absolutely stunning - the colors, the textures, all of it! Definitely better than take out! 🙂 ~Valentina
So happy to hear you say that, Valentina! I love all the little details of recipe testing, but I was worried it might be a little boring. I need one of those little skip-to-recipe buttons! Thanks so much!
Alexandra @ It's Not Complicated Recipes says
This is exactly the kind of dish I would order from the take away - I am so pleased to have all of your amazing tips to now make this at home! 🙂
Sweet and Sour Chicken is always one of our faves from takeout! Hope you find the tips helpful. Thanks so much, Alexandra!
Katherine | Love In My Oven says
Kelly, I already know this is an absolute win for us! I'm so glad you took the guesswork out of it all and did the testing for us! The sauce is perfectly sticky and sweet looking! Can't wait to try it!
I love side by side testing, Katherine! A little competition between dishes in the kitchen. Thanks so much!
I love how you tried so many methods! This looks so tasty, Kelly, and I guess I'd go with pan frying just because you don't need to use so much oil. Hmmm, I wonder how the air fryer would work? Maybe I'll have to experiment too 🙂
I bet the air fryer would be great, Susan! If you can get the texture of fried with less oil, it's win-win! Thanks so much!
Haylie / Our Balanced Bowl says
Kelly, you went over and above in testing all of the different ways for the chicken...amazing!!! I'm in awe of you and your recipes and photos - as always!! This recipe is totally a keeper, especially for the upcoming winter months when all I want is comfort food! YUM!
Aw, thanks so much, Haylie! Give me all the comfort food!
Absolutely beautiful ! Pinned and shared with the world 🙂
Thank you so much, Davorka!
David Scott Allen says
I haven’t had sweet and sour chicken since I was in college! (That was more than 40 years ago!) Your post makes me want to make a batch tonight! Thanks for all the work you did on the frying methods - amazingly helpful! Whenever stir fry chicken, I always dust it with cornstarch - makes it so tender!
I love the crispy texture cornstarch gives, as well. So glad you found the frying methods helpful! Thanks so much, David!
Dear Kelly, I am in awe of all the work and thought you put into developing all your recipes! How fabulous that you tried a number of different methods for deep- and pan frying chicken. This Sweet and Sour Chicken most definitely looks miles better than any take-out thatI have ever come across!
Fabulous post, wonderful recipe and a great presentation!
Thank you for sharing yet another amazing dish that the whole family will love!
Thank you so much for your kind words, Andrea! It does take quite a bit of time, but I love experimenting and finding my favorite!
A great comparison cook and the dish is sure to please any Chinese takeaway fan. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort for your comparison.
Ron, when I was young, I wanted to be a scientist. Somehow I ended up being an accountant. I guess experimenting in the kitchen is where I get to do what I love. Thanks so much!
That does sound like a great version of sweet & sour chicken!
Thanks so much, Balvinder!
We love sweet&sour chicken! Thanks for doing all that research and producing one fantastic dish! This looks and sounds delicious!
It's definitely a family favorite! Thanks so much, Laura!
Sweet and sour chicken is one of my favorite dishes to order in a Chinese restaurant. Your recipes sounds great and the pictures are spectacular. I would go for the pan fried version, even if if messier. 🙂
We always order a sweet and sour dish! Thanks so much, Adina!
David @ Spiced says
I absolutely love when you do your side-by-side comparison posts, Kelly. I learn so much from these! There's nothing worse than cleaning up the stove (and floor!?) after a splattering messy recipe. So I hear ya when it comes to take-out Chinese. Sometimes it can be good, but far more often it leaves me wishing I had just made it at home instead. This sweet and sour chicken is a classic, and it definitely needs to land on our menu here soon. It's making my mouth water...and I'm still working on my morning coffee right now. Haha!
I'm so happy to hear that, David! I love doing side-by-side comparisons and blind taste tests. Taking pictures and posting the whole process takes a whole lot more time. If it's beneficial, then it's all worth it! Thanks so much!
This recipe would be a huge hit for dinner time here! We love sweet and sour chicken and yours looks so much better than anything we've ever picked up. It looks mouthwatering!
My family loves it! Thanks so much, Marcie!
Eraj Siddiqui says
this is such a nice recipe .. i m gonna try it
I was a little skeptical seeing all the comments saying it was "better than takeout" but this recipe is no joke. My mouth is watering as I write this, my first recipe comment, to tell y'all this is LEGIT. I made it for family and almost everyone had seconds. It's literally better than it looks in the picture.
So happy you liked it, Darien! Thanks so much!
This is a lovely recipe and has become a family favourite.Thanks so much for sharing. My children have requested that we try the deep fry method. Kelly you refer in your blog to using baking powder and the recipe ingredients call for baking soda. Can you please clarify which is correct. Are the interchangeable?
Hi Halima! Thanks for pointing that out! I use baking soda.