Easy Bourbon Chicken

Easy Bourbon Chicken is a takeout-style dinner that can’t be beat! Everyone will love this sweet and savory chicken, swimming in a thick sauce prepared with brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and of course – bourbon!

Sweet and Sticky Bourbon Chicken, Made from Scratch!

If you want a crowd-pleasing chicken dish, you really can’t go wrong with bourbon chicken. This mall-and-takeout classic is made with tender chunks of chicken, stir-fried and coated in a thick, sticky sauce that’s flavored with real bourbon! It’s well-balanced between sweet, salty, and tangy, making it a satisfying family favorite – especially with a heaping helping of your favorite rice.

Bourbon chicken is the kind of food I fondly remember from a day hitting the mall, a welcome hot meal in the middle of all that walking and shopping! Well, let me tell you, it’s also a welcome dinner at the end of a long day.

Plus, it’s quick and easy to make. The only prep you have to do is cut up the chicken, a few scallions, and a little garlic, and then whisk together the sauce ingredients. 

up close shot of cut up chicken thighs covered in bourbon sauce and topped with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.

Why Is It Called Bourbon Chicken?

This recipe is almost certainly called bourbon chicken because of the bourbon in the sauce, but some people also think the dish originated on Bourbon Street in New Orleans! In fact, it may have been invented by a Chinese restaurant cook in New Orleans, explaining its similarity to many Chinese-American stir-fry dishes.

The Ingredients

The secret to this dish is in the amazing sauce, loaded with rich umami flavor from the chicken and soy sauce, and balanced with warm brown sugar and tangy apple cider vinegar.

  • Chicken: I prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this recipe, but you can also use chicken breasts. Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch gives the chicken a silkier texture and thickens the sauce.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Oil: You’ll need a small amount of high-heat oil for frying. My preferred oil is basic vegetable oil or avocado oil, but you could use peanut oil or any other high heat oil you like.
  • Scallions and Garlic: Thinly slice the scallions, and mince the garlic.
  • Broth: Low-sodium chicken broth is my go-to! Feel free to substitute bone broth or vegetable broth, though!
  • Soy Sauce: Again, I use low-sodium soy sauce. Regular soy sauce is also fine, as are tamari sauce and coconut aminos.
  • Bourbon: The alcohol in the bourbon cooks off as the sauce simmers, leaving just the mild bourbon flavor. However, if you want to substitute, check out the section below!
  • Brown Sugar: Packed light brown sugar sweetens the dish beautifully! Honey and maple syrup are also good options.
  • Apple Juice: Just a little apple juice adds a slight fruity sweetness.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Rice vinegar or rice wine vinegar are good options here, too.
  • Ginger: Ground ginger is fine. If you use fresh ginger, grate or mince it very finely.
  • Garnishes: Toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions make lovely optional garnishes, adding flavor, texture, and color.
  • Rice: Cooked rice is my usual side for serving, or you can check out the serving suggestions and variations below for more ideas.
chicken thighs in a mixing bowl tossed with cornstarch.

What to Use Instead of Bourbon

If you don’t want to use bourbon in your recipe, no worries! Any whisky will do. And, if you don’t want to use alcohol at all, you can use extra apple juice, or a little water mixed with hoisin sauce. The bourbon chicken will taste slightly different, but still amazing!

How to Make It

Let’s take a look at the process for making homemade bourbon chicken. Like many stir-fries, this one is all about cooking the chicken to tender perfection, and then making the sauce in the same skillet or wok. It’s easy!

  • Coat the Chicken in Cornstarch, and Cook. Combine your cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl, and add the chicken pieces. Toss them gently to coat. Next, heat the oil in a wok or a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken in batches until it is browned and cooked through, about seven minutes per batch. Don’t stir the chicken too often, or it may stick. 
  • Cook the Garlic and Scallions: Take the chicken out of the skillet and set it aside. Add a little more oil to the skillet, and set it back on the burner. Add the scallions and cook for 30 seconds, and then the garlic for another 20 seconds. Stir frequently to keep the scallions and garlic from scorching.
  • Make the Sauce. In a medium bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, apple juice, apple cider vinegar and ginger. Pour this mixture into the hot skillet and bring to a steady simmer.
  • Cook the Chicken in the Sauce Briefly. Finally, add the chicken back to the skillet and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the chicken cook in the sauce for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the sauce is sticky and thick.
  • Enjoy! Serve the chicken over rice, garnished with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
photo of a skillet while cooking cut up chicken thighs in bourbon sauce.

Easy Tips and Variations

There are so many amazing ways to tweak this recipe! Feel free to make it your own! Here are a few of my favorite ideas for customizing homemade bourbon chicken:

  • Make It Spicy: For a little kick, add a touch of Sriracha sauce or cayenne pepper to the sauce while it cooks. Start small, and add more to taste.
  • Bourbon Popcorn Chicken: For a crunchy twist, make Popcorn Chicken instead of the chicken in this recipe, and coat it in the sweet, sticky bourbon sauce. Talk about tasty!
  • Add Pasta: While I usually serve rice, this saucy dish is also fabulous with hot, cooked lo mein (or linguine) stirred right into the skillet at the end of cooking. The pasta absorbs the sauce to create a gorgeous noodle bowl!
  • Add Veggies: For extra nutrition, you can definitely stir-fry sliced or chopped onions, mushrooms, and peppers with the chicken – or toss some steamed broccoli right into the skillet at the end of cooking.
  • Play with the Proportions: Want the sauce a little sweeter? Add more sugar! A little more tangy? Add more vinegar. More bourbon-y? More bourbon, of course! 🥃

What to Serve with Bourbon Chicken

Rice is a natural partner for bourbon chicken, soaking up all that delicious sauce and adding a wholesome carb component. However, there are lots of other great sides you could make besides (or in addition to) rice! Check out these easy recipes for side dish inspiration!

  • Bok Choy: Steamed bok choy with a little sesame oil and soy sauce is always fantastic, or you could make Baby Bok Choy with Warm Garlic Soy Dressing. Yum!
  • Grilled Zucchini: Grilling takes the naturally mild flavor of fresh zucchini to savory new heights! Light charring brings out a hint of warm sweetness in this recipe for Perfect Grilled Zucchini, with simple seasoning and a little sesame oil.
  • Fried “Rice”: Turn your dinner into a low-carb feast with Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice! It’s an easy grain-free version of the takeout favorite.
overhead shot of a white dinner plate with bourbon chicken and rice arranged on top of it, and a pair of chopsticks set at the bottom of the plate.

Storing and Reheating the Leftovers

  • To keep your leftover bourbon chicken fresh, store it in the refrigerator, in airtight containers or food storage bags. Use within 4 days.
  • To reheat, just place the chicken and any sauce in a covered skillet over low heat. Allow to heat until the sauce bubbles and the chicken is steaming hot all the way through, stirring occasionally.

Can I Freeze Bourbon Chicken?

Yes, you can! You can actually freeze this one before cooking, or just freeze the leftovers after cooking.

  • To freeze before cooking, make the sauce and add the chopped chicken and sauce to a freezer bag. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before cooking.
  • To freeze cooked bourbon chicken, cool the chicken and sauce completely. Pack the chicken and sauce into a freezer bag, and freeze for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

ENJOY!

wooden spoon stirring through bourbon chicken while cooking in a stainless steel skillet.

Easy Bourbon Chicken

Katerina | Diethood
Everyone will love this sweet and savory chicken, swimming in a thick sauce made with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and bourbon.
4.92 from 12 votes
Servings : 5
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 25 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces (you can also use chicken breasts)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • toasted sesame seeds, for garnish, optional
  • sliced green onions, for garnish, optional
  • cooked rice, for serving

Instructions
 

  • In a large mixing bowl toss the chicken pieces with cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
  • Set a wok or a large skillet over medium heat and heat it up.
  • Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the wok; then add in the chicken pieces.
  • Cook the chicken for about 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. If your skillet isn’t big enough to fit all the chicken pieces in one single layer, cook the chicken in batches.
  • Remove chicken from skillet; cover and set aside.
  • Add remaining vegetable oil to the skillet and set it back on the burner over medium heat.
  • To the hot oil, add the sliced scallions and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, apple juice, apple cider vinegar and ground ginger; whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Pour into the hot wok/skillet; cook for 3 minutes and bring to a steady simmer.
  • Add the chicken back to the skillet and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until sauce is thickened.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
  • Serve over rice.

Nutrition

Calories: 335 kcal | Carbohydrates: 21 g | Protein: 37 g | Fat: 8 g | Saturated Fat: 2 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g | Trans Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 172 mg | Sodium: 606 mg | Potassium: 564 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 12 g | Vitamin A: 116 IU | Vitamin C: 2 mg | Calcium: 39 mg | Iron: 2 mg | Net Carbs: 20 g

Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.

Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Keyword: bourbon chicken chinese, chicken stir fry, sticky chicken
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24 comments on “Easy Bourbon Chicken”

  1. This recipe is the bomb-dot-com!! Thank you very much, I used onions instead of scallions, but it still was amazing! My wife was licking the plate loll.

  2. I used Jim Beam peach and whole dried hot chili peppers instead of the red flakes. This way you have control of the heat by nibbling on the peppers or leaving them alone.

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