Bourbon Chicken

4.50 from 40 votes
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Bourbon Chicken is a takeout-style dinner that everyone loves! It’s sweet and savory chicken thighs cooked in a finger-licking sauce prepared with brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and bourbon!

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


 

This easy Bourbon Chicken, a beloved mall takeout classic, is a hit with its tender stir-fried chicken in a thick, sticky bourbon-flavored sauce. Perfectly balancing sweet, salty, and tangy flavors, it’s an ideal family favorite, especially when paired with your favorite rice. Quick and simple to prepare, this comforting dish requires just diced chicken, sliced scallions, and garlic, along with a whisked sauce, making it a great option for a very satisfying dinner.

Why We Love This Bourbon Chicken Recipe

  • Quick and Convenient: From start to finish, it’s a flavorful meal ready in just about 30 minutes, making it perfect for busy days or when you don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen.
  • Crispy: Coating the chicken in cornstarch and then frying ensures a crispy exterior while maintaining a juicy and tender interior.
  • Rich and Sticky Sauce: The combination of soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar results in a deliciously tangy sauce that’s irresistibly sticky and thick.

What Is 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.

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

Ingredients You’ll Need

Gather these simple ingredients to master how to make Bourbon Chicken, a dish that perfectly balances savory and sweet flavors.

  • Chicken: I prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this recipe, but you can also use chicken breasts.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch gives the chicken a silkier texture and thickens the sauce.
  • Salt and Black Pepper
  • Oil: I use vegetable oil, but you could use olive oil, peanut oil, or any other high-smoke point oil.
  • Scallions and Garlic: Thinly slice the scallions and mince the garlic.
  • Broth: Low-sodium chicken broth is my go-to, but you can substitute bone broth or vegetable broth.
  • Soy Sauce: I use low-sodium soy sauce, but regular soy sauce is also fine, as are tamari sauce and coconut aminos.
  • Bourbon: Essential for making the bourbon chicken sauce. The alcohol cooks off as the sauce simmers, leaving just the mild bourbon flavor.
  • Brown Sugar: Packed light brown sugar sweetens the dish. 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. I also like to use crushed red pepper.
  • Rice: Cooked rice is my usual side for serving.

How to Make Bourbon Chicken

Let’s take a look at the process for making this take-out favorite in your own kitchens. Like many stir-fries, this one is about cooking the chicken quickly and making the sauce in the same skillet or wok.

  • 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, sliced green onions, and red pepper.
photo of a skillet while cooking cut up chicken thighs in bourbon sauce.

Recipe Tips And Variations

  • 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.
  • No 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.
  • 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: You can definitely add some stir-fry sliced or chopped onions, mushrooms, and peppers in this recipe for bourbon chicken – or toss some steamed broccoli right into the skillet at the end of cooking.
  • Play with the Proportions: Customize the sauce by adjusting the sugar, vinegar, or bourbon to suit your tastes perfectly.

Keeping the Chicken Tender and Juicy

Making chicken that is tender and juicy is key to a mouthwatering dish. The secret lies in not overcooking the chicken, letting it rest after cooking, and cooking it to the correct internal temperature of 162˚F-165˚F can make all the difference. Marinating the chicken before cooking infuses it with flavor but also helps to keep it moist and tender during the cooking process.

Serving Suggestions

Rice is a natural partner for bourbon chicken, soaking up all that delicious sauce however, my Baby Bok Choy with Warm Garlic Soy Dressing is fantastic! Or this recipe for Grilled Zucchini, with simple seasoning and a little sesame oil. Turn your dinner into a feast with Kimchi Fried Rice or Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice.

Make-Ahead Instructions

To get ahead on this delicious Bourbon Chicken recipe, start by preparing your chicken and sauce the night before. Toss the chicken pieces with cornstarch, salt, and pepper, then let them marinate covered in the fridge overnight. Similarly, for the sauce, blend together the chicken broth, soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and ground ginger, and let this mixture also sit covered in the fridge. Before you begin cooking, take both the chicken and the sauce out of the fridge 15 minutes ahead of cooking to bring them to room temperature.

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 Leftovers

  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator, in airtight containers or in food storage bags. Use within 4 days.
  • To reheat, place the chicken and sauce in a covered skillet over low heat. Allow to heat until the sauce bubbles and the chicken is heated through, stirring occasionally.
  • 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.

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4.50 from 40 votes

Bourbon Chicken Recipe

Everyone loves this sweet and savory Bourbon Chicken tossed in a delicious sauce made with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and bourbon.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 6

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
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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 the 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 20 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, and serve over rice, noodles, etc.

Notes

  • Spice It Up: Enhance the heat with a dash of Sriracha or cayenne pepper, adjusting to your spice preference.
  • Noodles: Skip the rice and toss hot, cooked lo mein or linguine into the skillet, letting the noodles absorb the rich sauce for an instant noodle bowl.
  • Add Veggies: Toss in onions, mushrooms, and peppers with the chicken or add steamed broccoli into the mix.
  • Adjust To Taste: Customize the sauce by adjusting the sugar, vinegar, or bourbon to suit your tastes perfectly.

Nutrition

Calories: 319kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 144mg | Sodium: 534mg | Potassium: 488mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 96IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 34mg | Iron: 2mg

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.

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35 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Mine didn’t thicken at all. I don’t know if it was because I used a wok? And it didn’t get brown like your picture. I used a quarter cup of brown sugar but that dissolved in all the other liquids. Where are you getting your brown color? I ended up adding more corn starch just to thicken it up

    1. Katerina says:

      Hi!

      When it comes to thickening the sauce, it’s all about giving it enough time to cook and reduce; typically, after about 5 minutes of simmering, you should notice it starting to thicken up due to the evaporation of the liquids. If the sauce seems too thin, letting it simmer a bit longer can do the trick without needing extra cornstarch.
      As for the brown color, it primarily comes from the initial browning of the chicken pieces in a single layer – using a skillet that’s large enough to fit all of them without crowding is important. If it’s too small, the chicken will steam, release its juices into the pan, and create more liquid. This browning stage not only adds depth to the flavor but also contributes to the color of the dish. Following that, adding bourbon, soy sauce, and brown sugar enhances the color further.

      Using a wok could influence the cooking slightly due to its shape and how heat is distributed, but it is still possible to achieve a thickened sauce and the desired color with a large enough skillet.

    2. Elisa says:

      Ale a cornstarch slurry to add on at the end. 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with a tablespoon of water.

  2. Tyler says:

    How is this possibly considered “easy”? There’s like a hundred ingredients lol

    1. Katerina says:

      Hey there! I totally understand how the list might seem long at first glance, but this recipe is more about gathering common pantry items than anything overly complicated. Chicken, cornstarch, salt, pepper, and oil form the base, while the chicken broth, soy sauce, bourbon, brown sugar, apple juice, and apple cider vinegar work together to create the sauce. It is nothing too scary, and if you cook at home often, these ingredients will most likely be within a hand’s reach.

  3. Ryan says:

    This was alright. I followed the recipe to the letter but couldn’t get the sauce to thicken. Also, normally bourbon chicken is sweeter than this.

    1. Katerina says:

      Thank you for trying the recipe! I’m surprised to hear that the sauce didn’t thicken as expected, especially with the cornstarch included. If you make it again, you can try increasing the cornstarch slightly or simmering the sauce a bit longer for better thickening. As for the sweetness, bourbon chicken recipes can indeed vary in sweetness. Feel free to adjust the brown sugar amount to your preference.

  4. Bonnie says:

    Delicious; I added snow peas! Next time around I am going to add some sliced, cooked carrots and maybe some small pieces of broccoli.

  5. K Hanson says:

    This was seriously so good and super easy to throw together! This was our “I need to go grocery shopping meal” and I am so happy with it.

  6. Mico says:

    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.

  7. Mike says:

    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.

  8. Casi says:

    Can I use this sauce to cook in the grill?

  9. Amanda says:

    This is one of our favorite easy dinners! It’s so flavorful.

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      That’s great! I hope you’ll enjoy it! Thank YOU! 🙂