My Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken is better than takeout and healthier too! Succulent pieces of crispy chicken are tossed in a delicious savory, sweet, and tangy sauce. Make this dish in the air fryer for a delicious dinner in under 30 minutes! Plus, it can be made gluten free.
What is General Tso's chicken?
Gneral Tso's (or General Tso) Chicken is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in America. And for good reason! Who can resist crispy morsels of juicy chicken coated in a thick, savory, sweet, and tangy sauce?
There's no doubt about the popularity of the dish, but its origins are still up for debate. Although it's named after a famed Chinese military leader (General Tso Tsung-t'ang), there is no recorded connection to him.
Rather, it seems that the dish was invented by a Taiwan-based Hunan chef (Peng Chang-kuei) many years later and subsequently brought to America. Over the years and across continents, the dish changed, developing a thicker coating and sweeter sauce to appeal to American palates.
Healthy General Tso's chicken in the air fryer
Why air fry this chicken? Because it's healthy and fast! Air frying is a healthy cooking technique that gives food the same crispy texture as fried food but with less calories and fat. I have this Ninja air fryer.
An air fryer is basically a mini convection oven that sits on your countertop, heats up quickly, and uses minimal oil. It makes food really crispy on the outside while keeping it moist on the inside. I make everything in my air fryer, from Coconut Shrimp to Salmon Teriyaki to vegetables like Easy Air Fryer Diced Potatoes and Perfect Air Fryer Asparagus!
In restaurants, General Tso's chicken typically has a heavy breading on the chicken. The chicken pieces are dipped in egg and coated in a thick breading made with flour and cornstarch before being deep fried in vegetable oil. The cooked chicken is then tossed in a thick, savory sauce that's a little spicy, tangy, and sweet.
My version of the dish is a lot lighter and easier! I coat the chicken in a thin layer of cornstarch and spray it with a little heart-healthy olive oil before it goes into the air fryer. This cuts down a lot on the amount of oil. By just using cornstarch (and not flour), it also keeps the breading gluten free.
To make my General Tso's chicken healthier, I also cut back a lot on the amount of sugar in the sauce. I often find the restaurant dish to be too sweet. My version has just the right amount of brown sugar to balance out the savory ingredients.
How to make the crispy chicken
I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. You can use chicken breast but I find that breasts dry out more easily in the air fryer. Chicken thighs, however, stay nice and juicy. I also use chicken thighs in my popular Chicken Teriyaki recipe.
First, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and marinate them in a little soy sauce. Then, toss the chicken with cornstarch. The cornstarch gives the chicken a light, crispy coating as it cooks.
I find that the easiest way to coat the chicken is to place the chicken and cornstarch in a large, resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake, shake, shake to coat all the pieces. Then, dust off any excess cornstarch.
Preheat your air fryer- don't skip this step! Then, spray or brush the basket in your air fryer with a little olive oil and arrange the chicken in a single layer. Don't overcrowd the basket otherwise the chicken won't crisp up. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to cook the chicken in a couple of batches.
Cook the chicken for 8-10 minutes until cooked through. Shake the basket halfway through cooking. This moves the chicken around and helps the pieces brown evenly on all sides.
Did you know that some oils are better to use than others when it comes to air frying? Read my post on The Best Oils and Oil Sprays To Use In Your Air Fryer to learn more!
How to make the sauce
While the chicken is in the air fryer, make your sauce. It's super easy and comes together in minutes! Simply sauté ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a little oil in a saucepan. Then stir in the rest of the sauce ingredients:
- Reduced sodium soy sauce (or tamari if gluten free)
- Hoisin sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Reduced sodium chicken stock
- Light brown sugar
- Sesame oil
Simmer the sauce for a few minutes to let the flavors meld and then stir in a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. The cornstarch will thicken the sauce almost immediately. The end product is a deliciously thick, glossy sauce with just the right balance of saltiness, heat, sweetness, and tang!
Assembling the dish
Once the chicken pieces are cooked, they're ready to be bathed in the glorious sauce! Toss the chicken into the saucepan with the sauce and stir to combine. For a final garnish, sprinkle on some sliced scallions and sesame seeds. You are now ready to devour this dish. Quick, easy, delicious, and way healthier than take out!
Chef's air fryer tips
- Always preheat the air fryer before putting your food in.
- Use oil rather than nonstick cooking spray to coat the air fryer basket. This will help prevent damage to the coating in the basket.
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the air fryer so that it crisps up nicely. Don't overcrowd the basket.
- Shake the basket halfway through cooking time so all the sides get browned evenly.
You can use chicken breast but I find that breasts dry out more easily in the air fryer. I prefer using chicken thighs for General Tso's chicken because the meat stays nice and juicy.
Yes! You can make gluten-free Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken. The breading already is gluten free. To keep the sauce gluten free, use tamari instead of soy sauce and gluten-free Hoisin sauce.
Yes! If you don't have an air fryer, you can cook the chicken in a skillet on the stove. Sauté the chicken in a little olive oil over medium high heat until golden brown and cooked through. You can also bake the chicken on a sheet pan in the oven. Spray or brush chicken with olive oil and bake at 400°F, flipping halfway through, about 15 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
Yes! This dish would be delicious with cauliflower or tofu instead of chicken.
To thicken the sauce for this dish, you add a cornstarch slurry at the end. You make the slurry by mixing 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water together in a small bowl. Then stir or whisk it into the sauce and simmer until thickened. If you're wondering why you don't add the cornstarch directly to the sauce, it's because it will clump up if you add it to hot liquid. That's why you typically add cornstarch to cold liquid and then stir it into sauces to thicken them.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze the dish for up to 3 months.
What to serve with this dish
I like to serve this dish on a bed of plain or fried rice with some vegetables on the side. Here are some ideas for side dishes:
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Air Fryer General Tso’s Chicken
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8 thighs), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce (or tamari if gluten free)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil or other neutral-flavored oil
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- ⅛-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce (or tamari if gluten free)
- 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce (can use gluten-free Hoisin sauce)
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- ¾ cup reduced sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water
- 2 scallions, sliced
- Sesame seeds for garnish
- Preheat air fryer to 400°F.
- Mix the chicken with 2 teaspoons soy sauce and let it sit for a few minutes to marinate. Then, toss the chicken and cornstarch together in a large zip topped plastic bag until the chicken pieces are fully coated.
- Spray or brush the air fryer rack with olive oil and arrange the chicken pieces on the rack in a single layer. Do not overcrowd the pan (you may have to cook the chicken in batches). Cook 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Shake the basket halfway through. Remove the chicken and place on a plate. Cook the remaining chicken.
- To make the sauce, heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, chicken stock, vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil and simmer 2-3 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and add it to the saucepan. Simmer another minute or two until thickened. Remove from heat.
- Remove chicken from the air fryer and toss with the sauce. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve with brown rice.
- To keep this recipe gluten free, use tamari instead of soy sauce and gluten-free Hoisin sauce.
- If you don't have an air fryer, you can cook the chicken in a skillet on the stove. Sauté the chicken in a little olive oil over medium high heat until golden brown and cooked through. You can also bake the chicken on a sheet pan in the oven. Spray or brush chicken with olive oil and bake at 400°F, flipping halfway through, about 15 minutes or until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F
- You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze the dish for up to 3 months.