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.
My air fryer has quickly become one of my most used kitchen appliances. I make everything in my air fryer, from coconut shrimp to salmon teriyaki to vegetables like air fryer butternut squash and perfect air fryer asparagus. I even wrote an air fryer cookbook!
Now I'm excited to bring you this delicious Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken. You'll have dinner on the table in under 30 minutes and it's healthier (and tastier) than take out!
- What is General Tso's chicken?
- General Tso Chicken vs Orange Chicken
- Healthy General Tso's chicken in the air fryer
- How To Make Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken Step-By-Step
- Chef's Tips
- Recipe FAQs
- What To Serve With This Dish
- Get Healthy With My New Digital Cookbook!
- More Tasty Air Fryer Dishes
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.
General Tso Chicken vs Orange Chicken
General Tso and Orange Chicken are both popular Americanized Chinese dishes that are staples on Chinese take out menus. They both feature pieces of crispy chicken that are battered and deep fried. The difference lies mainly in the sauce.
Both sauces include classic ingredients like ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar. The sauce for General Tso's has a bold, savory flavor with a hint of sweetness and tanginess and a mildly spicy kick. The spice is from dried red pepper flakes or dried whole red chiles.
The sauce for Orange Chicken, on the other hand, has a sweeter flavor with some tanginess and prominent citrus notes. This is from the inclusion of orange juice in the sauce. The final dish is also often garnished with orange zest or slices for an extra burst of citrus flavor.
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.
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.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions. See recipe card below for full recipe details.
- Chicken- I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they stay nice a juicy; you can use chicken breast but I find that breasts dry out more easily in the air fryer. I also use chicken thighs in my popular chicken teriyaki recipe.
- Cornstarch- gives the chicken a light, crispy coating as it cooks (and is gluten free)
- Soy sauce- I use low sodium soy sauce to control the amount of sodium in the dish; you can substitute tamari to keep the recipe gluten free.
- Hoisin sauce- adds a sweet and savory flavor to the sauce with a hint of tanginess
- Aromatics- fresh ginger and garlic add tons of flavor to the sauce; you can use dried ginger and garlic if needed
How To Make Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken Step-By-Step
1. Make The Crispy Chicken
- Step 1- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and marinate them in a little soy sauce.
- Step 2- Toss the chicken with cornstarch in a resealable plastic bag or bowl.
- Step 3- Preheat air fryer to 400°F. Shake off any excess cornstarch and place chicken in a single layer in the air fryer basket (you may need to cook it in batches). Cook 8-10 minutes until done. Shake the basket halfway through.
- Step 4- Remove chicken and place on a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.
Not sure which oils to use in your air fryer? Read my post on The Best Oils and Oil Sprays For The Air Fryer.
2. Make The Sauce
While the chicken is in the air fryer, make your sauce. It's super easy and comes together in minutes!
- Step 1- Heat oil in a saucepan on the stove. Add ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes. Add soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, chicken stock, vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil and simmer 2-3 minutes.
- Step 2- Add a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch plus water) to the saucepan.
- Step 3- Simmer another minute or two until thickened.
- Step 4- Add the chicken to the saucepan and toss to coat all the pieces with the sauce.
For a final garnish, sprinkle on some sliced scallions and sesame seeds. You are now ready to devour this dish.
Crispy chicken coated in a deliciously thick, glossy sauce with just the right balance of saltiness, heat, sweetness, and tang. Quick, easy, delicious, and way healthier than take out!
- Always preheat the air fryer before putting your food in. This will help your food crisp up nicely and cook evenly.
- Use a high smoke point oil rather than nonstick cooking spray to coat the air fryer basket. This will help prevent damage to the coating in the basket.
- The easiest way to coat the chicken is to place the chicken and cornstarch in a large, resealable plastic bag, seal it, and shake to coat all the pieces. Then, dust off any excess cornstarch before placing it in the air fryer.
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer in the air fryer so that it crisps up nicely. Don't overcrowd the basket. Cook the chicken in batches if needed.
- Shake the basket halfway through cooking time to ensure the chicken gets browned on all sides.
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 Air Fryer General Tso's Chicken on a bed of plain or fried rice with some vegetables on the side. Since you'll have the air fryer on, try my air fryer asparagus or zucchini. Check out my complete air fryer recipe collection.
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 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.