What Is Kung Pao Chicken?

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the Chinese-American dish.



Kung Pao chicken, stir-fried traditional Chinese sichuan dish,with chicken, peanuts, vegetables and chili peppers.

Photo by: Edy Gunawan/Getty Images

Edy Gunawan/Getty Images

By Clarissa Wei for Food Network Kitchen

Clarissa Wei is a freelance journalist based in Taipei.

Kung pao chicken is Chinese-style stir-fried chicken cubes with dried chili peppers. It’s a Sichuanese staple that was brought over to America and reinvented for local flavors and tastes. The Sichuanese version is a tad more complex, seasoned with Chinese peppercorns and a large heap of dried chili peppers. The American rendition stays true to most of the original ingredients, but the flavor profile is significantly sweeter and will sometimes include bell peppers.



Spicy diced chicken with peanuts

Photo by: LiuMeiLi/Getty Images

LiuMeiLi/Getty Images

What Does Kung Pao Chicken Taste Like?

Americanized kung pao chicken is savory and sweet with a mild spicy kick. The peanuts really bring together the dish and give it a rounded, nutty flavor.

What Is In Kung Pao Chicken?

The building blocks of kung pao chicken are chunks of boneless chicken, chili peppers, and peanuts. A bit of soy sauce adds a necessary punch of salinity and scallions give it a nice zing. Corn starch is added to give everything a glossy and smooth texture. The dish is always served with a side of white rice.




Photo by: Fernando Chee / 500px/Getty Images

Fernando Chee / 500px/Getty Images

What Is Kung Pao Sauce Made Of?

It depends a lot on the recipe, but generally speaking, it’s a combination of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Corn starch can be used as a thickener, though that’s optional. Kung pao sauce can be used on any protein, from chicken to shrimp to tofu.

What Is the Difference Between Kung Pao Chicken and General Tso's Chicken?

Kung pao chicken and General Tso’s chicken are similar in that they are both chicken-based dishes with a hint of chili, but the primary difference is that latter is deep-fried and coated with a syrupy sweet and sour sauce, and the former is coated with a gentle, more balanced sauce.

Kung Pao Recipes

Beauty shot of Molly Yeh's Kung Pao Chicken, as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 6.

Molly Yeh’s simple kung pao recipe utilizes ground Sichuan peppercorns, which gives the dish a nice zing.



Food Stylist: Cyd Raftus Mcdowell Prop Stylist: Pam Morris

Photo by: Christopher Testani

Christopher Testani

This basic kung pao chicken recipe from Food Network Kitchen is geared for those adverse to spicy food, subbing in stir-fry vegetables for the usual chili pepper and scallion combination.

Presenting a lovely recipe that uses shrimp instead of chicken. There’s a lot of heat packed in this dish, but that’s all part of its appeal.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Cauliflower is deep-fried and dressed with a classic kung pao sauce. A clever, vegetarian twist on an American-Chinese classic.

Food Network's Kung Pao Snow Peas

Photo by: Tara Donne ©2012, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Tara Donne, 2012, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Here’s an easy way to dress snow peas: stir-fry them and add a kung pao sauce for a kick of flavor.



Photo by: Charles Masters

Charles Masters

Proof that kung pao sauce is delicious on everything. This recipe is a foolproof way to dress up a plate of leftover turkey.

Related Links:

Next Up

What Is Moo Goo Gai Pan?

Everything you’ve always wondered, from what is in moo goo gai pan to how to make it.

How to Cook Chinese Hot Pot at Home

Many cities have hot pot restaurants, but it’s cheaper to make at home and easier to prep than you think.

Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein

The difference comes down to the way the noodles are cooked.

Can You Stack Chicken in an Air Fryer?

We put five different cuts of chicken to the test.

How to Truss a Chicken

Trussing a chicken only takes a few seconds, but it's well worth the time and effort. It helps the chicken keep its shape and cook more evenly.

The Very Best Way to Cook Chicken for Meal Prep

Our get-ahead technique takes just 30 minutes.

How to Cook Korean Barbecue at Home

With some simple setup, you’ll be salivating over your spread in no time.

How to Cook Tapioca Pearls

Everything you need to know about tea bubbles, including their history, how to make them and how to use them.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Here, a step-by-step guide that breaks down the easy technique.

What Is Chorizo?

This boldly-flavored sausage is found well beyond Mexico and features in all sorts of delicious recipes from sandwiches and tapas to soups and even burgers.
More from:

Cooking School

Latest Stories

Related Pages