Bourbon chicken is a beloved dish known for its sweet, sticky glaze, and the warm, smoky flavor of bourbon. Although it's often found in food courts and take-out menus, mastering this delectable recipe at home can bring your cooking to the next level, impress dinner guests, and save you a few bucks on takeout. This guide is for anyone who loves the alluring essence of bourbon intermingling with tender, succulent chicken. Whether you're new to bourbon chicken or looking to perfect your at-home version, I've got you covered with instructions that will have you savoring this iconic dish in no time.

Bourbon Chicken

The History of Bourbon Chicken

Bourbon chicken is steeped in the legacy of the American South and the craftsmanship of bourbon distillers. This dish's name is derived from the quintessentially Southern bourbon whiskey, often associated with Kentucky, the Bourbon capital of the world. The sweet and robust flavors of bourbon meld perfectly with the chicken, creating a dish that's both complex and comforting. It's important to note that while bourbon adds distinct flavors, it doesn't add a significant amount of alcohol content once cooked.

The dish became a staple in American-Chinese cuisine and is often credited to a chef in Louisiana or Kentucky. Initially introduced to the public in the 1980s, it quickly gained popularity due to its rich, savory-sweet profile, becoming a mainstay in many Chinese take-out and food court menus.

Ingredients You'll Need

To nail the bourbon chicken experience at home, it’s crucial to gather the right ingredients. You’ll need the following:

  • Chicken: Boneless, skinless thighs are the preferred choice for their tenderness and flavor-absorbing qualities.
  • Bourbon: Choose a quality bourbon. While you don't need to use top-shelf names, go for a variety you wouldn't mind drinking as it will impact the dish's flavor.
  • For Marinade: Soy sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes for a kick.
  • For Sauce: Cornstarch, water, and optionally, honey if more sweetness is desired.
  • Vegetables: Green onions, red bell pepper, and carrots for a crisp, colorful addition.
  • Oil: A neutral oil with a high-smoke point, like vegetable or canola oil, for sautéing the chicken.
  • Garnish: Sesame seeds for a nutty, aromatic finish (optional).


Here's how to prepare your bourbon chicken:

Marinating the Chicken

  • Begin by slicing your boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients – soy sauce, brown sugar, bourbon, apple cider vinegar, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
  • Add the chicken pieces to the marinade, ensuring they are fully coated. Rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Preparing the Vegetables

  • Slice green onions and red bell pepper into strips. Peel and cut carrots into matchsticks for a delicate crunch.

Mixing the Sauce

  • In a small bowl, prepare the thickener for your sauce by mixing cornstarch with water until smooth. This will help give your bourbon chicken its signature glossy appearance.

Prepping the Garnish

  • Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until golden. This step is optional but adds a delightful aroma and flavor to the finished dish.

With everything prepped, you’re ready to start cooking!


Cooking bourbon chicken is a delicate balance of flavors and textures. Here's how to do it:

Sautéing the chicken

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add the marinated chicken to the skillet and cook for about 5-7 minutes until browned and fully cooked through. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. This allows you to prepare the sauce without overcooking the chicken.

Creating the Glaze

  • In the same skillet, add the chopped vegetables and sauté until they start to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Return the chicken to the skillet and pour in the reserved marinade. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
  • Stir the cornstarch mixture again and pour it over the chicken. Keep stirring gently until the sauce thickens and coats the chicken and vegetables evenly.

Perfecting the Texture

Cooking bourbon chicken is a process that requires precision to prevent the chicken from becoming overcooked and the glaze from reducing too much. Always taste as you go to adjust the flavors to your liking. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add a splash of water or chicken stock to the pan and then reduce the sauce again. This will prevent it from becoming overly sticky.

Serving Suggestions

The fun doesn't stop with cooking – it's all about the presentation! Here are some serving suggestions:

Side Dishes

Bourbon chicken pairs excellently with steamed white rice or fluffy brown rice. If you're looking for a heartier meal, you can serve it alongside jasmine rice, mashed potatoes, or even on a bed of noodles.


To complement the warm flavors of bourbon chicken, consider serving it with a cold glass of sweet tea for a true Southern experience. Wine lovers might enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir or a semi-dry Riesling to balance the sweetness of the dish.

Contrast with Salad

A crisp, fresh salad can provide a nice contrast to the richness of the bourbon chicken. Opt for a simple side salad with a light vinaigrette or a classic coleslaw with a creamy dressing.

Tips and Tricks

  • Use a heavy skillet to retain heat and ensure even cooking.
  • Don’t over-marinate the chicken, as soy sauce can toughen meat over time. Stick to 30 minutes for perfect flavor infusion.
  • Be cautious when combining hot oil and alcohol. To avoid flare-ups, remove the skillet from the heat before adding the bourbon to the marinade.
  • If bourbon is not your preference, you can still enjoy the flavors of bourbon chicken by substituting it with apple juice or water.
  • Practice knife safety, especially when cutting raw chicken. Always use a sharp knife and a stable cutting board.


Whipping up a batch of bourbon chicken is a rewarding kitchen adventure that pays off with every succulent bite. From understanding the dish's origins to selecting the perfect ingredients, marinating the chicken just right, and bringing it all together in a glorious sauté, we've explored every step. I encourage you to gather your ingredients, fire up the stove, and create a culinary masterpiece that will have your friends and family asking for more.

With this guide, you’re well on your way to becoming a bourbon chicken connoisseur. Enjoy the cooking process, pour a little love into the dish, and most importantly, savor the rich flavors that crown this Southern classic. Happy cooking!

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