Szechuan Chicken vs. General Tso: Differences & Which Is Better?

Szechuan Chicken vs. General Tso
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Even though you probably don’t stay awake at night wondering about the differences between Szechuan chicken and General Tso, you could definitely benefit from knowing everything about them. Before writing this article, they appeared quite similar to me, so I understand how they can easily confuse your eyes. To clear the air once and for all, I’ve decided to write an article and explain how these two delicacies differ from one another. So, what’s the difference between Szechuan chicken and General Tso?

Of the two, General Tso is greasier but milder, while Szechuan chicken is more intense-flavored and less fatty. Szechuan chicken is the spicier of the two, and it contains Sichuan peppercorns. General Tso is more heavily battered and deep-fried, while Szechuan chicken is pan-fried. 

Finding out the particularities of general Tso chicken and Szechuan chicken is crucial if you want to enjoy them thoroughly. My kitchen frequently features all sorts of chicken meals, so I know the importance of knowing which is which. So, in this article, I will tell you everything about these two fellas, and the next time you crave some juicy chicken, you’ll know which one is for you.  


While one will set your mouth on fire, the other will give you that satisfying greasy feeling. These two dishes differ in terms of flavor, preparation, ingredients, and origin. Below are the things that make Szechuan and General Tso chicken unique. 


Hunan vs. Szechuan: Differences & Which Is Better? 


While both have been out there for a long time, Szechuan chicken is the older one and a traditional representative of Chinese cuisine. It is a Szechuan dish featuring the signature Szechuan markings, such as intense spicing and stir-frying. 

The General Tso chicken emerged around 1955 and is a part of American-Chinese cuisine rather than purely Chinese. It is a dish made in honor of the Hunanese war hero Zuo Zongtang (or Tso Tsung-t’ang). Chef Peng is the creator of this dish, and initially, the dish was typically Hunan, which means it was very spicy and mercilessly hot. 

The General Tso chicken came to the States somewhere in the 70s, and it was a standard menu item in many Chinese restaurants. Since they knew that this Hunan flavor could be too much for the gentler-palate Americans, the chefs adjusted the recipe making the General Tso chicken more palatable. 

Today, both General Tso and Szechuan chicken are a beloved part of American-Chinese cuisine. They offer a range of varieties satisfying the palates who like their food gentler, as well as those who like some fire and mouth-tingling sensation during their meal. 

Preparation and Ingredients

Although there are variations of the Szechuan chicken recipe, it is essentially a pretty simple dish. It contains only simple ingredients combined into a heavenly dish. Since it is a traditional Chinese dish, you know it is made by the people for the people.

With nothing more than chicken (traditionally thighs), dried chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili bean paste, you get a finger-licking dish with a mouthful of fire. 

To make this spicy delicacy, you first need to batter the meat in a mixture made of soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and chicken broth. So, as you see, this mixture is pretty light and creates a gentle coating. Then, you just stir-fry the chicken with the rest of the ingredients and abracadabra; you have yourself a tasty meal, I mean, if you are into heavily spiced dishes. 

On the other hand, the General Tso chicken is far gentler. It is simple and easy to make, and just like its Szechuan friend, it doesn’t require any complex ingredients. 

Even though it is originally Hunan, we will discuss its American-Chinese version, which is the milder one. 

General Tso’s sauce is made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, water, sugar, and cornstarch, the heavier of the two. So, the sauce is the most significant difference between General Tso and Szechuan chicken. After you layer the chicken pieces, all you need to do is fry them up nicely with onions, garlic, and bibbidi bobbidi boo; your meal is done. 


Szechuan Chicken is pan fried and General Tso is deep fried

Since they are made with different ingredients and using different cooking methods, it is only natural to assume that General Tso and Szechuan chicken don’t taste the same. However, they share some similarities because they both use chicken as the main ingredient. 

Their sauces also share some of the ingredients, but the magic done to both dishes is different. While General Tso has that typical sweetness of American cuisine and the traditional edge of Chinese cuisine, it is spicy, slightly sweet, slightly salty, juicy, and fattier than the Szechuan. 

Szechuan chicken is considerably spicier and edgier than General Tso. It is also not as juicy and more on the dry side. Since its coating is thinner, its flavor is sharper, and it is definitely a dish for those who enjoy a little aggression in their food. 

Additionally, since it is pan-fried instead of deep-fried, Szechuan chicken is less fatty and feels meatier than General Tso chicken. 

Serving Styles

While Szechuan chicken is more of an appetizer, served dry with typical appetizer companions, such as a lettuce bed or steamed vegetables on the side, General Tso is a meal in itself. 

General Tso chicken typically comes with a bed of rice or a substantial amount of steamed veggies

However, both can be served in any way you like, as they are delightfully versatile, and it is basically up to you and your preference. 

Which Is Better, Szechuan Chicken or General Tso?

Comparing these two in terms of which is better is like comparing a fish and a dog to say which flies better. It is impossible to determine this because they are different dishes requiring different palates. 

Now, since Szechuan chicken is the more expressive one, with a more particular flavor, it may have a few fewer fans than General Tso. Still, that’s not because General Tso is a better dish, but because it is more palatable, so you can still eat it even if you don’t like it. 

On the other hand, you cannot eat Szechuan chicken if it is too spicy or too hot for your taste. Therefore, they each have their fans and are both delicious in their own ways. If you are more into spicy and hot dishes, Szechuan chicken is for you, and if you prefer gentler flavors, you should go for General Tso. 

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