How many calories in General Tso’s chicken from a Chinese restaurant?

Quick Answer

General Tso’s chicken from a typical Chinese takeout restaurant contains around 800-1200 calories per serving. The exact calorie count can vary greatly depending on the recipe, cooking methods, and portion size. A typical takeout box with 8-12 ounces of General Tso’s chicken may contain 1000-1500 calories.

Calories in Different Recipes

General Tso’s chicken recipes can differ significantly in their calorie content due to variations in ingredients, cooking methods, and portion sizes. Here is the calorie count for some common recipes:

Recipe Calories (per serving)
Breaded fried chicken + sauce 800-1200 calories
Battered fried chicken + sauce 900-1400 calories
Grilled or baked chicken + sauce 500-800 calories
Sauce made with sugar 100-300 more calories

As you can see, fried General Tso’s chicken tends to be much higher in calories compared to baked or grilled versions. The sauce can also add a significant amount of calories, especially if it contains sugar.

Factors That Influence Calorie Count

Here are some of the main factors that affect the calorie content in General Tso’s chicken:

Chicken Cooking Method

– Deep frying adds the most calories since the chicken is completely submerged in hot oil. Battering chicken before frying adds even more calories.

– Pan frying, baking, grilling, or broiling are lower calorie methods. The chicken is not completely cooked in oil.


– Heavily breaded chicken or chicken dipped in batter before frying adds more calories than plain chicken.

– Flour-based batters have around 50 calories per ounce. Cornstarch-based batters have around 30 calories per ounce.

Sauce Ingredients

– Sweet sauces made with sugar, jam, honey, etc add more calories. Savory sauces are lower calorie.

– Thick sauces made with starch or cream add more calories than broth-based sauces.

Portion Size

– Portion sizes at restaurants are often 2-3x larger than recommended serving sizes. More food means more calories.

– A typical takeout box with 8-12 oz of chicken may contain up to 1500 calories.

Side Dishes

– Rice, noodles, fried veggies and other high calorie sides can add several hundred more calories.

How Restaurants Prepare General Tso’s Chicken

Most Chinese restaurants prepare General Tso’s chicken by deep frying chicken pieces with a light breading or batter. The chicken is fried until crispy and then tossed in a savory, sweet sauce containing soy sauce, vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, ginger, sugar, and cornstarch.

The chicken is deep fried in oil at high heat, absorbing a lot of extra calories and fat. Frying gives the chicken its signature crispy, crunchy texture. The sauce adds additional calories through sugar and starch thickeners like cornstarch. Most restaurants serve large portions with around 8-12 ounces of chicken.

This combination of frying, large portions, and sugary sauce can lead to General Tso’s chicken having dangerously high calorie counts around 1000-1500 calories per serving.

How to Estimate Calories Based on Serving Size

Since most General Tso’s chicken is deep fried, a good rule of thumb is to estimate around 150-200 calories per ounce of chicken, plus an extra 100-300 calories for the sugary sauce.

So if you were served a takeout box with 12 ounces (about 1.5 cups) of General Tso’s chicken, you could estimate it contains:

12 oz chicken x 200 calories per oz = 2400 calories
Sauce = 200 calories
Total estimated calories = 2600 calories

Here are some serving size estimates for typical takeout boxes:

Serving Size Estimated Calories
6 oz chicken (3/4 cup) 900-1200 calories
8 oz chicken (1 cup) 1200-1600 calories
12 oz chicken (1.5 cup) 1800-2400 calories
16 oz chicken (2 cups) 2400-3200 calories

As you can see, a single takeout box can easily provide over half of your daily calorie needs. Be cautious of large portion sizes when ordering takeout.

Tips for Lower Calorie General Tso’s Chicken

Here are some tips to reduce the calories in General Tso’s chicken:

– Order steamed or grilled chicken instead of fried

– Request light breading or sauce on the side

– Avoid batter-dipped chicken which adds extra calories

– Choose broth-based sauces instead of sweet, thick sauces

– Order a small size or split with a friend

– Remove the skin and breading to reduce calories by about 30%

– Balance it with lower calorie side dishes like steamed veggies

Healthiest Ways to Make General Tso’s Chicken

To lighten up this takeout favorite at home, try these healthy cooking methods:

Baked Chicken

– Marinate boneless, skinless chicken thighs in reduced sodium soy sauce, garlic, and ginger
– Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes until cooked through
– Toss with stir-fried veggies and reduced sugar sauce

Stir-Fried Chicken

– Dice chicken breast and stir-fry in a nonstick pan with a small amount of oil
– Flavor with garlic, chili peppers, low sodium soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger
– Thicken sauce with small amount of cornstarch instead of sugar

Grilled Chicken

– Pound chicken breast to an even thickness
– Grill over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes per side
– Add flavor with salt-free seasoning blends
– Top with quick stir-fried peppers and savory sauce

Healthy Homemade General Tso’s Sauce

Skip the fatty frying and extra sugar found in takeout sauce with this easy homemade recipe:


– 1⁄4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
– 3 tablespoons rice vinegar or sherry vinegar
– 1 tablespoon grated ginger
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1⁄2 teaspoon red chili flakes
– 1⁄4 cup chicken broth
– 1 tablespoon cornstarch
– 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil


1. Whisk all ingredients except cornstarch and sesame oil in a small bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, dissolve cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water.
3. Pour sauce mixture into a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
4. Stir in cornstarch mixture and cook 1 minute until thickened.
5. Remove pan from heat and stir in sesame oil.

Nutrition Facts

This light sauce has only 60 calories per serving and picks up flavor from ginger, garlic, vinegar, and chili flakes instead of sugar.

Healthy General Tso’s Chicken Meal Ideas

Rather than ordering takeout, try these ideas for lighter, homemade General Tso-inspired meals:

Sheet Pan General Tso’s Chicken & Broccoli

– Toss chicken breast, broccoli, and red peppers with cornstarch, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger
– Roast on a sheet pan at 425°F until chicken is cooked through
– Top with quick homemade sauce

General Tso’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps

– Stir fry minced chicken with water chestnuts, carrots, bamboo shoots
– Serve in lettuce leaf cups and top with sauce

General Tso’s Chicken Chopped Salad

– Dice cooked chicken along with romaine, carrots, bell pepper, green onions
– Drizzle with dressing made from sauce ingredients

How to Count Calories From Restaurants

Counting calories accurately for restaurant meals can be tricky since nutrition info is not always available. Here are some tips:

– Check restaurant website for nutrition facts if possible
– Comparison shop calories for similar dishes at chain restaurants
– Estimate calories based on cooking methods and portion sizes
– Request dressings and sauces on the side
– Use apps like MyFitnessPal to look up calorie estimates
– Ask for lower cal substitutions, ex grilled instead of fried
– Take half the portion home for leftovers

With large serving sizes and heavy preparation methods like frying, it’s easy for restaurant meals to contain way more calories than you realize. Having awareness of general calorie ranges for popular dishes can help prevent overeating.

When in doubt, overestimate calories to be safe. And try to balance higher calorie restaurant meals with lighter choices the rest of the day.

The Bottom Line

General Tso’s chicken can have wildly varying calorie counts depending on the recipe, with fried takeout versions clocking in around 800-1500 calories for a typical serving. Deep frying, heavy batter, large portions, and sugary sauces drive up the calories.

To enjoy this dish more healthfully, opt for grilled, baked or stir-fried chicken instead of fried. Request lighter sauces or sauce on the side. And be mindful of portion sizes, as restaurant meals often contain 2-3x the calories needed. Knowing the calorie pitfalls can help you stay on track with your health goals while still enjoying this tasty Chinese takeout classic.

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