Sweet and Sour Pork (糖醋里脊)

5 from 18 votes
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Introducing the authentic Chinese sweet and sour pork made with lightly battered pork, pan-fried until crispy, juicy, and tender, then tossed in a fragrant sticky sauce with a perfectly balanced sweet and sour taste. It’s super easy to make and tastes way better than takeout! {Gluten-free Adaptable}

Sweet and sour pork in a pan

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might have heard me discuss the beloved American Chinese food that you won’t find in China. Dishes such as orange chicken, sesame chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and chop suey. You might think that sweet and sour pork is another dish that was invented in the US. But in fact, it’s a real dish that exists in China. Not only does it exist, but it’s very popular and you will see it in many restaurants.

The sweet and sour pork in China is quite different from the American version, though. The takeout style is usually heavily battered, deep fried, and swamped in a pool of very sugary sauce.

On the other hand, in the Chinese version the pork is cut into thin strips, lightly coated with a batter and fried until crispy. It’s stir-fried with aromatics and coated with a thin layer of sauce that has a fruity, pungent, vinegary aroma but is sweet and fragrant in flavor.

Homemade sweet and sour pork

Why this recipe

1. Crispy coating without deep-frying

This recipe uses my default pan-frying formula, so you only need 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil to pan-fry the pork and yield a very crispy and juicy result. No deep-frying required! The coating holds up pretty well. You can even stick your pan into the oven and set it at a keep-warm temperature if you’re not serving the dish immediately. The pork will stay crispy.

2. Perfectly balanced sauce

Even though I’ve cooked many sweet and sour dishes in the past, we tested the recipe many times to get the perfectly balanced sauce.

The northern Chinese sweet and sour pork has a very pungent vinegary aroma when you pick up a piece of pork. But the dish doesn’t taste too sour or tangy when you eat it.

We tested the dish with rice vinegar, Chinkiang vinegar, and apple cider vinegar, all of them with and without ketchup. In the end, the combination of apple cider vinegar and ketchup was the winner. It produces a sauce that is fruity, sour enough without being too pungent, and with the right amount of sweetness.

3. Easy workflow

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make this dish. You only need to:

  • Pan fry the pork
  • Saute the aromatics
  • Thicken the sauce and coat the pork with it.

That’s it! I guarantee the dish will taste better than the takeout version.

Sweet and sour pork cooking step-by-step

Cooking notes

1. What cut of pork to use

Pork loin and tenderloin are perfect for making sweet and sour pork. They are lean and tender, which means they’ll generate juicy results. I’ve tried using pork chops because they’re cheaper. But I found that the meat comes out tougher and drier if you use chops.

2. How to cut pork

Even though you can cut the pork into chunks (like with Chinese take-out), I prefer the matchstick shape. This cut increases the surface area of the pork, so it will have a larger crispy surface and be coated with more sauce.

It’s important to cut the pork against the grain so the pork will have a tender mouthfeel after cooking. I took a picture to show you how to cut a piece of pork loin into strips.

  • Slice the pork loin crosswise into 1/2” (1 cm) round pieces.
  • Then cut the round piece into strips.

How to cut pork for stir fry

3. How to prep better

To prep faster, use less kitchen counter space, make cooking easier, and reduce cleanup, the best way is to group your ingredients according to the recipe. For example, since you will add the garlic and the onion to the pan in the same step, it doesn’t make sense to use two prep bowls for the ingredients.

Before cooking the sweet and sour pork, your kitchen counter should have only the following:

  • A bowl with chopped green onion and garlic. Sometimes I leave them on the cutting board so save another bowl!
  • The mixed sauce.
  • The marinated pork, is coated with cornstarch.
  • Oil for cooking

That’s it! This list helps you organize your cooking, so you won’t miss any ingredients during the stir-frying process.

Ingredients for sweet and sour pork

4. How to pan-fry the pork

Pan-frying pork is so much easier than deep-frying.

You need to heat up enough oil so that it covers the bottom of your pan. The more oil you use, the crispier the pork will turn out. The minimum oil amount for this recipe is 1/3 cup. But you can increase the oil to 1/2 cup or a bit more to get a crisper result.

Once the oil gets hot, add all the pork at once. Then quickly use a pair of tongs (or chopsticks if you’re handy) to separate the pork strips. Depending on your pan and your stove, it takes different amounts of time to cook the pork. Let the pork cook without moving, until the bottom turns golden. Then flip to the other side using a spatula and cook until golden. That’s it!

Once done, transfer the pork to a plate to cool for 1 to 2 minutes. This cooling process will harden the coating and keep the pork crispy once you add the sauce.

Afterthoughts

Chinese cooking might look intimidating sometimes. But once you’ve tried my recipe, you’ll find it very approachable. You just need to get organized and prepare the ingredients before the cooking starts.

I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Sweet and sour pork close-up

More delicious Chinese stir fry recipes

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Sweet and Sour Pork (糖醋里脊) | Introducing the authentic Chinese sweet and sour pork made with lightly battered pork, pan-fried until crispy, juicy, and tender, then tossed in a fragrant sticky sauce with a perfectly balanced sweet and sour taste. It’s super easy to make and tastes way better than takeout! {Gluten-free Adaptable}

Sweet and Sour Pork (糖醋里脊)

5 from 18 votes
Introducing the authentic Chinese sweet and sour pork made with lightly battered pork, pan-fried until crispy, juicy, and tender, then tossed in a fragrant sticky sauce with a perfectly balanced sweet and sour taste. It’s super easy to make and tastes way better than takeout! {Gluten-free Adaptable}
To make the dish gluten-free, use a gluten-free ketchup and use dry sherry instead of Shaoxing wine.
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: takeout
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (450 grams) pork loin (or tenderloin) , cut to 1-inch (2-cm) pieces
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch

Marinade

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 egg , beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir-fry

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 green onions , sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic , minced

Instructions

  • Combine the pork pieces, vegetable oil, and salt in a big bowl. Mix well and let marinate for 15 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Mix all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  • When you’re ready to cook, add the beaten egg into the bowl with the pork. Stir to mix well. Add the cornstarch. Stir to coat the pork until it forms an uneven coating with a little dry cornstarch left unattached.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-duty skillet until hot, until it just starts to smoke. Add the pork all at once and spread it out into a single layer in the skillet. Separate the pork pieces with a pair of tongs or chopsticks.
  • Cook without touching the pork for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bottom turns golden. Flip to brown the other side, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the pork to a big plate and remove the pan from the stove. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Place the pan back onto the stove and turn to medium heat. You should still have 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Add the green onion and garlic. Cook and stir a few times until it releases its fragrance, a few seconds.
  • Stir the sauce again to dissolve the cornstarch completely. Pour it into the pan. Stir and cook until it thickens, when you can draw a line on the bottom with a spatula without the sauce running back immediately.
  • Add back the cooked pork and stir to coat with sauce, about 30 seconds. Transfer everything to a plate immediately.
  • Serve hot as a main over steamed rice.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 527kcal, Carbohydrates: 26.6g, Protein: 29.1g, Fat: 33.1g, Saturated Fat: 8.6g, Cholesterol: 121mg, Sodium: 748mg, Potassium: 517mg, Fiber: 0.4g, Sugar: 10.8g, Calcium: 1mg, Iron: 517mg
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Sweet and Sour Pork (糖醋里脊) | Introducing the authentic Chinese sweet and sour pork made with lightly battered pork, pan-fried until crispy, juicy, and tender, then tossed in a fragrant sticky sauce with a perfectly balanced sweet and sour taste. It’s super easy to make and tastes way better than takeout! {Gluten-free Adaptable}

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Todd O. says:

    5 stars
    This is the third recipe I have tried from this site. Each one (Mapo Tofu, Kimchi Fried Rice, and this one) have been absolutely delicious! I have been searching for some time for recipes that remind me of my business trips to Beijing and Lanzhou in 2010-2011. The food there was out of this world, and the US versions just did not compare in my opinion. They are good, but there was something special about the meals I ate while in China. These completely hit the spot. This recipe was easy to follow, and the ingredients were not hard to find, even in the Philippines where I currently reside. This is the first time I have shallow fried the meat versus deep frying, and it turned out crispy even after going into the sauce. I look forward to trying many more recipes from this site. Thank you Maggie!!!!!!

  2. Sabrina says:

    one of my favorite dishes, but have never known how to even approach making it, thank you

  3. Dan N. says:

    5 stars
    Tried this recipe last night. It was incredible! In particular, the sauce was not cloyingly sweet. It had a perfect balance. It’s also an easy dish to make. Took no time at all.

  4. Marsha says:

    5 stars
    We tried the recipe yesterday, and loved it. The only change I would make in the future would be to double the amount of sauce so it will cover more of the rice.

  5. Rosie says:

    This looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it, but I’m s bit confused… In your prep and cooking notes you mention onion and ginger, but the ingredients only name onion and garlic. Which should I use: garlic or ginger? Or maybe both?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Rosie, so sorry for the confusion! It should be onion and garlic. I’m updating the recipe now to clarify.
      Happy cooking and hope you like the dish!

      • Rosie says:

        5 stars
        Thanks for the update Maggie! I cooked this yesterday evening and I actually used both garlic and ginger because I hadn’t yet heard back from you due to the time difference, and it was amazing! Thank you so much for all your wonderful recipes. They’re so easy to follow and allow kitchen dunces like me to still put great food on the table!

  6. Anita Kriele says:

    5 stars
    As promised, excellent taste.

  7. Susan Chee says:

    5 stars
    Sweet and sour pork has always been a favourite with the family whenever we eat out but I have never attempted cooking this at home successfully until now. It was delicious as you said it would be, having used tenderloin which was juicy and moist. I found that when stir frying the sauce, it was best to add about 200ml of water to better coat the pork pieces. Leftovers were snapped up for a sandwich the next day!

  8. Kelsey says:

    I have a random question. I seared and cooked a pork loin tonight but we weren’t crazy about the sauce that was served on the side. Is it possible to make this dish with pork that’s already cooked? Should I just cook the sauce and toss the pork in it or would it completely dry it out?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Kelsey, there are two approaches.
      1) Toss the cooked pork loin with the sweet and sour sauce
      2) Lightly coat the cooked pork loin with cornstarch (not the batter in my recipe, which requires longer cooking time) and pan fry them with some oil. Then pour the sweet and sour sauce on it or serve the sauce on the side. I love to use the cornstarch method to deal with cooked meat (roast chicken etc) so they will taste crispy and not over cooked. I wouldn’t toss them with the sauce because the coating will get soggy.

      • Kelsey says:

        Thank you so much! I did your cornstarch method and it turned out great! I’ll definitely be making this again but with your full recipe next time. It was delicious!

      • Maggie says:

        So happy to hear it! Have a great day 🙂

  9. Meg says:

    Really great sauce, not sickly sweet and the pork is moist and crispy. I used pork should chops that I just boned out and chopped up.

  10. Carla says:

    5 stars
    Hi Maggie, we made this last night and it was fantastic. We just garnished with sesame seeds, more spring onion and some slices of red chilli. Soooooo simple and delicious, great balance. We will have to try more of your recipes me thinks 🙂

  11. Sherry Moran says:

    Hi Maggie: used your recipe tonight for dinner and it turned out great. My husband loved it. I’m going to use the same recipe and substitute the pork for the chicken wings. Will let you know how it turnes out.

  12. Carla says:

    5 stars
    This dish is amazing! I added a can of pineapple and juice! It was so good I can’t wait to make it again!

  13. Sin Yee says:

    What vegetables can I add in?

    • Maggie says:

      You can add some chopped onions and bell peppers at the end. They work well in this dish!

  14. Sharni Hutchison says:

    oof I tried the chicken one but I added star anise and cinnamon and used maple syrup instead and it was so good!

  15. Diane says:

    5 stars
    Excellent dish! One of the best I’ve ever made. The sauce is wonderful – sweet and tangy. The pork crisps up beautifully. A couple of adjustments I made – white onions rather than spring onions as I found the spring onions got lost, added green peppers and pineapple pieces. This dish is amazing – thank you for sharing it! I lived in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong for many years and love finding new dishes.

  16. Smitty says:

    5 stars
    This was delicious. Several steps, but not too difficult. My picky husband who extols his mother’s version, really enjoyed this. I did too!

  17. Maria Waminal says:

    5 stars
    Initially found your post of the Chinese scallion pancake featured on thefeedfeed IG account. After diving deeper into your cookbook and hours of scrolling through the endless recipes you’ve posted, I finally landed on this one. The family loves it! It’s the perfect balance of sauce. Can’t wait to try out many more of your recipes.

    • Maggie says:

      So happy to hear you like the recipe 🙂

  18. Corrinne says:

    5 stars
    Can I just say how delighted I am by this recipe?? I almost never leave reviews but this is the perfect recipe for the home cook with no Chinese cooking knowledge. The ingredients are super accessible even in the rural midwest where I live. The recipe is easy to follow and so fast to prepare. And the results…super crispy pork glazed with a perfectly balanced sauce? Just heavenly. Thank you thank you for my new weeknight obsession 💜

    • Maggie says:

      Thanks so much for leaving a positive comment and glad to hear you enjoyed the dish! Also good to know that it’s possible to find all the ingredients where you live 🙂

  19. Ottawaviking says:

    5 stars
    Fantastic recipe! The flavours were excellent. However, I used organic apple cider vinegar and it was just a little on the sour side so I’ll adjust down just a bit. Will definitely make again!

  20. Cook says:

    I tried making this but the sauce had a very strange flavor from all the apple cider vinegar. Not pleasant and nothing like any sweet & sour sauce I have had before. I think rice vinegar would have worked better.

  21. Frank says:

    Seeking to reduce my sugar intake. Can I substitute Splenda for the brown sugar?

  22. Jackie says:

    5 stars
    I love it. I didn’t have shaoxing wine or dry sherry so I opted that out but it still taste great.

  23. David says:

    5 stars
    SO good. I am in love with this pan fried cornstarch meat (made the chicken sweet and sour earlier this week). Added half a white onion. Easy and yummy!

  24. Laura Evans says:

    5 stars
    Love it! So easy!

  25. Olive says:

    I used your sauce for chicken wing today. It was epic! Thank you for your recipe.

    • Olive says:

      5 stars
      Update after I made the full recipe for lunch today. Epic (again)! The pork is soft and moist, with some crunch even after being tossed in the sauce. I love that it’s not overly battered, hence not soaked up with oil. My sauce is a tad bit more salty than my taste, since I forgot that my shao xing wine was already salted. Nevertheless, the dish paired perfectly with rice and some blanched broccoli.
      Already cut up and froze the meat for two more batches in the next couple of weeks. Thanks again for the awesome recipe.

  26. Sandra says:

    5 stars
    This recipe was a huge success. Not so hard to make following all your steps, did not change anything in the recipe. Today will be my third time making this dish

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