This recipe is sponsored by BBQGuys. There are no affiliate links in this post, all of the content is original. I only work with products and brands that I personally choose to use and recommend.
Full recipe available HERE on the BBQGuys website!
Ditch the chopsticks, grab a bone
If there is a person out there that dislikes orange chicken, I don’t think I want to meet them. OK, perhaps that was harsh. I’m assuming that the orange chicken consumed by that individual was awful. There are some pretty delicious varieties out there, and I’ve tried so many! These smoked orange chicken lollipops are packed with flavors of spice, citrus, and sweet heat. Also, super smoky crispy skin. Even better.
My favorite mall food happened to be orange chicken. A giant black-and-white bear-themed Chinese chain was the hotspot; sugary, crispy, and super expensive. Many teenage mallrat memories involved the Americanized dish, steaming hot and inconsistent with texture.
One day I ordered orange chicken at a local thai restuarant, never suspsecting it would completely change my mind about the dish. It was beyond crispy, overcooked really, and incredibly spicy. What? I had no idea orange chicken could be, no, should be spicy. This was magical. It wasn’t necessarily the greatest food, but the experience unlocked ideas and emotions about the dish that I had to work towards.
Transforming into Orange Chicken Lollipops
Let’s pause and discuss chicken lollipops for a minute. NO, it doesn’t mean candy. They look like the sweet treats because the meat is trimmed and (gently) shoved to the end, creating a Tootsie-Pop vibe (see above). The process is pretty simple, trimming the skin and tendons above the knuckle, pushing the meat down, and removing the trimmed parts.
Research revealed that the majority of crispy orange chicken is simply battered, fried, and sauced. There isn’t an emphasis on layering flavors. That just won’t do! When you bite down into the juicy, citrus chicken I want you to feel a rush of spices hit your tongue. The excitement of discovering a new layer under that spicy-sweet glaze elevates your experience immediately.
Building layers of flavor
The base of it started with Chinese 5-spice. Testing it out, it was just too strong on its own. Slowly over time, there was the addition of garlic, paprika, and some other spices. Finding the right combination without it overwhelming the sauce was difficult, and took a lot of delicious practice.
Building the sauce profile proved to be more difficult. I could cheat, use sambal oelek, but I wanted more. This dish needed to stand up against the large panda, and other mall chains. Umami is what this smoked chicken needed more of. The kind of heat that makes your mouth water, desiring more and more. Gochujang was the answer. It’s just so so good, with the complex layers of heat, funk, and savory. It was the type of chile the chicken needed, pairing well with the orange and warm spices.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! To make the recipe healthier, breast meat is a good option. If you choose to cook skinless chicken breasts, you will have different results as the crispy skin adds some great texture (and flavor).
The best option in lieu of gochujang would be sriracha. It’s straight heat, so you might need to taste and adjust. I would use less sriracha at first to make sure it doesn’t overpower the orange.
No, you can bake these in the oven using 300F at least, which will help crisp up the outside. You won’t have the smoky flavor, but at least gochujang is fairly smoky.
Orange Chicken Lollipops Recipe (link)
I mentioned earlier that this was a collaboration for BBQGuys, a major online retailer for all things grilling. Please check out the full recipe right HERE on the BBQGuys website!