Tong Cho Chicken Vs. General Tso Chicken – What’s the Difference?

Most restaurants have the wildly popular General Tso’s chicken on their menus. And Tong Cho chicken has been an American favorite for many years.

So, what’s the difference between Tong Cho and General Tso?

While General Tso’s chicken is the mainstay of Chinese cuisine, Tong Cho is another popular dish loved by many foodies worldwide. Some might also say that these two dishes share many similarities, but that’s not quite right. Tong Cho Chicken and General Tso chicken have common ingredients, but they’re not the same dish.  

This article explains everything you need to know about these dishes. So if you want to explore the differences between Tong Cho Chicken and General Tso chicken, keep reading.

What is Tong Cho Chicken?

If you frequently order Chinese takeout food, you may have seen General Tong Chicken on the menu. 

So, what is Tong Cho?

Like General Tso’s chicken, Tong Cho sauce is created by sautéing garlic, ginger, chilies, and fermented black beans with star anise in oil. It’s a sweet and spicy, sticky chicken dish loved by many. You can also serve Tong Cho sauce with nuggets and other fried food.

Tong Cho Meaning

Tong Cho translates to ‘chicken with sauce.’ ‘Tong’ in General Tong Chicken is a variety of sauces, and ‘Cho’ is the Chinese word for stir-fry.

When you see Tong Cho on a menu, expect to order a light stir-fried chicken dish. Typically, Tong Cho includes ginger, garlic, scallions, soy sauce, white rice, and sesame oil.

What is General Tso’s Chicken?

General TSO’s or Zuo’s chicken is a Hunanese dish – a delectable mix of lightly battered chicken in a spicy, sweet-sour sauce. It’s a quintessential dish that has cemented itself as a mainstay on menus across the globe.

When people think of General TSO’s chicken, they’re instantly reminded of black bean sauce. 

Black beans sauce is the most popular version of this Chinese dish. Nowadays, there are many variations of General TSO’s chicken originating from different parts of the world. But if you’re looking for an authentic experience, try this recipe for General TSO’s chicken.

General Tso Meaning

This chicken dish is named for Tso Tsung-tang, a formidable nineteenth-century general who loved eating it.

The Hunanese people have a strong military tradition, and General Tso is one of their most popular historical figures. However, there’s no mention of a General Tso’s chicken in the classic texts on Hunanese food and cooking.

Typically, General Tso’s chicken is stir-fried in a red sauce made with tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, ginger, fermented red chilies, and spices.

Takeout Icon General Tso’s Chicken

Tong Cho Chicken vs. General Tso’s Chicken – Which Chicken Dish Is Better?

Both Tong Cho and General Tso’s chicken are stir-fried dishes. So, which one is better? According to experts, both dishes are healthy and nutritious. Tong Cho and General Tso’s chicken are good protein sources and are low in calories.

In terms of taste, both sauces are similar. They both impart a sweet and savory flavor profile, with a hint of spice.

Which Dish is More Popular in America?

When most people order Chinese takeout, they think of General Tso’s chicken and not Tong Cho. General Tso’s chicken is super delicious. And thankfully, it’s very popular in American-Chinese restaurants, making it easy to deliver to your door at midnight on a Saturday.

Almost every Chinese restaurant in the United States will have General Tso’s Chicken on their menus, somewhere between the Chowmein and the beef with broccoli. But while the General Tso’s chicken comes in a greasy takeout box with an egg roll and fried rice on the side, it was first cooked in a fancy restaurant in Taiwan in the 1950s.

On the other hand, Tong Cho chicken is relatively less popular in America. While this sweet and sour deep-fried chicken dish is freaking delicious, it’s not widely available in Chinese restaurants in North America.

Fun Fact:  You might be surprised to know that General Tso’s chicken isn’t very big in China and isn’t even available at local restaurants.

Key Differences between Tong Cho and General Tso

While both Tong Cho’s chicken and General Tso’s chicken are fried in a light sauce, there are a few differences.


The main difference between Tong Cho and General Tso’s chicken is the sauce’s flavor. Usually, Tong Cho’s chicken has a sauce with a simpler, soy sauce-based flavor, and General Tso’s chicken has a sweeter and tangier sauce, often with slightly more heat. Also, Tong Cho sauce flavor is salt-focused, while General Tso’s is a concoction of sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy ingredients.  


Some might say General Tso’s sauce is thicker or stickier than Tong Cho’s. This could be because Tong Cho sauce is soy-based and has fewer sweetening ingredients. In General, the dishes have very similar textures and components.


While both chicken dishes are native to Sichuan, Tong Cho is more popular in Chinese-American cuisine.

Frying Method

Second, General Tso’s is sometimes deep-fried, while Tong Cho is not. Deep-frying adds calories and fat to dishes, so it’s good to know that before ordering your next meal.

Serving Method

General Tso’s chicken is served with white rice, while Tong Cho is eaten with soup.

Final Thoughts

Both Tong Cho and General Tso’s chicken are delicious chicken dishes. They are both native to Sichuan and popular in American-Chinese cuisine. The key difference is in the sauce, texture, frying, and serving method.

While Tong Cho’s chicken is similar to General Tso’s in many ways, the General still reigns supreme as the king of stir-fries. 

If you’re looking for a healthier, low-calorie version of this stir-fry, you should choose Tong Cho. And if you’re looking for something flavorful, consider ordering General Tso’s chicken.

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