Sweet and Sour Pork (咕噜肉)

Learn how to make one of the world's most popular takeout dishes, right at home!

Prep Time
20 min
Total Time
45 min
Yields
3 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

By my estimates, my dad's made sweet and sour pork thousands of times over his career. It's practically like breathing for him.

Sweet and sour pork sits among some of the most well-known Chinese dishes outside of China. It’s widely believed to be a Cantonese dish, known colloquially as gú lóuh yuhk, which roughly translates to “ancient pork”.

Some tales say the name comes from the “guh guh guh” sound people make as they gulp down the delicious bites of pork.

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
3
    Main Ingredients
  • 10 oz pork shoulder butt
  • 4 oz pineapple (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz red bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz yellow bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz green bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz red onion (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz yellow onion (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • corn oil (

    for frying

    )
  • Pork Marinade
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 0.50 egg
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • Sauce
  • 4 tbsp ketchup
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp water

Best Cuts of Pork?

We go into a lot of detail in our video, but the most common type of pork used is pork shoulder. Pork belly and spare ribs are also great. You definitely want to avoid leaner cuts (like pork chop) if you're frying it.

Ketchup? In a Chinese dish?

if you’re like me, you might be thinking, “why is ketchup being used in a traditional Chinese recipe?”

(It's actually used in quite a lot of traditional recipes, dating back to the 1900s.)

So, I went down a rabbit hole and emerged with an appreciation for ketchup and sweet and sour pork as symbols of the many ways in which Eastern and Western cultures have influenced one another.

Even though ketchup is known as a tomato sauce that we throw onto burgers or French fries, we can trace ketchup back to 300BC as a Chinese fermented fish sauce.

Somewhere along the way, fish sauce fell out of favor in China, but it remained a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine.

About 2000 years later, in the 1600-1700s, fish sauce was revived in China by traders traveling along the coast between Guangdong and Fujian and Vietnam + Cambodia. In Hokkien, it was called kê-chiap, a name that stuck throughout Southeast Asia.

Around the same era, British traders in Southeast Asia became obsessed with their newly discovered “catchup”, and it quickly took storm as they brought it back to Britain.

Initially, British traders made a ton of profit selling imported fish ketchup back at home. Soon after, Westerners started developing their own homegrown recipes for ketchup in order to avoid paying for imported sauce. As ketchup adapted to Western tastes, it gradually morphed into a mushroom-based sauce, and then a sweeter tomato-based sauce popularized by companies like Heinz.

As China began importing tomato ketchup in the 1900s, many Chinese chefs started experimenting and incorporating ketchup into traditional sweet and sour dishes as an easier alternative to making the sauce base from scratch.

And coming full-circle, as Chinese immigrants made their way to America and other countries, they brought dishes like sweet and sour pork with them.

The sweet and sour flavor profile became so popular that, in 1983, McDonald’s introduced the McNugget along with four sauces, including the sweet and sour sauce that we all know and love.

Great reading:

On Oils & Smoke Points

You should generally avoid olive oil for anything that involves higher heat. 

This is because olive oil has what’s called a lower smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil stops shimmering or rippling and starts smoking. 

Smoking oil isn’t always a problem and sometimes even desired for getting that perfect “Wok Hei” in your stir fry, but it’s a sign that the oil is breaking down, which can release burnt or bitter flavors or even harmful free radicals.

Here’s a chart that highlights the smoke points of a few of the most common cooking oils. 

There are a few other factors that go into selecting oils like whether they’re neutral or flavored, refined or unrefined. 

Most cooking oil is created by extracting and compressing seeds and nuts, and oils that are “unrefined”, “raw”, or “virgin” are usually bottled almost immediately. They generally have more nutrients but a lower smoke point and shorter shelf life. Refined oils go through more processing for a higher smoke point, longer shelf life, and a more neutral flavor.

It’s not totally true that you should avoid olive oil since you can buy either refined or unrefined varieties. But for simplicity’s sake, for frying, you generally want to use neutral, refined oils like vegetable oil, refined olive oil, or corn oil. 

Finding Asian Ingredients

Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

Other Supplies + Tools

You'll need a good wok, which provides a ton of versatility for the classic Chinese cooking methods: steaming, stir frying, deep frying, and etc.

You may want an instant read thermometer to help you get precise with how you're deep frying. Here are two great options:

First, we'll cut our pork (10 oz) into a few pieces, parallel to the grain. Then, we'll slice pieces perpendicular to the grain, into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.

Add garlic salt (1 tsp), light soy sauce (1 tbsp), and mix & massage with the pork slices for about 1 minute.

Then, we'll crack, beat, and pour the egg (0.50)​ into the bowl, and mix & massage for another 30 seconds.

Let the pork marinate while we prepare the rest of our ingredients.

These are all basically optional, but we'll cut our bell peppers (red bell peppers (1 oz), yellow bell peppers (1 oz), green bell peppers (1 oz)) and red onions (1 oz), yellow onions (1 oz) into small triangles.

We'll also cut some pineapple slices (4 oz).

We'll create our sauce with ketchup (4 tbsp), brown sugar, vinegar (3 tbsp), cornstarch (1 tsp), salt (0.50 tsp), and water (2 tbsp). Mix it thoroughly for about 45 to 60 seconds.

Add flour (2 tbsp) to the marinated pork and massage for about 1-2 minutes to coat the pork evenly in the flour. You may need to add dashes of water to help spread the flour around.

Add cornstarch (3 tbsp) to a plate, and coat each piece of pork with it. Squeeze each pork piece a few times to help cover each piece.

As with our Honey Walnut Shrimp and General Tso's Chicken recipes, we'll be frying our pork twice - a first time to cook it, a second to bring out the crunchiness.

We'll fill our wok with enough corn oil to submerge the pork pieces. Set the stove on high heat and wait for the oil to heat up.

Fry #1

Heat the oil to 300-350°F / 149-176°C. Carefully transfer the pork into the wok and fry for 7-8 minutes. As you transfer, squeeze the pork to help the flour stick more.

Leave the pork alone for 1-2 minutes, because it'll cause the flour and cornstarch to come loose. Transfer the pork out with a ladle once the pork starts browning and crisping.

Fry #2

For the second fry, heat the oil to 400°F / 204°C and fry for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the pork out with a ladle.

How to tell if the oil is hot enough

You can try dropping a small piece of a vegetable (like our bell peppers) into the oil. If it starts bubbling immediately, then the oil is hot enough.

If you want to be more precise, you can also use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the oil temperature throughout the frying process.

Another way to monitor the temperature is with an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t have one, here are two great options:

We're close to being done!

After frying, empty the oil from the wok to save for future cooking.

Then, we'll combine everything in the wok in a few stages:

  • Add the chopped vegetables, and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the pineapple slices, and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Transfer the veggies and pineapples out of the wok.
  • Add some corn oil, and start reducing the sauce for 1-2 minutes, until boiling.
  • Throw everything (pork, veggies, pineapples) back into the wok. Mix around with the sauce for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer onto a plate and enjoy immediately to maximize the crunchiness!

Summary

Sweet and Sour Pork (咕噜肉)
Learn how to make one of the world's most popular takeout dishes, right at home!
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Total Time: 45 min
  • Yield: 3 servings
    Main Ingredients
  • 10 oz pork shoulder butt
  • 4 oz pineapple (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz red bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz yellow bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz green bell pepper (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz red onion (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • 1 oz yellow onion (

    optional - a few pieces

    )
  • corn oil (

    for frying

    )
  • Pork Marinade
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 0.50 egg
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • Sauce
  • 4 tbsp ketchup
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp water
Step 1 - Cut & marinate pork↑ Jump to details

First, we'll cut our pork (10 oz) into a few pieces, parallel to the grain. Then, we'll slice pieces perpendicular to the grain, into about 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces.

Add garlic salt (1 tsp), light soy sauce (1 tbsp), and mix & massage with the pork slices for about 1 minute.

Then, we'll crack, beat, and pour the egg (0.50)​ into the bowl, and mix & massage for another 30 seconds.

Let the pork marinate while we prepare the rest of our ingredients.

Step 2 - Cut vegetables & pineapples↑ Jump to details

These are all basically optional, but we'll cut our bell peppers into triangles (red bell peppers (1 oz), yellow bell peppers (1 oz), green bell peppers (1 oz)), and red onions (1 oz), yellow onions (1 oz) into small pieces.

We'll also cut some pineapple slices (4 oz).

Step 3 - Create sauce↑ Jump to details

We'll create our sauce with ketchup (4 tbsp), brown sugar, vinegar (3 tbsp), cornstarch (1 tsp), salt (0.50 tsp), and water (2 tbsp). Mix it thoroughly for about 45 to 60 seconds.

Step 4 - Coat pork in flour↑ Jump to details

Add flour (2 tbsp) to the marinated pork and massage for about 1-2 minutes to coat the pork evenly in the flour. You may need to add dashes of water to help spread the flour around.

Add cornstarch (3 tbsp) to a plate, and coat each piece of pork with it. Squeeze each pork piece a few times to help cover each piece.

Step 5 - Fry pork↑ Jump to details

We'll fill our wok with enough corn oil to submerge the pork pieces. Set the stove on high heat and wait for the oil to heat up.

Fry #1

Heat the oil to 300-350°F / 149-176°C. Carefully transfer the pork into the wok and fry for 7-8 minutes. As you transfer, squeeze the pork to help the flour stick more.

Leave the pork alone for 1-2 minutes, because it'll cause the flour and cornstarch to come loose. Transfer the pork out with a ladle once the pork starts browning and crisping.

Fry #2

For the second fry, heat the oil to 400°F / 204°C and fry for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the pork out with a ladle.

How to tell if the oil is hot enough

You can try dropping a small piece of a vegetable (like our bell peppers) into the oil. If it starts bubbling immediately, then the oil is hot enough.

If you want to be more precise, you can also use an instant-read thermometer to monitor the oil temperature throughout the frying process.

Another way to monitor the temperature is with an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t have one, here are two great options:

Step 6 - Cook other ingredients, sauce and mix↑ Jump to details

We're close to being done!

After frying, empty the oil from the wok to save for future cooking.

Then, we'll combine everything in the wok in a few stages:

  • Add the chopped vegetables, and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the pineapple slices, and cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Transfer the veggies and pineapples out of the wok.
  • Add some corn oil, and start reducing the sauce for 1-2 minutes, until boiling.
  • Throw everything (pork, veggies, pineapples) back into the wok. Mix around with the sauce for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer onto a plate and enjoy immediately to maximize the crunchiness!

Step 7 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 8 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

Enjoy!

We have many, many happy memories of enjoying this dish growing up.

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this dish with your loved ones.

Also, I cordially invite you to eat with us and learn more about the dish, Chinese culture, and my family.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.

Watch on YouTube

About Made With Lau

We started Made With Lau to honor and share the legacy of our wonderful parents, Jenny and Chung Sun Lau.

Our hope is that these posts give you (and our future generations) a glimpse into how great they are!