Brown Sugar Chicken

Brown Sugar Chicken swimming in an intoxicating sweet, savory, slightly tangy, slightly spicy sauce on your table in 30 minutes!

This Brown Sugar Chicken recipe is one of those quick and easy weeknight meals you’ll make again and again because it’s easy, pantry friendly, all made in one skillet and most importantly, unbelievably delicious! The chicken is seasoned with a flavorful paprika, chipotle spice rub and seared in a sizzling skillet then bathed in the sweet, savory, garlic brown sugar sauce that is practically drinkable – or at least lick your plate worthy.  The succulent Brown Sugar Chicken emerges seeping with intoxicating complex flavor and scrumptiously tender.  Serve your easy chicken dinner over a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, with a strawberry spinach salad, glazed carrots and breadsticks for a 30-minute dinner everyone will look forward to!

One skillet chicken dinners are a weeknight lifesaver – you can never have enough.  Some of our back-pocket favorites include Creamy Mushroom ChickenCreamy Tuscan Chicken, Summer Tuscan ChickenChicken Florentine Lemon Pepper Chicken and Asparagus, Chicken Piccata, Peanut Butter Chicken and Coconut Chicken

up close top view of garlic brown sugar chicken in a stainless steel skillet

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brown sugar chicken RECIPE

This Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken recipe is inspired by my brown sugar pork chops but in easy, economical chicken form!  It’s a quick, easy, pantry friendly, one skillet dinner that comes together in just 30 minutes – and cleanup is a breeze!  AKA it belongs in your weeknight dinner arsenal – and soon your favorite recipes binder.

This recipe is made with lightly dredged chicken cutlets dusted with flour, paprika, cumin, chipotle powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and salt which creates a flavorful crust so the chicken is independently scrumptious, flavorful and oh so tender before even being bathed in the swoon worthy sauce. 

The brown sugar sauce itself is masterful balancing act of sweet, savory, tangy and spicy. The brown sugar adds the caramel, sweet undertones, the soy adds the grounding umami, the lemon juice adds the brightening tang, the red pepper flakes adds the kick of heat and finally the herbs add the depth of flavor that other recipes lack. The resulting Brown Sugar Chicken is fabulously flavorful and sure to win over even the pickiest palate!

Ingredients in Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken 

Although this Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken comes together in 30 minutes, it’s incredibly flavorful. The secret lies in the seasonings! Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe: 

  • Chicken breasts: You’ll need two large boneless skinless chicken breasts for this recipe.  You may also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs and dredge and cook them the same as the cutlets.
  • Soy sauce: Use reduced sodium soy sauce. Soy sauce balances out the sweetness and grounds the sauce.
  • Brown sugar: Use light brown sugar for this recipe. 
  • Chicken broth: I recommend using reduced sodium chicken broth so you can control the amount of salt in the sauce. 
  • Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed is best, but bottled is fine.
  • Dijon mustard: Again, adds so much flavor and tanginess to the sauce. In a pinch, yellow mustard will work too, but you’ll lose some of the depth of flavor if you skip the Dijon. 
  • Dried herbs: Dried parsley, dried thyme, and dried oregano are added directly to the sauce. They are not added to the rub because they can burn when searing the chicken.
  • Spices: The chicken is seasoned with a mixture of paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and chipotle chile pepper. The chipotle pepper adds a slight kick of heat that goes perfectly with the brown sugar sauce, but don’t worry, it’s not spicy!
  • Cornstarch: Thickens the sauce. Make sure to mix the cornstarch with the broth and then add it to the skillet, otherwise the cornstarch will clump up. 
  • Butter: Always use unsalted butter. Remember, you can always add extra salt to the dish, but you can’t take it away! 
  • Olive oil: I prefer using a mixture of butter and olive oil to cook the chicken in. Butter has a lovely richness to it, but it burns easily. The oil prevents it from burning while preventing the chicken from sticking to the pan. 
up close of garlic brown sugar chicken showing how juicy it is

What Type of Chicken Should I Use? 

You should use boneless skinless chicken breasts cut in half to create chicken cutlets OR boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The thin cutlets cook more evenly, are more tender and soak up more flavor than whole chicken breasts. You can make your own chicken cutlets by slicing two large chicken breasts through the equator or you can purchase packaged pre-sliced cutlets.

Once you have cutlets, pound them to an even thickness. This quick step: 1) tenderizes the chicken as it breaks up the tissues and, 2) the uniform thickness allows the chicken to cook evenly all over – without the thinner bottom becoming overcooked while we wait for the thicker top to cook through. 

How to Make Chicken Cutlets

  1. Time permitting, freeze your chicken breasts for 15 minutes before slicing.  This isn’t essential, but it definitely helps create clean cuts because the chicken doesn’t wiggle with every movement of your knife.
  2. Next, lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and hold it in place with the palm of your hand.  
  3. Now get out your sharpest knife or sharpen your knife. A sharp knife helps cleanly cut the chicken instead of tearing/shredding the chicken. Carefully slice through the center horizontally (parallel to the cutting board) to create two cutlets.
  4. Next, pound the chicken to an even thickness by placing the cutlets next to each other and topping with plastic wrap (or I like to place my chicken in a large freezer bags because it seals in all the mess/germs – but you can use whatever you have on hand). 
  5. Gently pound the chicken to an even thickness using the smooth side of a mallet, rolling pin, or side of a can. Take care not to over-pound, we are pounding to make the chicken even, not super thin like in Chicken Parm. You don’t need to be too aggressive.

How to Make Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken 

This Brown Sugar Chicken recipe couldn’t be easier to make! Simply season the chicken, sear it until golden on both sides, and bath in the scrumptious brown sugar sauce. Here’s an overview of how this recipe is made (see the recipe card at the bottom of the post for full measurements): 

Step 1: Prep the Chicken 

Slice the chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create four fillets (see detailed instructions on how to do so in the section above). Cover them with plastic wrap and pound them to an even thickness. You can use a rolling pin to do this or the side of a can. Once that’s done, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. 

showing how to make Brown Sugar Chicken By pounding chicken to an even thickness

Step 2: Season the Chicken 

Whisk together the flour and spices. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture to add to the sauce. Dredge each chicken fillet through the seasoned flour mixture. 

showing how to make Brown Sugar Chicken by dredging chicken in flour and seasonings

Step 3: Cook the Chicken 

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter is melted, add the chicken fillets and cook for about 4 minutes per side. You’re looking for the chicken to be fully cooked through and golden on both sides. Once cooked, remove the chicken to a plate. 

showing how to make Brown Sugar Chicken by searing chicken until golden

Step 4: Make the Brown Sugar Sauce 

To the same skillet you cooked the chicken in, add the broth and cornstarch (whisk it up first to avoid clumps). Then, add the remaining sauce ingredients. Bring the sauce to a simmer and scrape the bottom of the skillet to pick up any bits that have stuck to it. Those bits are PACKED with flavor! Once the sauce has thickened up, return the chicken to the skillet to warm through. 

showing how to make Brown Sugar Chicken by simmering brown sugar sauce until thickened
up close top view of brown sugar chicken recipe garnished with parsley

Tips for Making Brown Sugar Chicken 

  • Pat the chicken dry. After you’ve sliced the chicken into cutlets, pat them dry with a paper towel. This helps the seasonings stick to the chicken more easily. 
  • Use butter and olive oil. I almost always use a combination of butter and oil whether it’s for making a roux or for pan frying chicken. The butter adds the undeniably scrumptious buttery flavor and the oil prevents the butter from burning. You may use all oil but you cannot use all butter or the butter will burn. I recommend using both for best results. 
  • Scrape up golden bits. After you cook the chicken there will be golden bits on the bottom of the pan – these are flavor gold!  Make sure to scrape up the bits while you cook the sauce.
  • Use a hot pan. Add your chicken only once the pan is hot – you should hear the chicken sizzle the second it touches the pan. If you add chicken to a lukewarm pan it will not sear, and as we all know from Gordon Ramsey, color = flavor.  Searing the chicken results in the Maillard reaction, also known as the flavor reaction, in which amino acids and reducing sugars produce browning and complex flavor. Note that hot doesn’t mean high heat, but it means it’s reached full temperature (medium-high, in this case). 
  • Only flip chicken once. Adding the chicken to a hot skillet heated to medium-high heat is only half the battle.Resist the urge to move the chicken as it cooks or to flip it more than once.  The chicken needs to stay in the same place for a continuous amount of time to brown. When the chicken is browned, it will naturally release from the pan.
  • Don’t overcook chicken. Chicken, especially chicken breasts, are juiciest when not overcooked. The best and most efficient way to check for doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the chicken; chicken breasts are done when they register 165 degrees F.

Recipe Variations 

  • Swap citrus. Swap the lemon juice for orange juice or pineapple juice
  • Swap brown sugar. Swap the brown sugar for maple or honey (I haven’t personally tried this).
  • Fresh herbs. Use fresh herbs in the sauce; the rule is 3x fresh to 1x dried.
  • Swap seasonings. Mix up the flavor profile and swap the seasonings in the recipe for Cajun seasonings, Fajita seasonings, or Asian inspired seasonings, such as Chinese 5 Spice, ginger, garlic and toasted sesame oil.
  • Make it spicy. Add additional chipotle chile pepper or add red pepper flakes to the sauce.
  • Alternate protein: The brown sugar sauce pairs well with other proteins such as boneless skinless chicken thighs, salmon fillets, or pork chops (recommend brining first). Note that different proteins (even chicken thighs) will vary in cooking time, so use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.    
  • Add veggies: Add any chopped vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, green beans, etc. and sauté them in in the butter and olive oil with the shallots. You can even add leftover roasted veggies such as roasted broccoli, cauliflower etc.
showing how to serve garlic brown sugar chicken with a top view of the chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans

Can I Prep Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken in Advance? 

Yes!  While this brown sugar chicken doesn’t require much prep, you can still prep everything in advance so your dinner can come together in minutes.

  • Prep chicken. Create chicken cutlets by slicing chicken breasts in half and pounding to an even thickness. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Dredge chicken. You can go one step further and dredge the chicken in the flour and spices. Transfer the chicken to a parchment lined plate in a single layer and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator.
  • Sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

How to Store and Reheat Brown Sugar Chicken 

  • Storage: Transfer the chicken in brown sugar sauce to an airtight container.  Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  • Microwave: Chop or thinly slice the chicken so it cooks evenly. Transfer chicken to a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 30 seconds then at 15 second intervals as needed.
  • Skillet: Skillet: Reheat in a nonstick skillet just until warmed through, flipping the chicken occasionally.  
  • Oven: Transfer chicken to a baking sheet, cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, or just until warmed through.

Can I Freeze Brown Sugar Chicken? 

Yes! Here’s how to freeze the chicken in brown sugar sauce: 

  • Cool the chicken to room temperature,then transfer to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag along with sauce. 
  • Squeeze out any excess air.
  • Freeze for 2 to 3 months.

What to Serve with Brown Sugar Chicken 

We love serving this Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken with either potatoes or rice, a sautéed or roasted vegetable, salad and bread. Here are some of our favorite sides:

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

This Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken recipe is pretty straightforward, but below you’ll find answers to commonly asked questions to satisfy your curiosity and guarantee success:

  • Can I use chicken thighs? Yes!  You can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs and treat them just like you would the cutlets.
  • Do I have to use chicken fillets?  Unless your chicken breasts are very small, you will want to use chicken fillets.  Traditional chicken breasts take much longer to cook so the crust will burn before the inside of the chicken is cooked.  Also, you don’t get the same tasty crust to chicken ratio with thick chicken breasts.
  • Do I have to pound my chicken to equal thickness?  For the juiciest chicken, it should be pounded to an even thickness. Pounding the chicken ensures the chicken cooks evenly otherwise you’ll be waiting for the thick part of the chicken to cook at the peril of the thin part.  
  • Do I have to dredge the chicken in flour?  Dredging the chicken creates a golden crust that insulates the temperamental chicken breast and keeps it juicy and tender, it also seasons the chicken and best of all absorbs butter from cooking – YUM! Dredging the chicken in flour is highly recommended but not a must. If you skip the flour, still coat the chicken in the same seasonings.
  • Do I have to use butter and olive oil?  To elevate the chicken recipe, it gets pan fried in a mixture of both butter and olive oil just like I do in my Chicken Parmesan recipe.  If you’ve never added butter to your pan frying, you will never go back!  The butter adds the undeniably scrumptious, decadent buttery flavor and the oil prevents the butter from burning.  You may use all oil but you cannot use all butter or the butter will burn.  I recommend using both for best results.  If you want to use a different oil, make sure it has a high smoking point and neutral flavor.
  • Can I make this recipe gluten free?  Yes!  Simply swap the flour for gluten free flour and you’re all set.

Looking for More Skillet Chicken Dinners? 

showing how to serve garlic brown sugar chicken with a side view of the chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans

Brown Sugar Chicken

This Brown Sugar Chicken recipe is one of those quick and easy weeknight meals you’ll make again and again because it’s easy, pantry friendly, all made in one skillet and most importantly, unbelievably delicious! The chicken is seasoned with a flavorful paprika, chipotle spice rub and seared in a sizzling skillet then bathed in the sweet, savory, tangy garlic brown sugar sauce that is practically drinkable – or at least lick your plate worthy.  The succulent Brown Sugar Chicken emerges seeping with intoxicating complex flavor and scrumptiously tender.  Serve your easy chicken dinner over a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, with a strawberry spinach salad, glazed carrots and breadsticks for a 30-minute dinner everyone will look forward to!
Servings: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2 large chicken breasts or 5-6 boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tsp EACH paprika, garlic powder, onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground cumin, salt, pepper, chipotle chile pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

Brown Sugar Sauce

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp EACH dried parsley, dried thyme, dried oregano
  • Dash red pepper flakes

Instructions

  • Slice the chicken breasts in the half through the equator to create 4 fillets. Cover with plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness. Pat dry.
  • Whisk the flour and all chicken seasoning together in a shallow dish. Reserve 1 tablespoon to use later in the sauce. Dredge each breast in the remaining flour mixture, shake off any excess, then transfer to a dry surface.
  • Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add chicken and cook for 4-5 (depending on thickness) per side until golden and cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate, don’t wipe out skillet.
  • Mix chicken broth with cornstarch and add to the skillet, followed by all of the sauce ingredients, including the 1 tablespoon reserved flour mixture. Bring sauce to a simmer while scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan; simmer until sauce thickens to desired consistency, stirring often. Taste the sauce and add additional lemon juice for tangier/less sweet if desired.
  • Add chicken back to the skillet and spoon some of the sauce over top. Warm through over low heat so the chicken can soak up some of the sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley (optional) and serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, rice or cauliflower rice.

Notes

How to Store and Reheat 

  • To store: Transfer the chicken in brown sugar sauce to an airtight container.  Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  • To freeze: Cool the chicken to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag along with sauce. Squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
  • Microwave: Chop or thinly slice the chicken so it cooks evenly. Transfer chicken to a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 30 seconds then at 15 second intervals as needed.
  • Skillet: Reheat in a nonstick skillet just until warmed through, flipping the chicken occasionally.  
  • Oven: Transfer chicken to a baking sheet, cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, or just until warmed through.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Diana says

    This was very good. I made tonight. Five stars.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much for the 5 star review Diana!

  2. Diana says

    This was very good. I try to rotate chicken and beef (and sometimes pork) with my dinners. I usually use thighs for the chicken

    My son who is a young man now and not home for dinner every night was disappointed when last night I told him that I was making “some kind of chicken breast” for dinner. Aafter he asked me. He said, “You know, I really don’t like chicken breast unless it’s in tacos.” Because my husband grills chicken breast and it’s always tough and chewy.

    Well, I did this recipe and served to to him and he gobbled it up. He said something to the effect of “Mom, I like pounded chicken breast.”

    Easy yummy recipe. I’ll make again.

    • Jen says

      Yessss! I love that your son has such a discerning palate (probably for better and worse for you ;)) and now knows what pounded chicken breasts are! Thanks for sharing Diana, I’m so pleased it was a hit!