5 Smart Upgrades for Trader Joe's Most Popular Freezer Find

The next time you cook Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken, ditch the directions and choose one of these smart upgrades.

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken

Simply Recipes / Myo Quinn

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken was just voted, again, as the best product from the grocery store according to customers. Fans will tell you this budget-friendly freezer meal gives you take-out satisfaction without the delivery time. In fact, TJ's Mandarin Orange Chicken can be cooked and ready to eat in under 15 minutes! The bag of breaded and fried tender chicken pieces are frozen and ready to reheat, and the package also includes two packets of the Mandarin orange sauce.

Most folks follow the directions for roasting the chicken pieces in the oven and heating the sauce in the microwave before tossing the two together (the package also includes directions for pan frying the chicken). But devotees will tell you the real joy of Trader Joe’s most popular item comes in upgrading this beloved basic. We scoured the web and brought you 5 of the best glow ups for this popular freezer find.

 1. Play Around with Time and Temperature

Utilizing the oven for Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken has lots of benefits: the cooking is hands off and you can cook vegetables on the other side of the sheet pan. The bag’s directions for time and temperature leave a little to be desired though, however, with some folks getting less than crispy chicken. There are two ways to easily improve this method. Use a higher oven temperature (as suggested in this Reddit thread and the New York Times) or bake the chicken for longer. Simply Recipes Editor Myo Quinn says she doubles down on the suggested 10 minute cooking time, “I'm not surprised it's the most popular product. It's delicious. I do have to bake it twice as long as it calls for to get it extra crispy.”

 2. Fire Up Your Air Fryer 

Using your air fryer to make Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken is probably the most popular tip—in fact, everyone from the New York Times to TikTokers seem to be in agreement. Heat the air fryer to 400°F and cook the chicken directly in the basket for just 10 minutes and get ultra crispy results. The only downside? You may need to cook your chicken in batches depending on the size of your air fryer. You want to make sure the pieces are in a single layer with some space between them to allow the airflow that makes this upgrade work. 

 3. Simmer Down the Sauce 

Since the Mandarin orange sauce comes frozen, Trader Joe’s directions suggest heating it in the microwave to thaw (you can also do this in a cup of warm water) to make the sauce fluid enough to coat the chicken. But even Trader Joe’s blog suggests actually cooking the sauce for more flavor. The idea is simple: While the chicken is cooking in the oven or air fryer, heat a skillet or wok on the stove, add the sauce, bring it to a simmer, and cook until reduced. Driving off the extra moisture in the sauce will also keep the chicken from getting soggy after you toss it all together.

 4. Finish Strong 

While the sauce is hot, many fans like to boost its flavor—ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes are popular additions that really make the sauce taste more like a great Chinese takeout. Chopped green onions or sesame seeds are also delicious additions that can be added to the simmered sauce or sprinkled directly over the Mandarin Orange Chicken just before serving. 

 5. Turn it Into a Meal

As beloved as Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken is for being super tasty and easy to cook, it isn’t really a complete meal on its own. You’ll most often see it paired with TJ’s fried rice (the two can be cooked at the same temperature in the oven or one after another on the stovetop) or over rice, but there are lots of variations that are arguably more fun. Quinn suggests adding broccoli to the same sheet pan while you cook the chicken. “The broccoli gets tossed with the chicken when I add the sauce,” she explains. This make the chicken even more like your favorite fast food orange chicken. You can also turn the finished chicken into family-friendly sandwiches: grab a bag of TJ's brioche buns, pre-shredded slaw, and sliced pickles and serve the cooked and sauced chicken on the buns with slaw and pickles. Or cook a pound of pasta and steam some snap peas and toss the pasta noodles with the sauce.