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Homemade Chicken Al Pastor Recipe

Discover the delicious flavors of Chicken al pastor, featuring succulent, tender marinated chicken with the smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors of achiote, guajillo chilies, and pineapple juice.

Chicken al pastor served on a grilled taco

What is Chicken al pastor?

Chicken al pastor is a Mexican dish that features marinated and grilled chicken with a flavorful blend of spices and a touch of sweetness inspired by Lebanese shawarma and Mexican street food.

The term “al pastor” translates to “shepherd style” in Spanish, referring to the traditional method of cooking meat on a vertical spit.

Traditionally, Tacos al Pastor is made with marinated pork cooked on a vertical spit, known as a trompo, and served with pineapple, onions, and cilantro. However, as the dish has evolved, variations have emerged, including Chicken Al Pastor. This version replaces the pork with marinated chicken, providing a lighter and healthier alternative while still maintaining the bold flavors that have made the dish so popular.

I had a great dining experience with chicken al pastor recently on my trip to Washington. Read more about My Experience with the New Chipotle Chicken Al Pastor.

The Unique Preparation of Chicken Al Pastor

What sets Chicken Al Pastor apart from other grilled chicken dishes is its distinctive preparation and the combination of flavors in its marinade. The chicken is marinated in a blend of spices such as achiote paste, orange juice, garlic, and various spices, along with pineapple juice, which not only adds a touch of sweetness but also helps to tenderize the meat.

Once marinated, the chicken is traditionally cooked on a vertical spit, allowing the juices to baste the meat as it cooks. The slow rotation of the spit ensures even cooking and caramelization, resulting in a tender, juicy, and flavorful final product. While it may be challenging to replicate this cooking method at home, a grill or oven can be used to achieve similar results.

Grilled and baked al pastor chicken

What to Serve with Chicken al pastor

  • Tacos: Fill warm corn tortillas with the juicy Al Pastor chicken and top them with finely chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of zesty lime. These vibrant tacos embody the true essence of Mexican street food.
  • Salads: Transform your Chicken Al Pastor into a healthy and satisfying salad by arranging it atop a bed of crisp lettuce, along with colorful veggies, avocado slices, and a drizzle of tangy dressing.
  • Create a nourishing grain bowl by pairing it with rice or quinoa and an array of roasted vegetables, salsas like pico de Gallo, Guacamole, or hot sauces for extra flavor and heat.
  • Rice and beans: Serve the chicken with Mexican-style rice, cilantro lime rice, and black or pinto beans.
  • Roasted vegetables: Grilled bell peppers, onions, or zucchini make great side dishes alongside the chicken.
Chicken al pastor served in a bowl with rice, black beans, pico de gallo, and lime

Ingredients used for Chicken al pastor 

  • Chicken thighs: use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for their tender texture and ability to soak up the flavors.
  • Pineapple juice: adds a sweet and tangy flavor to the marinade.
  • Lime juice: provides a bright, citrusy note to the dish and balances the sweet pineapple juice.
  • Achiote paste: a Mexican condiment made from ground annatto seeds, spices, and vinegar. It adds a vibrant red color and a distinct earthy flavor.
  • White vinegar: add acidity, balanced flavors, and help soften the meat.
  • Adobo sauce: add a smoky and spicy flavor.
  • Morita peppers: soaked overnight and drained to add more, add a smoky and spicy flavor. Adjust according to your heat preference.
  • Garlic: adds a savory and aromatic element to the marinade.
  • Smoked paprika: adds a rich, smoky, and slightly sweet flavor to the marinade.
  • Ground cumin: a warm and earthy spice that enhances the dish’s overall taste.
  • Dried oregano: adds an herbal and slightly floral note to the marinade.
  • Salt and black pepper: enhance the flavors in the marinade.
  • Fresh cilantro: adds freshness and a vibrant herbal note to the Chicken al pastor.

How do you make Chicken al pastor? 

  1. Blend the ingredients: combine the ingredients and blend until smooth in a blender.
  2. Marinate the chicken: Place the chicken thighs in a large ziplock bag or a non-reactive container, and pour the marinade over the chicken. Ensure the chicken is well-coated, then seal the bag or cover the container. 
  3. Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing any excess to drip off. Brush the grill or grill pan with vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
  4. Grill the chicken per side until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) and the chicken is cooked.
  5. Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing it into thin strips.
  6. Serve the Chicken Al Pastor in tacos, burritos, or bowls with your favorite accompaniments.

Tips

  • Marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours or overnight for optimal flavor. This allows the marinade to penetrate the meat and infuse it with delicious flavors.
  • To achieve a delicious char on the chicken, allow it to cook undisturbed for a few minutes on each side before flipping. This will enhance the flavor and add a smoky touch.
  • If you prefer a milder flavor, reduce the amount of adobo sauce and Morita pepper.
Homemade Chicken al pastor served in taco wraps

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make Chicken al pastor without a grill?

If you don’t have access to a grill, you can cook the marinated chicken on a stovetop skillet or in the oven. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat, cook the chicken for 4-5 minutes per side, or bake the chicken in a preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) for 20-25 minutes.

Can I freeze Chicken al pastor?

Yes, you can freeze Chicken al pastor. It’s best to cook it and transfer it to freezer-safe containers for up to 3 months. Thaw it overnight in the refrigerator and reheat it gently before serving.

Can I double or halve the recipe?

Double or halve the ingredients accordingly. Remember that cooking times may vary depending on the quantity of chicken and the size of your cooking surface.

Can I make the marinade in advance?

Yes, you can prepare the marinade in advance. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You can make the marinade up to 3 days in advance. When you’re ready to marinate the chicken, pour the prepared marinade over the chicken and follow the recipe instructions.

How to Store the Recipe

Transfer the leftover Chicken al pastor to an airtight container or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Ensure the container or wrap is sealed correctly to prevent air and moisture entering. Place the container or wrapped chicken in the refrigerator. You can store Chicken al pastor in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

  • Grill or grill pan: For the best flavor and charred finish.
  • Ziplock bag: to marinate the chicken, ensuring it is well coated and infused with flavors.
  • Knife and cutting board: For slicing the grilled chicken into thin strips or bite-sized pieces.
  • Tongs or spatula: to handle the chicken while grilling and flipping it.

Other Delicious Mexican Recipes

Chicken al pastor served on a grilled taco

Homemade Chicken Al Pastor Recipe

Discover the delicious flavors of Chicken al pastor, a Mexican fusion dish with roots in Lebanese cuisine. Learn how to make it and enjoy with your family.
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Servings: 6
Calories: 290.6kcal

Equipment

  • Grill or grill pan: For the best flavor and charred finish.
  • Ziplock bag: to marinate the chicken, ensuring it is well coated and infused with flavors.
  • Knife and cutting board: For slicing the grilled chicken into thin strips or bite-sized pieces.
  • Tongs or spatula: to handle the chicken while grilling and flipping it.

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp achiote paste
  • 2 tbsp adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers in adobo
  • 1-2 morita peppers soaked overnight and drained (adjust according to your heat preference)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions

  • In a blender, combine the white vinegar, pineapple juice, lime juice, achiote paste, adobo sauce, morita pepper, garlic, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, black pepper, and salt. Blend until smooth.
  • Place the chicken thighs in a large ziplock bag or a non-reactive container, and pour the marinade over the chicken. Ensure the chicken is well-coated, then seal the bag or cover the container. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight for best results.
  • Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat (375 to 400°F). Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing any excess to drip off. Brush the grill or grill pan with vegetable oil to prevent sticking.
  • Grill the chicken for 5 to 6 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C) and the chicken is cooked through.
  • Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing it into thin strips.
  • Serve the Chicken Al Pastor in tacos, burritos, or bowls with your favorite accompaniments.

Oven Method

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Next, lay the seasoned thighs in a single layer on a rimmed baking dish, such as a 9 X 13 baking dish.
  • Bake the chicken until it is fully cooked, the juices run clear, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the largest thigh registers 165ºF. This typically takes about 30 minutes in my oven.

Notes

  • Marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours or overnight for optimal flavor. This allows the marinade to penetrate the meat and infuse it with delicious flavors.
  • If your chicken has been in the refrigerator, remove it and allow it to come to room temperature for at least 10 minutes.
  • Do not overcook, else the chicken will turn out dry
  • To achieve a delicious char on the chicken, allow it to cook undisturbed for a few minutes on each side before flipping. This will enhance the flavor and add a smoky touch.
  • If you prefer a milder flavor, reduce the amount of adobe sauce and Morita pepper.

Nutrition

Calories: 290.6kcal | Carbohydrates: 3.6g | Protein: 29.2g | Fat: 16.8g | Saturated Fat: 6.7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7.6g | Cholesterol: 89.2mg | Sodium: 1128.9mg | Potassium: 590.9mg | Fiber: 0.5g | Sugar: 1.2g | Vitamin A: 190IU | Vitamin C: 2.4mg | Calcium: 33.5mg | Iron: 3.9mg

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