This easy Mexican chicken marinade makes the juiciest, most flavorful breasts or thighs with cilantro, citrus, chili powder, cumin and other spices. It comes together with just a few minutes of prep time making it great for meal prep, freezing, grilling and more!
If you’re a Mexican food lover and wonder how to get that juicy, cilantro lime flavor, you’ll love this one. There are many ways to do chicken Mexican style but this Mexican chicken marinade recipe will definitely be a new favorite for it’s delicious flavor and simplicity. Whether it’s eaten on as an entrée, paired with other Mexican sides or stuffed inside chicken tacos, you can’t go wrong here!
From my ever popular shredded crockpot chicken taco recipe, lean pork tenderloin carnitas or taco seasoning blend, tacos are undoubtedly a favorite on this website and this works great as a chicken taco marinade. What makes this marinade unique is the incorporation of multiple types of citrus, the perfect balance of seasonings, and detailed instructions on how to use it best.
If you’re looking for chicken marinade recipes, definitely try my Greek chicken marinade too! Sometimes I make multiple marinades on the same day and then freeze them in dinner sized portions for quick weeknight meals. It’s great to have easy recipes and marinated meat on hand for last minute summer grilling!
The simple ingredients for this recipe are mostly things you’ll already have in your pantry with the addition of a few staples needed for Mexican cooking:
The addition of olive oil adds juiciness and to prevent sticking
- chili powder – use a Mexican chili powder variety
- ground cumin – a staple in Mexican cooking
- salt – I use himalayan pink salt which I recommend but any salt will work
- dried oregano
- smoked paprika or regular is fine too
- black pepper – fine ground is best but course ground will work here too
- minced garlic – I tested it with both fresh and jarred and both are fine here. If using pre-minced jarred garlic, I always add little more since it is less sharp than fresh.
- olive oil – can be substituted for avocado oil or whatever you prefer
- lime juice – fresh squeezed is best
- orange juice – as with the lime, squeeze it fresh. I use a mandarin or tangerine sometimes since it makes just the right amount of juice.
- cilantro – this gives it more Mexican flair and flavor! You can leave it off if you don’t like cilantro though or add it after grilling if you want more of that fresh cilantro finish.
- chicken breasts or thighs – I use boneless skinless but baked skin on bone-in thighs would work too if you pat the skin dry before baking or searing in a pan. The recipe says it makes enough for 2 pounds of chicken but its flexible and will easily work for 3 lbs., especially if you stir the chicken half way through the marinade time and let it marinade for at least 8 hours.
How to make Mexican chicken marinade
Making an authentic Mexican chicken marinade is easy as can be.
- You will squeeze the citrus, chop the cilantro, mince the garlic and all of those prep steps and then simply combine it all in a bowl or bag.
- Whisk or stir into a marinade.
- Trim excess fat off of the chicken and poke holes in each piece with the tines of a fork to let the delicious flavor of the marinade soak in.
- Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to coat.
- Marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours but preferably 8-24 hours.
Cooking methods for Mexican chicken
I tested the Mexican marinade for chicken with various different cooking methods and it turned out great every time. Here are guidelines on how to cook the marinated chicken using various cooking methods. However you do it, this is a great recipe and works many different ways.
Also known as pollo asado if cooked on a charcoal grill, there’s no arguing grilled chicken is fantastic. Heat grill until it is hot (about 400-450° F or 205-230° C). Oil outdoor grill grates before placing chicken on them. Cook boneless skinless breasts and thighs for about 5-7 minutes per side and bone-in thighs for 10-12 minutes per side, moving to the less hot part of the grill about half way through cook time. Let grilled chicken sit for 10 minutes before cutting into it and serving. You an also use an indoor electric grill like a George Foreman to get nice grill marks with less effort.
To keep from drying out, rub or spray the chicken with olive oil before placing in the oven. Place boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs spaced out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in oven preheated to 375° for 20-25 minutes.
For bone-in thighs, dry chicken skin with paper towels and then bake skin side up for 45-50 minutes, broiling for the last few minutes of cook time to make sure the skin gets crispy.
Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil to a large skillet over medium heat, tilting to make sure oil covers entire pan. Pat dry and then add boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs to pan and sear for 6-8 minutes before flipping and cooking for 4-6 minutes on other side until cooked through.
For bone-in thighs with skin on, dry chicken skin with paper towels and then place chicken skin side down in the skillet and sear for 2-3 minutes. Cover with a lid and cook chicken for 4-5 more minutes. Remove lid and flip each chicken piece over. Replace the lid back and cook for an additional 8-12 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If you want skin crispier, you can place the pan under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to crisp it up. Cooking time will vary by size.
To keep from drying out dry chicken skin with paper towels and then rub or spray the chicken with olive oil before placing in the air fryer. Place boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs spaced out in air fryer preheated to 375° for 8-15 minutes depending on the size. For bone-in thighs, cook for 12-18 minutes, depending on how big they are.
Freezing for meal prep
This Mexican chicken marinade is fabulous for meal prep! I like to make a triple batch (use the servings calculator in the recipe card to make this easy) and freeze two of the portions for later use. I use reusable bags or pyrex containers for freezing to reduce waste but freezer safe ziplocks work too.
To freeze the chicken for later use, place chicken and marinade in a freezer safe bag and seal tightly. Place in freezer and freeze until ready to use. I do this right after making the marinade since the chicken will absorb enough of it later when you defrost it. That being said, sometimes I end up placing it in the freezer the next day when plans change and I don’t make the chicken for dinner and it turns out great then too!
To defrost, place bag with chicken in the refrigerator overnight or defrost in a bowl of cold water on the counter for 1 hour. Don’t trust the defrost setting on the microwave. It will start cooking the chicken in places creating uneven spots.
Tips and tricks
- Don’t marinate longer than 24 hours. There isn’t enough citrus to fully cook the chicken but after about 48 hours, the chicken will start to “cook” from the lime getting hard spots that will be overcooked when you go to cook the meat. It’s best after marinading for 8-24 hours.
- Rotate the chicken half way through marinade time to make sure all chicken gets evenly saturated. If it’s in a bag, you can just smoosh the chicken around from the outside to make sure it gets evenly coated which is the best way. In a bowl, just rotate the top chicken so the top gets moved to the bottom and all get evenly marinated.
- Fresh lime juice and orange juice are essential. Please don’t use bottled citrus juice in this recipe!
This is a great recipe as written but if you want to spice it up or tweak it, here are some variation ideas:
- Add chopped jalapeños
- Use fresh oregano instead of dried (just use twice as much)
- Add 1/4 cup of pineapple juice and grill some pineapple to serve alongside the chicken or make mango avocado salsa for tropical flair
- Use the marinade for beef to make carne asada or pork for tacos
- Short on marinade time? Cut the chicken into 1″ pieces, marinade for 1/2 hour to 1 hour then skewer it on kabob sticks
- Use it as a chicken marinade for chicken fajitas, cooking on a grill or skillet with fajita veggies
- Add chopped canned chilis in adobo sauce for a different flavor profile
- I used it as a chicken street taco marinade one night chopping the chicken up fine and serving with onions and cilantro which was incredible!
What to serve with Mexican chicken
Serve this easy chicken recipe as tacos, a main dish, or topping fresh salads or burrito bowls. Serve it alongside sides like refried beans or black beans, rice, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, pickled red onions, taco dip, vegetarian taquitos, coconut rice, margaritas, or just a cold beer like Corona or Pacifico. For dessert, flan or pina colada ice cream is the way to go!
Use leftovers in tacos, air fryer quesadillas, enchilada casserole, taco salad, or whatever else you can dream up, It’s versatile and the flavor is subtle enough that you can truly pair it seamlessly with almost anything.
Frequently asked questions
Boneless skinless breasts or thighs are best since they cook evenly and are easy to work with. Breasts are leaner and thighs retain moisture better and are more flavorful. Bone in thighs work too but need to cook longer.
8-24 hours is ideal. Longer than 48 hours will cause the chicken texture to get mushy and the citrus may cause it to start cooking in he marinade.
Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius when a meat thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
Store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave slicing larger pieces into smaller ones to heat evenly.
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika or regular is fine too
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice a mandarin or tangerine works great too
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 2 lb. chicken breasts or thighs
- In a large ziplock, reusable bag or bowl, add all of the ingredients except chicken and stir to mix well.
- Trim any excess fat or skin from chicken. Poke holes with a fork in several places throughout each piece of chicken to allow the marinade to soak in deeper.
- Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to evenly coat. Place back in the refrigerator and let marinate for at least 2 hours and preferably 8 hours or more, up to 24 hours at most.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and discard marinade. Cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken reads 165° F (74° C). See Notes for cooking methods. Cooked chicken will keep for up to 5 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.