Chicken Taco Marinade

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This Chicken Taco Marinade begins with marinating chicken (breasts or thighs) in a taco-inspired spice blend with olive oil and fresh lime juice. Marinade for Chicken Tacos is very easy to make and adds loads of flavor to the meat.

QUICK TIP

What is Chicken Taco Meat Called?

Pollo means chicken in Spanish. When you see pollo (pronounced PO-yo) on menus, the chicken is typically marinated, grilled, and then cut into small pieces.

Image of the Chicken Taco Marinade chicken

The BEST Chicken Taco Marinade

For the past couple of months, we have had a container of this delicious Taco Chicken in our fridge at all times. I typically grill up a whole bunch of chicken at the beginning of the week and we eat it that night for dinner. With the leftovers, I’ll chop or dice them and store them all in the fridge. That way, it’s ready to get thrown into meals throughout the week.

This has been such a lifesaver during busy summer days — especially when we have activities in the morning and minimal time before afternoon engagements.

The boys love the leftover chicken tossed in a quick salad, taco, burrito, or quesadilla (all easy meals to throw together with already prepared and flavorful chicken!). They get on me to make more the minute it’s gone!

Process shots-- images of the spices, garlic, lime zest, oil, and lime juice being added to a bowl and mixed together

Chicken Thighs Or Breasts?

Either works in this Chicken Taco Marinade and there are pros and cons to each.

  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs deliver extremely tender meat, plus they’re more forgiving (meat doesn’t dry out) if grilled or marinated a little too long.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are less forgiving (because they are a leaner type of meat), but can be wonderfully succulent when grilled correctly.
    • If using breasts, slice breasts in half before marinating. Slice and/or pound your chicken breasts into evenly thick pieces before marinating. That way they’ll soak up all the delicious flavor from the marinade and they’ll cook evenly. We don’t want to pound the breasts to be flat, just to be an even thickness throughout. Even thickness means all parts of the chicken will be done at the same time. I really like this meat mallet, and here’s a good YouTube video that illustrates the pounding process.

Process shots of the Chicken Taco Marinade-- image of the chicken be prepped and then transferred to a bag with the marinade

How Long Should I Marinate Chicken?

A lot of marinades will call for extended marinating periods, even overnight. But whenever there is citrus or an acidic component (like the lime juice in this Chicken Taco Marinade), we recommend a shorter marinating time, about 2-3 hours, and no longer than 4 hours. This is because the citric acid will begin to “cook” the chicken and will result in drier chicken. (Thighs are more forgiving than breasts with longer marinating time.) If you’ve ever had ceviche, you’ve seen the magic of “cooking” raw foods with citrus!

QUICK TIP

Even 30 minutes of marinating the chicken is effective. For a quicker marinating time, cut breasts in half horizontally to create 2 thin pieces. For thighs, poke a few holes using the tines of a fork. This will help the marinade penetrate the meat for a shorter marinating time.

Process shots-- images of the chicken being grilled and then diced.

Chicken Taco Marinade Grilling Tips

  • This is an easy marinade — you’ll be amazed how quickly it comes together! That prep time is even quicker with a microplane for zesting the limes and then a citrus juicer for juicing them.
  • Flip chicken while marinating. Throughout the marinating process, be sure to flip the bag of marinating chicken onto the other side. We don’t want just one side of the chicken getting flavorful!
  • Generously oil your grill grates. I do this by rolling up a few paper towels, drenching them in oil (canola or vegetable), and using tongs, rubbing the drenched paper towels along the grill grates. This will contribute to a beautiful sear, and ensure the chicken doesn’t stick to the grates. 
  • Let the chicken rest. Tent with foil and let the chicken stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting in. This allows the juices to redistribute inside the chicken; this means juicier meat!

VARIATIONS

This citrusy Chicken Taco Marinade relies on limes, but you can also use lemons. You could even make this chicken taco marinade with orange juice (freshly squeezed — not from concentrate).

Image of the cooked chicken on a plate, made with Chicken Taco Marinade.

How To Enjoy This Chicken

  • As is! Dice it up and enjoy with some cooked quinoa, rice, cauliflower rice, or other carb and a diced avocado for some creaminess. 
  • In a burrito bowl. Dice the chicken and serve it over rice with some black beans, corn, cheese, and your favorite burrito bowl toppings (think sour cream, avocado or guacamole, pico de gallo). 
  • In a salad. Dice the chicken and serve over chopped romaine. Add some cherry tomatoes, avocado, black beans, corn, and tortilla strips; drizzle on this cilantro lime sauce or a cilantro-lime vinaigrette (like the one in this southwest quinoa salad).
  • Added to a taco, burrito, quesadilla, tostada etc. This is such a great all-purpose chicken flavor and can be added to any of your favorites. Dice it up small and add to any of the recipes linked in this bullet point (replace the ground chicken in the tacos with this chicken and then simply add the chicken to the other linked recipes).

Image of a plateful of grilled chicken with lime wedges on the side

Side Dish Suggestions

Serve this Chicken Taco Marinade with one (or a few) of the following side dishes:

More Grilled Chicken Recipes:

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Chicken Taco Marinade

5 from 3 votes
This Chicken Taco Marinade delivers seriously flavorful chicken with minimal work and ingredients. We marinate chicken (breasts or thighs) in a taco-inspired spice blend with olive oil and fresh lime juice.
Print Recipe

Chicken Taco Marinade

5 from 3 votes
This Chicken Taco Marinade delivers seriously flavorful chicken with minimal work and ingredients. We marinate chicken (breasts or thighs) in a taco-inspired spice blend with olive oil and fresh lime juice.
Course Dinner
Cuisine Healthy, Mexican
Keyword Chicken Taco Marinade
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Marinating Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 305kcal
Cost $6.72

Ingredients

  • 1.25 up to 1.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, plus 1 teaspoon zest (~3-4 limes)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon each: paprika, onion powder
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon ground chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Fine sea salt & pepper
  • Serving Suggestions: Note 1

Instructions

  • PREP: Trim the chicken breasts of fat and slice them evenly in half widthwise. Pound pieces to an even thickness (with a meat mallet or the bottom of a frying pan) to ensure even grilling. Place the prepared chicken in a large resealable bag and set aside. For thighs, trim excess fat and place in a large resealable bag.
  • MARINADE: In a bowl whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon lime zest, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 tsp minced garlic, 2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp onion powder, 1-1/4 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp oregano, and salt & pepper to taste (I add 1-1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper). Whisk until smooth and remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside, reserving for later.
  • COAT CHICKEN: Add the rest of the marinade to the bag with the chicken. Seal the bag and then knead with your hands to ensure all of the chicken is well coated. Place in the fridge and marinate for at least 30 minutes and preferably 2-3 hours. Don't marinate longer than 5 hours (acid from limes will start to dry out chicken).
  • GRILL: Preheat a grill to medium-high heat (about 450 degrees F.) Generously oil the grill (I drench a rolled-up paper towel in vegetable oil and, holding it with tongs, rub it over the grill grates. Don't skip this step.)
  • GRILL CONT.: Using tongs, pick up chicken from the bag, allowing excess marinade to drip off. Place chicken flat on the grill. Grill the chicken, turning only once halfway through grilling, about 4-6 minutes per side (until the thickest part of the chicken registers 165 degrees F. and the meat is nicely charred). When the chicken is ready to flip, it should come up off the grill grates easily. (I use a sharp metal turner to scrape up and flip the chicken to the other side.)
  • BASTE: Working quickly to keep the grill lid closed as much as possible, baste the chicken with the reserved marinade as you grill and after flipping. Timing will vary based on the size of the chicken and the actual heat of the grill.
  • REST & ENJOY: Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil. Allow the chicken to rest 5-10 minutes so the juices can re-distribute. Thinly slice or chop. Taste and add more salt if needed. Drizzle on some more lime juice and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Serving suggestions: We love making up a triple batch of this chicken at the beginning of the week, enjoying it for dinner, and then dicing up the leftovers to add to meals throughout the week (think burrito bowls, salads, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, etc.). See the paragraph in the post labeled "How To Enjoy This Chicken" for more ideas!

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 305kcal | Carbohydrates: 3.3g | Protein: 28.3g | Fat: 20.1g | Cholesterol: 133mg | Sodium: 718.6mg | Fiber: 0.7g | Sugar: 0.4g

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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Recipe Rating




3 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Cant wait to make this soon for me can i use mushrooms or tofu instead and can i use my air fryer for this instead i never had chicken taco marinade before perfect for my after office meals love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work

  2. 5 stars
    This chicken marinade has excellemt zing with a taste that is better than all other taco chicken marinades and recipes. Thanks again, btw may help to add flattened and sliced in half for chicken in the ingredient list for some people.

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