Mexican Chicken Marinade

I’ve discovered the Best Chicken Marinade, and I want to share it with you. This Mexican chicken marinade recipe makes the best grilled chicken ever! It is better than restaurant fajita chicken, and easy to scale up when you have to feed lots of people at a cookout.

a plate of Mexican grilled chicken topped with cilanto

Have you ever found yourself at a restaurant enjoying a plateful of delicious chicken fajitas and stopped to ask yourself the question: “What secret magic do they perform on this meat to make it so flavorful and scrumptious?” Well, wonder no more friends. I have discovered the secret and it lies within this Mexican chicken marinade recipe.

The Building Blocks of The Best Chicken Marinade

I am totally obsessed with this Netflix special (and cookbook) called Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat in which Chef Samin Nosrat discusses these 4 foundational elements of good cooking. And this Mexican chicken marinade has them all.

  1. Salt – It tenderizes chicken by starting to break down the proteins, and draws moisture (and flavor) from the chicken marinade into the meat (so the marinade goodness permeates the whole chicken cut, not just the surface like a sauce that could drip or burn off.)
  2. Fat – Oil accompanies the natural fat in the chicken to create that melt-in-your-mouth flavor, adding moisture and tenderness which are crucial (especially when grilling) to prevent the meat from drying out.
  3. Acid – Citrus juice, like salt, tenderizes meat by helping to break down proteins and fats. It also adds a bite of zesty flavors to the overall chicken by replacing some of the natural meat juices.
  4. Heat – Grilling uses some intensely high heat to cook your food. It sears the surface of your chicken, creating those nice grill marks and sealing in flavor and moisture. As fats/oils drip off, flame-ups char-broil the rest of the surface of your meat to flame-kissed perfection. All the while the ambient heat inside the grill completes cooking the inside of your meat. For those food scientists keeping score at home, that’s conduction, radiation, AND convection all performing a beautiful harmonious dance of thermodynamics, and the result is delicious!

Now let’s get to making this miracle mixture!

closeup of Mexican grilled chicken on a plate with cilantro

How To Make Mexican Chicken Marinade

  1. Put all your ingredients (olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, oregano, chili powder, onion powder, black pepper, and salt) into your food processor or blender.
  2. Pulse your marinade until everything is smoothly liquefied.
  3. Pour the marinade into a food storage bag containing fresh (or defrosted) chicken cuts.
  4. Refrigerate chicken for 2-24 hours before grilling.

Now that your chicken is marinating in the fridge, let’s move on to every dad’s favorite appliance; the grill.

plate of mexican grilled chicken topped with cilantro

Look Better Than You Really Are At Grilling

This past year, I dedicated myself to learning the art of grilling. I was determined to find easy recipes and methods that I could use that would finally give me some confidence in making grilled chicken. And I can tell you that my search has not been in vain. This Mexican chicken marinade makes the absolute best grilled chicken that I have ever tasted. Full stop.

I shared some grill advice in my last post for spicy chicken marinade (which is second only to this recipe in flavor), but these grilling tips warrant repeating, so here is a quick rundown.

  • Use boneless/skinless chicken thighs as your go-to cut for grilling. They taste good, they’re cheap, and they’re hard to overcook. Almost fool-proof. (Also perfect in my Air Fryer Chicken Thighs recipe…)
  • Skip needless meat prep steps. Don’t waste time poking a bunch of holes in it with a fork or preseasoning. I tested this marinade recipe all kinds of ways, and honestly couldn’t tell the difference to just marinating the chicken as-is, straight from the package.
  • Cook hot and fast. I consistently grill chicken thighs around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and they only take about 6 minutes per side.
  • Flame-ups are a good thing. Don’t freak out unless something non-grilling related catches on fire.
  • Quit messing around! Lifting the grill lid, and moving your food around too much results in longer cook time and dry meat, because you’re letting heat and moisture escape. Plus, every time you move it, you risk your meat breaking apart and falling into a fiery grave.
  • Use a meat thermometer as your authority on when meat is cooked properly (not your eyeballs, or “feel”). Chicken is cooked properly when its internal temp is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

closeup of fajita grilled chicken topped with cilantro

Mexican Chicken That’s Better Than Restaurant Fajitas

Follow this recipe and my grilling tips, and you will be rewarded with a grilled chicken that is so tender, juicy, and flavorful that you might just stop ordering grilled chicken at restaurants. Because now, you can do it better yourself!

This Mexican chicken marinade recipe has such a good citrus and salty flavor balance that it makes a very versatile chicken. It can be a mean standalone grilled cilantro lime chicken, or the perfect chicken for Mason Jar Taco Salads. Either way, this is 100% the best chicken marinade that I’ve ever tried, and it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser for you too.

a plate of grilled chicken made with Mexican chicken marinade in front of background seasonings

Crowd Pleasing Mexican Grilled Chicken Marinade

For my son’s birthday cookout, I doubled this chicken marinade recipe and was able to pack my grill with about 4 lbs. of marinated chicken thighs. We went through one of those giant bulk family sized chicken trays all at once without freezing anything (which checks off a bucket list item for me).

There was barely any room left in my grill to close the lid! …And folks LOVED it. Adults AND kids! Even a few that don’t normally like cilantro. I’m talking, 10 minutes later, those bad boys were G-O-N-E. Ga-hawn! Not bad.

So please, for the sake of all poultry, give this Mexican chicken marinade a try, and let me know what you think in the ratings/comments below! If this post doesn’t help you fill some bellies, and look like a grill master in the process, I promise that I’ll dance the funky chicken.

plate of grilled chicken made with mexican chicken marinade

Mexican Chicken Marinade

Yield: 5-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

This simple cilantro lime marinade makes the best grilled chicken that is perfect for feeding a crowd at a cookout, or can be used for fajitas, tacos, or salads.

Ingredients

For the Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (or about 2-3 limes squeezed)
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder

For the Chicken:

  • 2 lb package of boneless skinless chicken thighs

Instructions

  1. Place all of the marinade ingredients into your food processor or blender. Garlic should be minced.
  2. Pulse until the marinade until it is smooth.
  3. Place raw chicken thighs into two separate 1 gallon food storage bags (about 1 lb into each bag or 3-4 thighs per bag)
  4. Split your marinade mixture, pouring half over the chicken thighs in each bag.
  5. Remove as much air from each storage bag as possible and seal the bags.
  6. With your hands, squeeze the bags to reposition the chicken thighs so that none are stacked, and the marinade is fully covering each cut of meat.
  7. Place the bags in the refrigerator (laying flat) for 2-24 hours.
  8. When you're ready to grill your chicken, preheat your grill to medium high heat (about 500 degrees Fahrenheit).
  9. Grill each chicken thigh for 6-7 minutes per side, flipping with tongs.
  10. Use a meat thermometer to verify that your chicken is cooked when its internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  11. Let the meat rest by placing foil over the cooked chicken for a few minutes until it is ready to serve.
  12. Top with fresh cilantro as a garnish when served.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 336Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 184mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 37g

Please note nutritional information for my recipes is calculated by a third party service and provided as a courtesy to my readers. For the most accurate calculation, I always recommend running the numbers yourself with the specific products you use.

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a review, or head over to Instagram and share a photo! Tag your projects with #neighborfoodies!

For a great side dish pairing, try this Black Bean and Corn Salsa. My Creamy Mac and Cheese, Cucumber Tomato Salad, and Crispy Baked Potato Wedges are also great pairings!

Caught the marinade bug? First, this chicken. Then try this Italian Dressing Chicken, Marinated Skirt Steak, and Cuban Mojo Marinated Pork next.

You may also enjoy this quick Chicken Margherita on a hot summer day!

24 Comments

  1. This marinade is fantastic. Used neutral vegetable oil instead of olive, and made one batch with ancho chile powder (no added salt in powder) and one with a cheaper chili powder mix (with added salt.) Added a few dashes of cayenne for a kick. Grilled both batches of chicken thighs, and both turned out great.

  2. This came out so well. I didn’t have fresh cilantro so just used dried ones and still came out delicious. Thank you!!

  3. I made this and threw it away twice, because it was SO bitter. I finally realized it was the olive oil. This recipe is actually great, but be sure to use avocado, or another neutral oil. I wasted a lot of ingredients finding this out.

    1. Oh yeah. Olive oil can turn rancid if it’s too old.
      And as with wines/coffees/cheese, oils can have a huge spectrum of flavor profiles. It’s possible that your olive oil was too “full-bodied” for marinade. I’ll add some oil tips to this post when we update it next.
      We stick with a very light and neutral extra virgin olive oil that isn’t peppery or bitter at all. For marinade, cheaper bulk EVOO is usually fine as long as it’s pretty fresh. Give it a taste first. Also remember that the 2 biggest enemies to an oils lifespan are sunlight and air, so make sure to store yours away from the light in an air tight bottle or container.

  4. I have used this as written many times, and we love it! We have paired it with a mango salsa when it is just grilled chicken, and it was lovely. Trying it tonight on the grill with pork loin steaks!

  5. This was way too salty. So I made a few substitutes and it’s delicious! Maybe it’s the altitude of where I live but it took an extra 4-5 minutes over your estimates to get the chicken to temperature

  6. I made this last minute, used lemon juice since out of lime, but the pan roasted chicken still tasted great. Nice fresh flavors. Lime juice is now on my shopping list so I can try it again : )

  7. We tried this last month, and it was a HUGE HIT!!! And, to top that, it was SUPER easy to put together!! I’m making it again this week as a surprise to my friends.

  8. Just tried this today and it is SO GOOD but somehow a little on the salty side. I used regular Mortons Salt, also I noted my chili powder has salt as one of the ingredients (I used McCormicks Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder).
    Any recommendations for a different kind of chili powder? Or should I just reduce salt next time. I otherwise loved the flavor, and it turned out nice and juicy (followed the recipe to a T, marinated 4 hours)
    Thank you for sharing!

  9. Thank you for the recipe, I used it with chicken breast and red snapper. Both turned out really great and I’ve been asked to fix it again tonight. Both went great with a cabbage and tortilla. Thank you again this was a great find.

  10. I don’t usually comment on recipes, but came back here after making this recipe many times; it is our go-to recipe for fajitas; it really is fantastic!

  11. 10/10! Outstanding! We used boneless, skinless breasts and marinated for 24 hrs. Cooked on high heat in cast iron skillet. Thank you for this recipe. We loved it!

  12. I used b/s chicken breasts, marinaded for 8 hours. Nothing special done.

    Air fryer on “chicken” (360*) for 18 minutes due to thickness.
    The most flavorful tender and moist chicken breasts!

    I’ll definitely be using again! WE LOVE CILANTRO!

  13. Bone-In Skin On Chicken Thighs should bake at 400 degrees F for about 40 minutes.
    I would put these on some foil on a baking sheet in the oven.
    If you are using boneless skinless chicken thighs, go for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees F and then check with the meat thermometer.
    You still want the meat thermometer to show an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s there, you’re done! Best of Luck!

  14. I’ve never cooked this on a pit, but I would imagine you would need a bit hotter underneath your grates since there’s no lid to contain the indirect heat.
    Best advice I can give is to just get yourself a meat thermometer like the one listed, and monitor it as you go. Maybe try the first one by itself as a test, so you can get the cook time just right.
    Best Luck!

  15. Hi there! This recipe sounds amazing, and I’m going to try it today for my anniversary with my boyfriend but we only have a pit. I noticed you said 500 degrees but what should I do with a pit? And should I use wood chips or charcoal? Thank you

  16. Absolutely you CAN use chicken breasts! Heck, this marinade is so good I’ve started trying it on other meats.
    Since those are leaner, I might poke holes in them first with a fork to give the marinade a better chance to “soak in.” And if they are REALLY uneven thickness, maybe pound them out just a tad before you marinade them so they will grill a bit more consistently.
    Hope you love it!

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