Spicy Chicken Marinade (Chipotle Grilled Chicken)

This Spicy Chicken Marinade brings some thrill to your grill. Easy to prepare in 15 minutes, this simple chipotle grilled chicken marinade adds a smoky heat to any chicken, and might even restore your faith in spicy foods!

overhead image of grilled chicken in a fajita skillet surrounded by fork and chipotle peppers

There are so many wonderful foods and flavors in the world for us to sample and enjoy. But for many of us, our defining experience with spicy food is some miserable ordeal from the past.

(lawsuit commercial voice):  Have you, or someone you love, been exposed to spice? Do you now experience fear, pain, or loss of appetite at the suggestion of spicy foods? Do you struggle to eat out with friends because of your spicy-aversion? If so, you may be entitled to damages. Just call 1-555-TOO-SPICY, right now!

An Introduction To Spicy Foods

It all started long ago. Maybe your grade school friend double-dared you to try a handful of red pepper flakes at their Pizza Hut birthday party. Or perhaps they sabotaged your burger with Steak and Shake Pepper Sauce. Then there was that one time that you trusted the waiter who described the meal you wanted as, “Oh, it’s not THAT spicy, really.”

Whatever the origin story of your spicy mishap, it always ended the same way. The burning sensation, the grasping at milk, water, or bread. Your eyes watering, nose running, the coughing/gagging accompanied by your desperate pleas for help. All this, as your “friends” laughed hysterically at your misery.

I took one psychology class in college, so I feel like I’m qualified to psychoanalyze your post-traumatic spicy disorder. Lie down on this couch, take a deep breath, and let’s talk about your feelings.

grilled chipotle chicken on a skillet surrounded by spices on a tableGive Spice a Chance

My definition of spicy has evolved over the years. In my childhood home, something was “spicy” if the recipe  had too much garlic or even mentioned a pepper (regardless of how sweet or mild the variety). Thankfully, today our family’s culinary horizons are constantly broadening and I’ve found that I actually do love spicy foods.

I am still definitely a light-weight when it comes to the outright heat in spicy foods, but there’s a huge range of spicy flavors like warm, sweet, tangy, and smoky that come through in foods like chipotle peppers that I really enjoy.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, you can rest assured that this chipotle chicken marinade recipe will be perfect for you. That’s because you can easily customize the level of spicy to tailor-fit your pain tolerance preference just by adding or subtracting the number of chipotle peppers you throw into the food processor.

picture of chicken marinating in chipotle sauce in a plastic bag

How To Make Spicy Chicken Marinade

  1. Put all your ingredients (olive oil, garlic, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, apple cider vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper) in the food processor.
  2. Pulse the food processor until everything is evenly liquified.
  3. Pour the marinade over fresh (or defrosted) chicken in a food storage bag.
  4. Refrigerate chicken for 2-24 hours before grilling.

Keep in mind that this is a marinade, not a sauce or topping. A marinade by itself will always be a more concentrated version of the flavors that you are trying to bring to your meat. So even if you add the entire can of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, the impact will only be as intense as how much of that flavor is absorbed by (and coated onto) the meat.

Which brings me to the chicken itself. 

closeup image of spicy grilled chicken served on a skillet

What Cut of Chicken Should I Use For Grilling?

While many cuts of chicken can be marinated and grilled, we prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are ideal for grilling for several reasons:

  • They are cheaper than other cuts of chicken.
  • Thighs are thinner, so they cook quickly and more uniformly than chicken breasts (and you’ll never have to butterfly them). This predictability helps especially when you’re trying to feed people fast, or when you’re grilling other stuff like veggies/burgers/hot dogs that generally also cook quickly.
  • Chicken thighs are a very forgiving cut for marinating and grilling. Generally, dark meat has higher fat content, but that means it absorbs more marinade flavors, and doesn’t dry out as easily as a leaner white meat would (even if you grill them too hot or too long). This all combines to make chicken thighs the perfect chicken cut for us grill noobies.
close up image of grilled spicy chicken marinade

Tips For Grilling Spicy Chicken

  • If you are using a smaller cut of meat (like boneless thighs), make sure you don’t let the thinnest bits (or the skin) of your chicken hang through the grill grate. Use your grill tongs to set them on the grill, being careful not to move them around too much, and you should be fine. The same goes for when it’s time to turn the meat over.
  • Flame ups happen, so don’t panic! The more oil/fat and liquid content there is in a marinade, the more it will drip off the chicken, and the more frequently you’ll get flame ups on the grill. This is another reason that I recommend skinless chicken thighs instead of skin-on.
  • Those flames actually give you some beautiful char-grilled flavor, and enhance the grill marks. But if this were a thicker cut (like breasts), those flames would absolutely destroy the outside of the chicken before the inside had a chance to cook through…
  • Stop peeking! The more you lift the lid to check-in, the more heat (and magical flavor grill fairies) will escape. Decide that you are going to cook for X minutes a side, set your timer, and leave it be until it’s time.
  • Instead of trying to constantly eyeball your meal, instead, get yourself a meat thermometer to verify after the fact that your meat is cooked through. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered done.
  • If you overcook chicken and it comes out too dry, you can always make it into chicken salad, and try again. But trust me, it’s difficult to make a chicken thigh too dry!
overhead picture of grilled spicy chicken thighs on a skillet

Bring on the Heat!

Please give this Spicy Chicken Marinade recipe a try! It will add some thrill to your grill; some growl to that fowl; some kick’n to that chick’n… I got more…

Really though, this chicken is the perfect introduction to the wonderful world of spicy foods. It’s got a nice smoky heat that’ll tingle your tongue without excessive nose and/or eye watering, and the chicken itself is fantastically juicy and tender.

Want to crank up the heat? Add more chipotle peppers and a few more teaspoons of cayenne pepper. It’s that easy!

This Spicy Chicken Marinade is perfect for using up leftover canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and the finished chicken is incredibly versatile.

Eat it by itself paired with Black Bean and Corn Salsa and Mexican Rice or use it in these Mason Jar Chicken Taco Salads. Spicy Chicken also makes an excellent wrap, burrito, or sandwich (try it in place of the turkey on this Turkey Avocado Sandwich).

So to wrap up our therapy session, once you’ve tried this amazing spicy chicken marinade, I’m sure you will realize that Spicy is good! It was always supposed to make you feel warm and energized. 

You now know that it wasn’t the spicy food that hurt you all those years ago, it was your friends. It was all their fault. They are butt-heads. Breakthrough. Another successful case solved in the name of food science and psychology. Start warming up that honorary doctorate degree Spring Arbor University!

Spicy Chicken Marinade Recipe

Spicy Chicken Marinade Recipe

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

This Spicy Chicken Marinade makes some fantastic grilled chipotle chicken thighs. There's no better way to introduce some heat to your meat for your next cookout.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves Garlic (minced)
  • 1 x 7 oz can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • 2 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper

Instructions

  1. Follow the Notes below to match the ingredient quantities to your preferred taste (how spicy you want your chicken).
  2. Place all ingredients together in a food processor and pulse until liquefied.
  3. Pour marinade over 2lbs of fresh or defrosted boneless skinless chicken thighs in a 1 gallon food storage bag.
  4. Seal bag and refrigerate for 2 - 24 hours to let the meat marinate.
  5. Grill chicken thighs on medium high heat for 6-7 minutes per side until internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. (Grill temeratures/times will vary. On my grill medium high is 500 - 600 degrees F)

Notes

To customize how spicy your chicken is, when making the marinade, add Chipotle Peppers and Adobo sauce to your taste as guided below:

For Mild: use only 3 Chipotle peppers and 2 tbsp of Adobo sauce

For Medium: use 6 Chipotle peppers and 3 tbsp of Adobo sauce

For Hot: simply add the entire contents of a 7 oz can of Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 185

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21 Comments

  1. This marinade was amazing! It was perfect with the boneless skinless thighs. I used a whole can of adobe because I didn’t read the notes about using less peppers for less spice haha woops. But I’m glad I used the entire can because I added/mixed in chicken flavored rice pilaf, sour cream, and traditional hummus. It was still spicy but at that perfect level of spiciness. I am making this again very soon. I still have leftovers but those will be gone soon 🙂

    1. Read step 3. As mentioned in the post, the recipe is for the marinade which you can use on any chicken. We prefer 2 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs, but you can do whichever cut you want to, or just make the marinade and save it.

  2. I actually like the “inane” comments on food blogs.
    So Puleeze, just stop reading comments if you don’t like them, and spare us your inanity.

    1. You could bake or pan fry this. For boneless skinless chicken thighs I would bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the Spicy Chicken! I always need more recipes to use up canned chipotles–so glad this worked out for you!

    1. Sorry you don’t like our format, but so long as we’re providing this content FOR FREE, there are certain things we’re gonna do to add our personal flare, as well as try to make a living.
      For better or worse, length of content matters to Google and our ad network, and our personal voice/backstory/community-building (aka “inane comments”) is what made this community what it is today.
      Lots of our users find the time to read our comments, and engage with us, or even offer constructive criticism (which we hugely appreciate).
      We fill our posts with tips, advice, and answer questions for the folks who will actually try making these foods to try and help them by passing along what we learned when developing a recipe.
      We love food, and love our community, So, if our blog or style isn’t for you, don’t injure yourself scrolling…
      Just try a different site, or if you really hate reading personal backstory/context, maybe you should avoid personal blogs and try a cook book instead.

  3. Good to hear! And yes, even after we’ve remade this recipe several times, the amount of spicy varies even between different cans of the same brand of chipotles… Might have something to do with some having more pepper seeds, still not sure…
    BUT adding more cayenne is a great tip for the folks who need more heat!

  4. Ended making chicken skewers and it worked out fantastically! Had requests to make it again soon after. One thing I might add is more cayenne next time because even with the whole can of chipotle peppers I was told it wasn’t that hot! My friends are spice heads! Thanks again! 🙂

    1. Absolutely! Though tenders can vary quite a bit in size, so if your tenders are on the smaller or skinnier side, maybe just start with 5 minutes per side and check them.
      If you’re making a larger batch, I would even do a test run with just one or two as guinea pigs to dial in your cook times and check for hot spots in your grill.
      You still want them getting up to 165°F internal temp, so use your meat thermometer! Best of luck!

  5. We made this for dinner tonight and it was fantastic! We used almost a whole can of chipotle with adobo (minus two that were used for chili last week) and it was the perfect level of spice. Thanks for a great recipe!

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