Chicken al pastor is an almost-addictive Mexican-inspired dish. Featuring charred chicken thighs that have been marinated in a pineapple and chili marinade, it’s a flavor-packed protein that makes for out-of-this-world tacos!
Searching for something exciting to make for dinner tonight? Look no further than chicken al pastor! This smoky, fruity, zesty, and slightly spicy meal combines marinated and seared chicken thighs with caramelized pineapple chunks. It’s an incredible Mexican-inspired meal that’s perfect for tacos!
Inspired by my classic Al pastor, this version mimics the classic but swaps it out for chicken. Oh, and it is a copycat of the popular Chipotle Al pastor chicken!
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Why you’ll love this chicken al pastor recipe
- A celebration of flavor. Like my carne asada or barbacoa, this recipe celebrates the best of Mexican flavors, with fruity and vibrant pineapple, smoky achiote paste, and guajillo powder being the stars of the marinade. These ingredients, along with a handful of others, work together to infuse the chicken thighs with a beautiful balance of sweet, earthy, and spicy flavors.
- Surprisingly easy! Just like with pollo asado, all you need to do is blend the marinade ingredients, let the chicken soak in the flavors, and quickly cook the chicken in a skillet on the stove! It’s one of the reasons why I make this so often for my family.
- Great for tacos. Chicken al pastor is fabulous when served in a tortilla with caramelized pineapple chunks, guacamole, and crumbled cotija cheese.
While you can find most of these ingredients at any major grocery store, some may be easier to find in Mexican grocers or Latin markets. This is what you need:
- Chicken thighs. Making chicken al pastor with boneless chicken thighs gives you a juicy and flavorful dinner that cooks in less than 20 minutes. Chicken breasts do not work as well because they tend to dry out quicker.
- Pineapple juice. A key ingredient in chicken pastor, pineapple juice adds a tropical tang to every bite. You can use orange juice if that’s all you have at home.
- White vinegar. This helps balance the sweetness from the pineapple juice.
- Lime juice. The acidity helps break down and tenderize the meat.
- Onion and garlic. For a savory flavor in the marinade.
- Dry seasonings. Cumin, oregano, and cinnamon.
- Salt and pepper. To taste.
- Achiote paste. This is a paste made from crushed annatto seeds, aromatics, orange juice, and seasonings. You should be able to find it at some well-stocked grocery stores, Mexican markets, or online.
- Guajillo chili powder. Made from dried and crushed Guajillo peppers, this fruity and earthy chili powder is much milder than chipotle chili powder. It should also be available at well-stocked grocery stores, Mexican markets, or online. If you can’t find it, use ancho chili powder or chipotle chili powder instead.
- Pineapple chunks. The pineapple chunks are caramelized in the skillet at the end to give the bites of chicken or al pastor tacos an irresistible juicy and fruity flavor.
Find the printable recipe with measurements below.
How to make chicken al pastor
- Make the al pastor marinade. Blend the pineapple juice, vinegar, lime juice, onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, salt, pepper, achiote pasta, and guajillo powder together until smooth.
- Marinate the chicken. Pour the marinade over the chicken thighs in a large shallow dish or ziplock bag. Cover the bowl or seal the bag and transfer the marinating chicken to the fridge.
- Sear. Heat some oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few spoonfuls of the marinade to the skillet, followed by the chicken thighs. Sear on both sides until charred, then add the pineapple and excess sauce. Toss everything together, then serve. Enjoy!
Tips to make the best recipe
- Let the chicken come down to room temperature before cooking. This helps it cook evenly!
- Cook the chicken thigh pieces in a single layer in the skillet to help them develop a nice char on the outside.
- Let the chicken rest off of the heat for 5 to 10 minutes after cooking. This way, the juices will redistribute back into the meat, giving you more flavorful and juicier chicken.
- Not in the mood for chicken? This recipe works just as well with pork! You can use boneless pork shoulder (same as carnitas) to make pork al pastor instead.
What to serve with chicken al pastor
One of the best ways to serve chicken al pastor is in tacos! Load the chicken thigh pieces into tortillas or on top of taco salads or burrito bowls. Finish them with guacamole, lime wedges, onions, pico de gallo, cilantro, and/or crumbled or shredded cheese on top and enjoy!
If you’d rather serve the chicken thighs as the main protein for dinner, make sure to serve them with Mexican-inspired sides to compliment their tangy, zesty flavors. Chicken al pastor would pair well with Mexican rice, refried beans, salsa and tortilla chips, conchas, and more.
To store: Transfer the leftover cooked chicken to an airtight container or wrap the pieces in foil. Store in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
To reheat: To prevent the pieces from drying out, reheat the chicken in a 400ºF oven until it’s warmed through (about 15 minutes).
Frequently asked questions
I recommend marinating the boneless chicken thighs in the al pastor marinade for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 12 hours for the best results.
Yes, you can grill the chicken instead of pan-searing. After it’s done marinating, thread the chicken thigh pieces onto skewers with pineapple wedges. Grill over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes per side or until they’re charred to your liking. Let the pieces rest for a few minutes before serving them in tortillas with your favorite toppings.
More Mexican-inspired recipes to try
Chicken Al Pastor
- 1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs cut into quarters
- 100 mls pineapple juice
- 25 mls white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 large onion coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon achiote paste
- 2 tablespoons guajillo chili powder
- 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Slice the chicken thigh fillets into four pieces and place them in a bowl.
- In a high speed blender or food processor, add all the ingredients, except for the chicken and the pineapple pieces.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken thigh pieces and mix together. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for at least 10 minutes or up to four hours.
- Bring the marinated chicken to room temperature before cooking.
- Add olive oil to a non-stick skillet and place over medium heat. Once hot, add a few spoonfuls of the marinade, then add the chicken thigh pieces. Grill for 7 minutes per side, or until charred.
- Add the pineapple and the remaining marinade and toss everything until combined. Cook for another minutes before removing from the heat and serving immediately.
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