Pollo Asado Recipe

5 from 45 votes

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This pollo asado recipe creates a juicy grilled chicken dinner that starts with a quick and easy lime juice, Mexican spices and achiote marinade. Use my recipe tips and video to make a fantastic Cinco de Mayo meal!

squeezing lime over barbecued chicken thighs


Grilled and roasted meats are very popular in Mexican cuisine. From chicken fajitas to barbacoa beef and chipotle carne asada, Mexicans are skilled at creating dishes with a great balance of smoky and spicy flavors and pollo asado is no exception!

What is Pollo Asado?

The Spanish word “pollo” translated to English means “chicken”, and asada (or asado) means “roasted” or “barbecued”.

Pollo asada (also spelled pollo asado) is a flavorful marinated chicken dish with roots tied to Mexico and Cuba. The Mexican pollo asado marinade features freshly squeezed citrus juices and Mexican spices, including achiote, which gives the dish a beautiful red color.

The chicken pieces are almost always grilled over indirect heat, but as the name implies, it is sometimes roasted in the oven. Here I use chicken thighs, but other cuts of chicken can include chicken breast. Perfect to eat as is with any Mexican side dish or cut into strips for tacos.

side by side photo collage of Mexican grilled chicken

💲💲 MONEY SAVING TIP:
Many people aren’t aware of this, but most grocery stores with a butcher will break down a whole fryer chicken for you at no charge. All you have to do is buy the whole fryer from that store and then take it to the butcher counter and ask! 

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Chicken– You’ll need 5 pounds of bone-in chicken for this Mexican chicken recipe. The budget-friendly route is to buy what’s known as a “whole fryer chicken”, which you can then cut into individual pieces. If you aren’t comfortable breaking down a chicken into pieces yourself, get one that’s already broken down.
  • Achiote paste– Achiote paste (also known as recado) is a flavorful spice made by grinding annatto seeds and combining them with vinegar, garlic and other spices. Generally, the paste is sold in small, 4-ounce blocks. Deep red in color, achiote has a slightly peppery, smoky flavor. You can read more about achiote paste in my post Achiote and the Annatto Seed.
  • Orange and lime: Orange and lime juice to create a delicious citrus flavor base for the marinade.
  • Seasonings: I used a mix of cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, Mexican oregano.
overhead image: block of achiote paste on counter with small bowl of achiote powder and bunch of cilantro

How to Make Pollo Asado

  1. Marinate the chicken a minimum of 45 minutes, but I recommend 4 hours or up to overnight. Unlike beef, poultry doesn’t have any tough connective tissue that needs to be tenderized. It starts to break down and the texture gets mushy. While it’s OK to marinate overnight, any longer would be far too long if the marinade or rub has a high acid base (vinegar, wine, citrus juice and tomatoes, etc).
  2. Prepare the Grill. To prevent your pollo asado from burning, it’s important to set up your grill for indirect cooking. This just means that one side of the grill will be hotter than the other.
    For indirect cooking on a charcoal grill, place your lit charcoal across half of the grill and leave the other half empty.
    To indirect cook on a gas grill, only turn half of the burners on.
  3. Grill your chicken. Remove the chicken from the pollo asado marinade and shake off any excess. Place the pieces skin side down on the direct heat side of the grill, close the lid and let it cook for 10 minutes. Open the lid and move the pieces to the indirect heat side of the grill. You can flip the pieces over if you’d like to, but it isn’t necessary. Close the lid and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken internal temp reaches 165°F on a probe cooking thermometer.
  4. Cook on the Stovetop: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 5 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the meat, until cooked through and the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F on an instant read thermometer.
  5. Bake in the Oven: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer on a large foil-lined baking dish. Bake the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F on an instant-read thermometer (chicken thighs and tenders need 15 minutes. Medium to large breasts need 20 to 25 minutes).
brushing marinade onto pieces of pollo asado on a grill

Achiote paste substitute

If you need a substitute, it’s easy to make. For this pollo asado recipe, you’ll need 2 ounces of paste. To make the substitute, combine the following ingredients together in a small bowl:

  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin

Looking for other ways to use achiote paste?

Make my recipe for Yucatan Chicken Tostadas or Achiote Pan Seared Chicken.

Pollo Asado Recipe Serving Suggestions

Anything that you enjoy eating with grilled chicken will be delicious with Mexican grilled chicken. Good choices include this Mexican rice recipe or mashed potatoes, grilled cactus, and Mexican black beans and corn.

platter of pollo asado

Frequently Asked Questions

Is pollo asado the same as chipotle chicken?

Pollo asado is a citrus based, tangy, grilled chicken with achiote paste giving it it’s distinct red color while chipotle chicken highlights the smoky, earthiness heat of the chipotle pepper.

What is achiote paste?

Achiote paste (also known as recado) is a flavorful spice made by grinding annatto seeds and combining them with vinegar, garlic and other spices. Generally, the paste is sold in small, 4-ounce blocks. Deep red in color, achiote has a slightly peppery, smoky flavor.

Do I need achiote paste?

I say yes, but if you can’t find it I have an achiote paste substitute listed in the recipe card with ingredient substitutions to make your very own. If anything you could just add some smoked paprika.

Where do I buy achiote paste?

Look for achiote powder and paste in the ethnic foods aisle of most larger grocery stores. If you’re unable to find it there, almost all Latin markets carry it or you can purchase online.

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squeezing lime over barbecued chicken thighs

Pollo Asado

5 from 45 votes
This pollo asado recipe creates a juicy grilled chicken dinner seasoned with citrus, Mexican spices and achiote. It’s the perfect Cinco de Mayo meal!
Servings: 6 servings
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Marinate Time: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, and achiote paste (See Note) and cook for several minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Set aside.
  • Add cooled achiote garlic mixture, orange juice and lime juice to a bowl and whisk to combine. Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade in the bowl to use for basting the chicken as it grills. Add remaining marinade to a 1 or 2 gallon Ziploc freezer bag. Add chicken pieces, seal bag, and massage the bag, then transfer to a refrigerator to allow the chicken to marinate a minimum of 45 minutes, but I recommend 4 hours or up to overnight (8 hours). 
  • Grilling: Preheat grill to 350°F to 400°F. Remove chicken from marinade, then discard the bag of marinade. We will be grilling with indirect heat.
  • For indirect cooking on a charcoal grill, place your lit charcoal across half of the grill and leave the other half empty. To indirect cook on a gas grill, only turn half of the burners on (for mine I keep the top Medium, middle Low and the bottom Medium).
  • Grill chicken, covered, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165°F when inserted into thickest portion of each piece, about 20 to 30 minutes. As chicken is cooking, use reserved marinade to baste the pieces every few minutes. I do not turn the chicken pieces over during cooking, as there is no need for grill marks.
  • Cook on the Stovetop: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 5 to 10 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the meat, until cooked through and the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F on an instant read thermometer.
  • Bake in the Oven: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer on a large foil-lined baking dish. Bake the chicken until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°F on an instant-read thermometer (chicken thighs and tenders need 15 minutes. Medium to large breasts need 20 to 25 minutes).

Video

Notes

Most achiote paste is packaged in 4 ounce cubes. We will only need 2 ounces, save remainder for another use. I break up and smash the achiote paste as best I can in the marinade mixture, making sure it’s blended in. You can also puree in a blender for a smoother mixture after it cools.
BELOW is an achiote spice blend substitute, enough for this recipe. 
Achiote Paste Alternative
  • 3 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Combine in a small bowl and use to marinate chicken along with other main recipe seasonings and usually citrus juice.
Marinate a minimum of 45 minutes, but I recommend 4 hours or up to overnight. Unlike beef, poultry doesn’t have any tough connective tissue that needs to be tenderized. It starts to break down and the texture gets mushy. While it’s OK to marinate overnight, any longer would be far too long if the marinade or rub has a high acid base (vinegar, wine, citrus juice and tomatoes, etc). So when using a highly acidic marinade for chicken, add a little olive oil and/or minimize marinating time.

Nutrition

Calories: 455kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 24g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 95mg | Sodium: 866mg | Potassium: 337mg | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 240IU | Vitamin C: 19.4mg | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 2mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): Pollo Asado Recipe

Kevin

Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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164 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This recipe is the bomb
    I double it and used 8lb of chicken thighs
    Used for taco bar for birthday party people raved about the meat thanks it was a hit

  2. 5 stars
    This recipe is delicious. I scaled it down for two breasts and made a great salad with it one day and tostadas two days later (we are eating light). One thing I observed was that the achiote kind of clumped up while I was cooking it in the oil and spices. Didi I get it too hot? I resolved the issue with an immersion blender and the marinade worked just fine.

    Again, this chicken is delicious. I think cooking the achiote and spices is a good step that adds flavor. Most asado recipes don’t do this.

    1. I typically break the achiote paste using the back of my spoon, or like you, blitz it or use my immersion blender. Thanks for giving this one a try and letting me know you enjoyed it Jeff. Cheers. 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    What mexican cheese sauce can I make to cover this awesome chicken … I also want to put grilled onions on top for presentation

  4. 5 stars
    Made this as written last night (with a bit more achiote paste that was left over). Other than the indirect heating grill time being longer than expected (closer to 45-50 mins for bone-in skin on legs with backs) the meal was FANTASTIC! Delicious chicken recipe that I will definitely be adding to my regular rotation. Paired with Mexican Street Corn and a salad – my guests were raving.

  5. Would I be able to pan cook it ? Just to be able to baste it here and there ? Or should I bake it and just take it out to baste ? Please help lol making this for dinner tonight (don’t have a grill just yet) thanks!

    1. I have only done it on the grill! If you try it another way let me know how it turns out!

  6. 5 stars
    Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for the great recipe.
    Question: While grilling, do I baste the chicken with the same marinade the chicken marinated in? Is it safe to baste when the chicken approaches 165d? Any health issues leaving marinade unrefrigerated while grilling?
    Thanks much

    1. It’s perfectly fine to baste it while grilling, just do not use it as a sauce after for the cooked chicken Joe.

  7. I did not know one could over marinate chicken. Can you give me a ball park of what is considered too long? I was going to marinate it from the day before, so close to 20 hours. Too long?

    1. I find longer than 12 hours the meat texture starts to break down, depending on the ingredients in the marinade. I made a Note in the recipe card as well if you’d like to read it. Some get tough, some get mushy. Here is a link from the Kitchn if you’d like to read more.