Pollo Asado Recipe

5 from 48 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 48 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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169 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Loved this! I was worried after mixing the marinade because I didn’t think it smelled all that great. But, oh my, it was fantastic. I’ll be making it again and again and again. Thank you for sharing.

    1. 5 stars
      This needs more star ratings bc I made it and it was fantastic.

      Used the paste substitute recipe and subbed apple cider vinegar for the white bc that’s what i had.

      Some of the best chicken I’ve made.

  2. 5 stars
    I have been looking for a great polla asada recipe and this hit the mark perfectly. Thanks so much. I’ve done this with just chicken breasts, just thighs and it is perfect on any part. Thanks for sharing

  3. 5 stars
    Great recipe! Wouldn’t change a thing, love the achiote paste. Making it again today for Cino de Mayo dinner. Thank you for this keeper recipe.

  4. Hi! Looking forward to trying this over the w/e! Cooking for a group and not grilling in the cold… what is your opinion on if the chicken was cooked, shredded and then the sauce poured over it and simmered? Would the results be the same? TIA!

    1. I would follow the recipe and cook it in the oven if grilling is out. Maybe turn to broil at the end for the crispier edges and some char.

  5. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for this recipe! I’m from Mexico and I really appreciated to find a recipe with achiote. This is a keeper, we all LOVED this chicken!

  6. 5 stars
    I made this recipe, and my husband and I were blown away at how delicious it was. We’re already working it into our meal repertoire. We used boneless skinless chicken breasts and –my word. So good!

    Thank you!

  7. 5 stars
    I made this tonight for dinner, and it was absolutely incredible! Thank you for creating and sharing this recipe- you are a culinary genius! I used boneless skinless chicken thighs, marinated for an hour or so and then convection baked 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes in my toaster and they turned out perfectly with a nice slight char and super tender and succulent meat. I rested the thighs for a few minutes, chopped the thighs into bite sized pieces and then I placed them on steamed corn tortillas and topped them with guacamole and Pico de Gallo. I ate those 4 mini tacos in less than 10 minutes!! The chicken tasted so delicious and fancy- even better than takeout! I will use this recipe to make a southwestern chicken salad next time. Thanks a billion, Kevin for this crowd pleaser knock-out pollo asado recipe!

    1. So happy to read this and that the “crowd” loved it. Appreciate you taking the time to come back and let me know Louise.

  8. 5 stars
    This recipe was fantastic- I did 7 pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs for tacos, and everyone at the Mother’s Day shindig raved about it. Thanks!

  9. I see your last note to discard any leftover marinade. I’m assuming this means leftover, unused marinade? I’ve had half the recipe I made in the fridge for a week. Do you not recommend using it?

      1. 5 stars
        This recipe is great! I truthfully double the citrus juices. I made it for my parents to take on a camping trip a couple years ago and now they request I make it whenever they’re entertaining.