Chicken Al Pastor

Chicken Al Pastor made with pineapple, chili marinated chicken and caramelized pineapple made easy at home on the grill or in the oven!

Chicken Al Pastor, the cousin to Pork Tacos Al Pastor, is 1000% crave worthy exploding with smoky, tangy, juicy charred chicken and caramelized pineapple.  Al Pastor is traditionally cooked on a rotating spit crowned with pineapple, but is surprisingly easy to make by baking or grilling the chicken on skewers to achieve the same irresistible juicy caramelized crust.  Serve up Chicken Al Pastor in tacos, burritos, bowls or salad along with Mexican Street Corn Salad, or Elote and Perfect Fruit Salad for a complete feast!

Mexican Chicken recipes are some of our favorite dinners around here! Don’t miss Shredded Mexican Chicken, Chicken Birria Tacos Chicken Fajitas, Chicken Enchiladas or Smothered Baked Mexican Chicken Burritos!

Al Pastor RECIPE VIDEO

 
showing how to serve chicken al pastor by adding to corn tortillas to make tacos
chicken al pastor after it's cooked showing how juicy it is
chicken al pastor served in tacos with guacamole, pineapple, Cotija and pico de gallo

ingredients In Chicken Al Pastor

This Chicken Al Pastor recipe may require a few ingredients you don’t typically keep on hand — dried chiles and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, for instance — but all are easy to find! Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

FOR THE CHICKEN

  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs: You will want to use boneless skinless chicken thighs because they are more flavorful and juicier than chicken breasts. We also need the higher fat content of chicken thighs to insulate the chicken from drying out when cooking at the high heat required to create the caramelized exterior.
  • Pineapple:  Peel the pineapple and slice it into thick 1-inch rings, then slice those rings in half.  I highly recommend using fresh pineapple for this al pastor recipe — canned will be too mushy and won’t deliver the same fresh flavor. 

FOR THE MARINADE

  • Guajillo chiles: You will need four dried guajillo chili peppers. I’ve given a lot more information on guajillo chiles below. If you can’t find them, feel free to substitute 1 ½ tablespoons of ancho chili powder instead. 
  • Chipotle peppers:   These are smoked and dried jalapeños rehydrated and preserved in adobo sauce, prized for their intense zesty, smoky, slightly sweet heat.  They are sold in 7 or 12 oz. cans.  Grocery stores will either carry them near the tacos by the chopped green chilies and jarred salsas, in the international aisle or in the Latin aisle.  If you don’t see them, make sure to ask, or you can purchase them on Amazon here.
  • Pineapple juice: Please use only CANNED pineapple juice in the marinade! Canned pineapple juice will infuse your chicken with flavor without leaving it mushy if it’s not marinated too long.  Fresh pineapple juice still contains enzymes that could break down your chicken and more likely to leave it mushy in a short amount of time.
  • Orange juice: Freshly squeezed is best, but bottled fresh juice will work too. Just make sure it’s natural and unsweetened! 
  • Apple cider vinegar:  Its fruity acidity helps to cut through the earthy chili sauce. You may substitute with rice vinegar but do not substitute with white vinegar because it is much more sour.
  • Achiote paste. This spice is made from the annatto seed that gives the Al Pastor its traditional bright red-orange color. Achiote paste also contains oregano, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic and salt. It is slightly sweet, peppery, nutty and smoky. Achiote is sold several ways: ground, as seeds, as a paste, or infused in cooking oil or lard.  For this recipe, you want the paste, which is sold in blocks.  You can find it in any Mexican market or you can buy it on Amazon here. 
  • Aromatics. A mixture of onion and garlic infuse the marinade with aromatic goodness.
  • Brown sugar.  A little brown sugar helps to balance the earthy, tangy flavors
  • Spices. Ground cumin, dried oregano, and salt are all that’s needed to finish off the marinade because the achiote is so flavorful.
  • Olive oil. This is needed to help dissolve fat-soluble flavor compounds from the seasonings and other flavorings and injects them into the chicken.  Fat also adds moisture and helps produce tender, juicy chicken.

FOR THE TACOS

Making tacos is optional, but delicious! You will need:

  • Corn tortillas:  Corn tortillas are a must for Tacos Al Pastor for that extra robust, nutty, sweet corn flavor. Freshly made or homemade corn tortillas are best or packages that say, “organic” or “made in small batches.”  I love La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas. You can find them at Sprouts, Whole Foods and at many major grocery stores.  You can also pick them up on Amazon here.  They are more expensive than the flimsy, dry, cheap packages BUT so worth it!  
  • Guacamole: You have three options when it comes to guacamole: 1) go simple by picking up store-bought in the deli section; 2) mash avocados with lime juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper or 3) go all out with my favorite guacamole recipe made with avocados, lime juice, cilantro, jalapenos, red onions, and juicy tomatoes.
  • Pico de gallo:  This is fresh tomato salsa that adds a vibrant, punchy freshness.  You can use my homemade pico de gallo recipe or store bought. You can make the salsa ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.  Bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Salsa:  Go with traditional restaurant style salsa, or salsa verde.
  • Cotija cheese:  Consider a dusting of Cotija for a salty finish.  Cotija is known as “Mexican Parmesan” because it is wonderfully salty, hard, and crumbly. It is traditionally found with the specialty cheeses and should be readily available.  You may also use queso fresco.
  • Hot Sauce or Chipotle Sauce: Pass around your favorite hot sauce or go with a drizzle of sensational Chipotle Sauce. It’s creamy, spicy, smoky, zesty and positively addicting!
top view of chicken al pastor on a corn tortilla with pineapple and guacamole to make tacos

HOW TO MAKE chicken al pastor

Once you have your marinade ingredients assembled, this recipe for Chicken Al Pastor comes together quickly!  Let’s take a closer look at how to make it (full recipe in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Prepare the Al Pastor marinade. Toast the guajillo chiles in a dry skillet until fragrant. Then, cover with water and simmer until softened. Transfer the chiles to a blender along with the remaining marinade ingredients. Blend until smooth. 
  • Step 2: Marinate the chicken. Add the chicken to a shallow dish or zip-top bag. Toss to coat thoroughly in the marinade, then let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. 
a collage showing how to make chicken al pastor recipe by simmering chilies, blending chiles, achiote paste, onions, garlic, pineapple juice, oregano and cumin together, than adding to chicken thighs in a bowl
  • Step 3: Skewer the chicken. You’ll need to use two skewers per kebab. Thread one pineapple ring half onto the skewers, followed by three halved chicken thighs, then another pineapple ring, and so on. Repeat until all the chicken is gone. 
showing how to make al pastor recipe by skewering chicken thighs and pineapple onto two skewers
  • Step 4: Grill the kebabs. Grill the kebabs over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Cover, then continue to cook until done, rotating every 5 minutes. 
showing how to make al pastor recipe with chicken by grilling on a barbecue grill
  • Step 5: Let the chicken rest. This seals in all the juices and ensures juiciest chicken.
  • Step 6: Carve the chicken. Stand the skewers upright on a cutting board, then thinly slice the chicken and pineapple.  After you slice it thinly, you can chop it finer if you’d like.  
showing how to make chicken al pastor recipe by carving chicken skewers into thin slices
  • Step 7: Dig in! I like to serve my Al Pastor Chicken in warm corn tortillas with pineapple chunks, guacamole and pico de gallo – SO good!   
showing how to make al pastor chicken by carving chicken and pineapple on a cutting board into small pieces
showing how to bake chicken al pastor by lining the skewers over a baking pan so they aren't touching the bottom
showing how to make chicken al pastor by threading onto skewers and grilling until charred on the outside

  • se pork. You can also use this marinade to make classic al pastor using pork instead of chicken. 
  • Chicken Al Pastor Salad. Add chicken, pineapple, lettuce, tomatoes, fresh corn, black beans, cheese (pepper Jack, Mexican Cheese blend or cotija), pepitas or sunflower seeds to a large bowl. Serve with Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing
  • Chicken Al Pastor Burrito Bowls. Layer cilantro lime rice with cheese, black beans or pinto beans, chicken, pineapple, chopped lettuce, and your favorite toppings including crushed tortilla chips and either sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend Chipotle Sauce, Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
  • Chicken Al Pastor Burritos. Layer a burrito size tortilla with cilantro lime rice, black or pinto beans, cheese, chicken, pineapple, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. You can also include French Fries like my favorite local restaurant! Serve with additional sour cream and homemade salsa or chipotle sauce.
  • Chicken Al Pastor Enchiladas. Fill tortillas with layers of cheese, chicken, pineapple and a generous dollop of sour cream. Roll up and place in a lightly greased 9×13 baking dish. Top with red enchilada sauce or salsa verde and cheese and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.   
  • Chicken Al Pastor Quesadillas. Layer a burrito size tortilla with Mexican cheese and Chicken Al Pastor and pineapple and grill until golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with your favs of sour cream, salsa, chopped lettuce, guacamole, etc.
  • Chicken Al Pastor Nachos: Pile thick, restaurant-style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake. Top with chicken, pineapple and toppings such as jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc. along with a drizzle of salsa verde.
  • Chicken Al Pastor Fajitas. Throw some bell peppers on the grill to create fajitas!  Pile the ingredients in a tortilla and top with sour cream, guacamole, lime juice and cilantro.
top view of chicken al pastor in tacos
a hand holding Chicken Al Pastor Taco with guacamole and pico de gallo

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showing how to serve chicken al pastor by adding to corn tortillas to make tacos

Chicken Al Pastor

Chicken Al Pastor, the cousin to Pork Tacos Al Pastor, is 1000% crave worthy exploding with smoky, tangy, juicy charred chicken and caramelized pineapple.  Al Pastor is traditionally cooked on a rotating spit crowned with pineapple, but is surprisingly easy to make by baking or grilling the chicken on skewers to achieve the same irresistible juicy caramelized crust.  Serve up Chicken Al Pastor in tacos, burritos, bowls or salad along with Mexican Street Corn Salad, or Elote and Perfect Fruit Salad for a complete feast!
Servings: 6 -8 people
Total Time: 13 hrs
Prep Time: 40 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE

  • 3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in half
  • 1 ripe pineapple, peeled, sliced into 1” thick rings, then HALVED

MARINADE

  • 4 dried Guajillo chiles, stem and seeds removed (may sub 1 ½ Tbsps. Ancho Chile Powder)
  • 2.5 ounces achiote paste (2 tablespoons)
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers from can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • 1/3 cup CANNED pineapple juice*
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 TBS EACH ground cumin, dried oregano, brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

FOR TACOS AL PASTOR (pick your favs)

Instructions

MARINADE

  • Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add guajillo chiles and toast until blistered in spots and fragrant, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add enough water to cover the chilies. Simmer for 5 minutes or until softened.
  • Remove softened chilies to blender along with all Marinade ingredients and blend until smooth.
  • Remove ⅓ cup to use later for basting (“Reserved Basting Sauce.”)
  • Add chicken to a shallow dish or freezer size bag. Add marinade and stir to combine so every piece is evenly coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 8 -24 hours. Refrigerate Reserved Basting Sauce separately.

SKEWER

  • Using 2 skewers for each kabob, thread one pineapple ring half onto the skewers and push down. Thread about 3 thigh halves, then a pineapple ring half and repeat, alternating with pineapple and thighs, finishing with pineapple (see photos in post or video). Repeat to make a second and third kabob or until all the chicken is gone.

TO GRILL

  • Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Clean grates and generously grease with vegetable oil.
  • Once hot, add kebabs, and grill for 4-5 minutes without moving. Flip kebabs over, brush with some Reserved Basting Marinade (that never touched the raw chicken) and grill the other side an addition 4-5 minutes.
  • Next, flip chicken over, baste again, COVER and reduce heat so it maintains 400 degrees F with the lid closed. Continue to cook, until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F, flipping every 5 minutes and covering (about 10-15 minutes more). Remove kabobs from the grill and let rest 5 minutes before carving.

TO BAKE

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a pan with foil that allows you to perch the metal skewers on the top rim of the pan so the chicken hangs in the middle without touching the bottom of the pan (see photos in post or video).
  • Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, then flip kebabs over. Brush kabobs with some Reserved Basting Marinade (that never touched the raw chicken). Bake an addition 15- 20 minutes or until chicken reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Without moving the pan, turn oven to broil and broil for 3-5 minutes per side for more yummy crispy bits. Baste again with pan juices. Let rest 5-10 minutes before carving.

CARVE

  • Stand the skewers upright on a cutting board and thinly slice chicken and pineapple off. You can chop into finer pieces after carving if you like.

TO MAKE TACOS

  • Serve Chicken Al Pastor in warm tortillas with chopped pineapple and favorite toppings such as pico de gallo, guacamole, and Cotija.

Video

Notes

Expert Tips and Tricks

  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs: You must use boneless skinless chicken thighs because they are more flavorful and juicier than chicken breasts. We also need the higher fat content of chicken thighs to insulate the chicken from drying out when cooking at the high heat required to create the caramelized exterior.
  • Chipotle peppers:   These are smoked and dried jalapeños rehydrated and preserved in adobo sauce, prized for their intense zesty, smoky, slightly sweet heat.  They are sold in 7 or 12 oz. cans.  Grocery stores will either carry them near the tacos by the chopped green chilies and jarred salsas, in the international aisle or in the Latin aisle.  If you don’t see them, make sure to ask, or you can purchase them on Amazon here.
  • Dried guajillo chiles: These can be found at any Mexican market as well as many grocery stores (and almost all Super Walmarts) in either the Mexican aisle or produce section. Many produce stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods also carry packages of dried guajillo chiles. If you can’t find them or simply want a one-click option, then you can get them on Amazon here.
  • To easily remove seeds from Guajillo peppers: Cut the stems off with kitchen shears, then cut each chili open like a book, then scrape out the seeds. After you remove the seeds from your dried guajillo chiles, immediately wash your hands. 
  • *Use CANNED Pineapple Juice:  Use only CANNED pineapple juice!  Canned pineapple juice will infuse your chicken with flavor without leaving it mushy if it’s not marinated too long.  Fresh pineapple juice still contains enzymes that could break down your chicken and is more likely to leave it mushy in a short amount of time.
  • Guacamole: You have three options when it comes to guacamole: 1) go simple by picking up store-bought in the deli section; 2) mash avocados with lime juice, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper or 3) go all out with my favorite guacamole recipe made with avocados, lime juice, cilantro, jalapenos, red onions, and juicy tomatoes.
  • Achiote paste: This is sold several ways: ground, as seeds, as a paste, or infused in cooking oil or lard.  For this recipe, you want the paste, which is sold in blocks.  You can find it in any Mexican market or you can buy it on Amazon here. 
  • Achiote Paste Substitute: (Note, this substitution will not provide the authentic bright red-orange color). And yes, add these seasonings in ADDITION to the ones listed in the recipe if you are not using achiote paste.
    • 1 ½ tablespoons paprika
    • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
    • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    • ⅛ teaspoon cloves

Prep and Make Ahead

You can prepare the entire recipe as written to reheat later on, or you can prepare elements of the Chicken Al Pastor in advance. 
  • Marinade:  can be blended and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.
  • Chicken: can be cut up to three days in advance. You can also coat the chicken in the marinade up to 24 hours in advance. 
  • Kabobs:  the marinade is on the thick side, so you should be able to thread the kabobs and continue to marinate the chicken, so all you have to do is pop them on the grill when ready.
  • Fully assembled:  the entire recipe can be prepared as written and will last up to five days in the fridge.
  • Toppings: the pico de gallo and guacamole can be made a couple days in advance. If storing guacamole, I suggest stirring in a dollop of sour cream – it works magic to prevent browning.  To further prevent oxidation, press a piece of plastic directly onto the surface of the guacamole before refrigerating.

How to Store and Reheat

  • To store: Store Leftover Chicken Al Pastor in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. 
  • To freeze: I do not recommend freezing the pineapple as it will become mushy once thawed, but the chicken can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Thaw overnight before reheating.
  • To reheat: Remove sliced chicken and reheat in a skillet with a drizzle of oil over medium heat or microwave for 30 seconds then at 15 second intervals until warmed though. 

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4 Comments

  1. Annette says

    Made this as recipe stated & was superb! Thought it might be too spicy for kids, but the heat level was perfect with one chipotle pepper. Was messy getting the chicken on the skewers, but oh sooo worth it!
    Thanks for another fabulous recipe!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for taking the time to review this recipe Annette! I’m so pleased it was a hit with the entire family!

  2. Cheryl says

    Another great recipe! Thank you! It was delicious.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Cheryl, I’m so pleased you loved it!

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