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
Why you’ll love this al pastor recipe
It’s as tantalizing as your favorite restaurant! You could say I’m an Al Pastor connoisseur and order it every chance I get. As such, I can honestly say this is arguably one of the best Al Pastor recipes out there and will give your favorite restaurant a run for their money!
It’s the juicy char. The combination of bold, smoky, tangy, juicy, chili chicken with crispy charred bits, with caramelized pineapple cannot be beat. It’s what most recipes are missing. Best of all, my skewer method is so easy and fool proof whether cooking in the oven or on the grill.
The marinade does all the work. There are just two ingredients, the guajillo chili peppers and achiote, that you may need to source, but once you have the ingredients, this recipe is super simple to make with restaurant quality results. Blend the marinade ingredients together, marinate, skewer, cook and eat!
It’s great for prep ahead meals or entertaining. You can prep everything ahead of time then just fire up the grill as guests chat it up. Let everyone assemble their own tacos, burritos, etc. which makes entertaining a breeze.
It’s great for meal prep. You can cook the Chicken Al Pastor ahead of time then divide the ingredients between containers for meal prep. You will love how juicy the chicken remains!
You don’t have to make tacos. While Tacos Al Pastor is the most popular, feel free to make whatever you’d like. Serve the Chicken Al Pastor plain with a side of rice and veggies, in taco bowls, salad, nachos, or as a personal favorite Ada Haba Pina California Burrito (burrito with Al Pastor, pineapple, French fries, sour cream, guacamole, cheese).
What is al pastor?
If you aren’t familiar with Al Pastor, let me introduce you!
What is Al Pastor? Al Pastor (meaning “shepherd style” in Spanish), is a popular pork dish in Central America in which pork is marinated in pineapple, chilies, achiote paste, cumin, and oregano then stacked and vertically roasted on a slowly turning spit with a pineapple on top which bathes the pork with its juices.
The outside edges of the pork become beautifully crisp and caramelized while the inside remains splendidly juicy. The Al Pastor is sliced off the spit into thin slices accompanied by chunks of pineapple.
Instead of making this Al Pastor recipe with pork — which is the traditional choice — we’ll be using more accessible, boneless skinless chicken thighs instead! It creates deliciously juicy chicken with that coveted char. If you would like to use pork, see this traditional recipe.
What is Al Pastor made of? Al Pastor is traditionally made of pork (but in this recipe we’re using chicken) marinated in an adobo sauce made of a mélange of chiles and spices, such as guajillo chili peppers, chipotle peppers, pineapple juice, orange juice, onions, garlic, cumin and oregano. And don’t forget the crowning pineapple that drips over the meat as it rotates on the spit.
What does Al Pastor taste like? Al Pastor is a ridiculously flavorful, earthy, tangy-sweet, spicy, smoky Mexican staple. The meat is rich, succulent, vibrant red-orange, with an enticing complexity of flavor. It’s smoky, slightly fruity, slightly spicy from the chili peppers, sweet and tangy from the pineapple, earthy, peppery, ever-so-slightly bitter from the signature achiote with subtle nuances of cumin and oregano.
Where Does Al Pastor Come From? The concept for Al Pastor was brought to Central Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the early 1900s. These immigrants cooked their thin cuts of meat stacked together in a cone-like shape on a vertical spit-grill, known as shawarma, much like Greek gyros. As the rotisserie rotates, the outside cooks and thin pieces are continually shaved off.
The “pastor” in Al Pastor is the name given to the Lebanese merchants who brought the concept of shawarma with them. The citizens of Mexico developed their own guajillo chili marinade and applied it to pork instead of lamb or other meats.
What Kind of Meat Is Al Pastor? Al Pastor is traditionally spit-roasted pork but for this recipe we are going to use boneless skinless chicken thighs. The chicken is threaded onto skewers then thinly sliced off the skewers resulting in a tantalizing charred exterior while the inside remains splendidly juicy and flavorful. Use the chicken in tacos, bowls, salad, etc. No matter how you serve it, you will love this new Mexican favorite.
What is in Tacos Al Pastor? Al Pastor and Tacos Al Pastor are almost interchangeable terms. Tacos Al Pastor traditionally begin with a corn tortilla and are piled with charred, thin shavings of marinated, roasted pork or chicken, pineapple, pico de gallo, cilantro and lime juice. Other optional toppings include guacamole (highly recommend) salsa verde, salsa, sour cream, or chipotle sauce.
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
FOR THE MARINADE
FOR THE TACOS
Making tacos is optional, but delicious! You will need:
What Are Guajillo Chiles?
Guajillo Chilies are the base of traditional Al Pastor marinades. They belong to the holy trinity of chiles commonly used in Mexican cuisine and are essential to authentic Chicken Al Pastor. Guajillo chiles boast a sweet berry-toned heat (think cranberries) combined with a mild smokiness. We enhance this smokiness by adding our guajillo chiles to a hot skillet and toasting them until blistered in spots.
Guajillo chiles are dried chiles from the mirasol chili, and are considered medium heat with a rating 2,500 to 5,000 on the on the Scoville Heat Scale (SHU), compared with jalapeño peppers — which can reach 8,000 SHU — and habaneros, which can reach 350,000 SHU! The guajillo chiles add wonderfully complex flavor to the recipe but will not make the Al Pastor spicy. The chipotle peppers are what brings the heat.
WHERE CAN I BUY THEM?
If you’ve never purchased or cooked with guajillo chiles, before, don’t be intimidated! For our purposes, we are going to use dried guajillo chiles. Dried guajillo chiles 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.
Can the Achiote Paste Be Substituted?
Yes, but the Chicken Al Pastor will lack its traditional red color which is a natural bi-product of the annatto seeds. To make an achiote paste substitute, combine the following:
-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
Note that you’ll need to add these seasonings in ADDITION to the ones listed in the recipe if you are not using achiote paste.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
HOW TO WARM TORTILLAS
I HIGHLY recommend warming your tortillas for the BEST Tacos Al Pastor. Not only do warm tortillas become softer and the ideal non-jarring, melt-in-your mouth temperature, but the flavors are accentuated when warmed. Lower quality corn tortillas are also likely to break if not warmed.
You can easily warm your tortillas in SECONDS using any of my below methods. Once your tortillas are warmed, keep them warm and pliable by stacking on a plate and covering with a slightly dampened, paper towel or clean towel or in a tortilla warmer. To warm torillas:
Open Flame (gas stove or grill): Add the tortillas directly to the burner of your grill or gas stove then flip with tongs once they are charred on one side. Take special care not to over-char, especially less quality tortillas or they will become brittle and break. You still want the tortillas soft and pliable.
Skillet: Heat a skillet (or griddle if you have one) to medium high heat (do not grease). Working with one tortilla at a time (more for a griddle), heat each side of the tortilla for approximately 20 seconds until warm and soft. You are not looking for char marks with this method.
Microwave: Working with about 5-7 tortillas at a time, stack tortillas on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds on high, then repeat at 10 second intervals if needed until warmed through.
Oven: Create separate stacks of about 5 tortillas each, then wrap each stack in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until heated through (you can bake all stacks at once)
Can I Make Al Pastor Chicken Without a Grill?
Absolutely! Here’s how:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Create your own horizontal rotisserie by lining a pan with foil that allows you to perch the metal skewers on the top rim of the pan so that the chicken hangs in the middle without touching the bottom of the pan. Typically, a 9×13 pan will do the trick (see pic below). This will allow air to circulate on all sides of the chicken so you achieve more caramelized edges.
3. Bake for 30 minutes, then flip kebabs over. Spoon the pan juices over the chicken and continue baking until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F.
4. To finish the Chicken Al Pastor, turn the oven to broil and broil for 3-5 minutes per side for more yummy crispy bits!
5. Let rest about 10 minutes before carving.
Tips for the Best Al Pastor Chicken
Handle guajillo chiles with care. The easiest way to remove the seeds is to cut the stem off using 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. Take care not to touch your eyes while you are working with them!
Use two chipotle chiles for spicy. One chipotle chili will be flavorful but not spicy, two chili peppers will bring the heat.
Use chicken thighs, not breasts. Chicken breasts will dry out from charring whereas chicken thighs will remain super juicy.
Don’t shortchange the marinade time. The chicken must marinate for AT LEAST 8 hours to soak up all that delicious flavor. If you try to skip or shorten the marinade time, the Chicken Al Pastor will seriously lack flavor.
Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking. Transfer the marinating chicken to your kitchen counter 30 minutes before grilling. You can count threading the chicken onto the skewers towards this time. Room temperature chicken cooks more evenly and quickly which translates into juicier chicken because there is less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
Use a clean, hot grill. Heat up the grill with the lid closed cranked to the maximum temperature so it can achieve temperature more quickly; plan on 10-15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, adjust the temperature and clean with a wire grill brush to remove any residue if needed. Don’t add the chicken until the grill reaches temperature or you won’t get that coveted char.
Bake the kabobs if you don’t have a grill. I recommend finishing the Chicken Al Pastor under the broiler to achieve those lovely crispy bits around the edges. Watch it closely though, as the chicken can go from crispy to burnt in a moment!
Don’t overcook! Use a meat thermometer to eliminate all of the guess work to achieve succulent, juicy chicken every time. You can pick up an inexpensive instant read thermometer at the grocery store or Amazon, or I am obsessed with this digital probe thermometer – you will never overcook any protein again!
Don’t skip the guacamole. You can’t beat guacamole’s creamy, tangy, salty freshness that it adds to the Tacos Al Pastor.
What to Serve with Chicken Al Pastor?
Serve your flavorful Chicken Al Pastor Tacos with one of more of the following:
–Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice or Cilantro Lime Rice
–Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing or Mexican Street Corn Salad
-Tortilla chips and Guacamole, Salsa or Salsa Verde
–Southwest Salad, Mexican Salad, or Mexican Pasta Salad
–Fruit Salad with Honey Citrus Dressing or Pina Colada Fruit Salad
–Mexican Street Fries with Salsa Ketchup and top it all off with Churros!
recipe variations To Try
Chicken Al Pastor isn’t just for tacos! Try it in salad, burrito bowls, enchiladas and more! Here are a few tasty ideas:
- 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.
make ahead instructions
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 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.
HOW TO Freeze
Note, I do not recommend freezing the pineapple as it will become mushy once thawed, but the chicken freezes very well.
1. Prepare the recipe according to directions.
2. Cool to room temperature.
3. Add chicken to a freezer size plastic bag OR portion into smaller size sandwich bags.
4. Press bag flat, squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
5. Seal, label, and freeze for up to 3 months.
6. When ready to use, thaw chicken in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a skillet or in the microwave per instructions.
Looking for more Mexican Chicken recipes?
Shredded Mexican Chicken
Chicken Birria Tacos
10-Minute Mexican Chicken
Arroz con Pollo
Skillet Chicken Fajitas with Chipotle Lime Crema
Smothered Baked Mexican Chicken Burritos
Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Honey Lime Chicken
Fiesta Ranch Chicken Tacos
Caldo de Pollo (Mexican Chicken Soup)
Chicken Burrito Bowls
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CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE
- 3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in half
- 1 ripe pineapple, peeled, sliced into 1” thick rings, then HALVED
- 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)
- corn tortillas
- pico de gallo
- Guacamole (HIGHLY recommend!)
- sour cream
- chipotle sauce
- hot sauce
- freshly squeezed lime juice
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 AheadYou 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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