Grilled chicken tacos (tacos de pollo asado) makes a great addition to your summer grilling menu. The chicken is marinated in a blend of citrus juices, fresh cilantro, and spices and turns out perfectly tender and juicy. Add your favorite taco toppings and enjoy!
Looking for a way to mix things up for your next taco night? Try making grilled chicken tacos. These tacos are filled with juicy citrus-marinated chicken, diced sweet onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
The marinade is made with a blend of citrus juices, onion, garlic, cilantro, and a few flavorful spices. After marinating for up to two hours, the chicken is grilled to perfection and turns out juicy, tender, and perfectly seasoned.
Serve grilled chicken tacos for your next Taco Tuesday with the family. They also make a great main dish for a backyard summer party and can easily be doubled to feed a crowd. Perfect for cinco de mayo!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Chicken - Boneless or bone-in chicken works in this recipe. Feel free to use thighs, breasts, drumsticks, or wings. This recipe will marinate about 2 to 3 pounds of chicken. Keep in mind that the cooking time will vary based on the size and shape of your chicken.
- Citrus juices - I recommend fresh squeezed orange and lime juices for best flavor. Orange juice can be substituted with pineapple juice if desired.
- Oil - Any neutral cooking oil works here. I recommend an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado oil or canola oil, since your chicken will be finished on the grill over medium-high heat.
- Onion - One small onion, rough chopped, adds flavor to your marinade.
- Garlic cloves - These can be left whole since we're blending our marinade in a food processor or blender.
- Fresh cilantro - Adds fresh, bright flavor to our marinade. If you dislike cilantro, it can be omitted from the recipe. I haven't tested this recipe with other herbs but parsley could work as a substitute, adding peppery flavor to your marinade.
- Spices - Salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and chili powder add flavor to your marinade. I do not recommend omitting any of these ingredients.
- Tortillas - Feel free to use your favorite type of tortillas, like corn tortillas or flour tortillas. Or, add your grilled chicken and favorite taco toppings to a rice bowl or salad.
- Onion - Diced sweet onion is a classic taco topping that adds a little flavor and crunch.
- Cilantro - Fresh cilantro is a must on my tacos! If you don't like cilantro, feel free to add your own favorite toppings
- Lime - Squeeze a little fresh lime juice over your tacos just before serving, or serve each plate with a lime wedge.
Other optional toppings:
- Pico de gallo
- Sour cream
- Shredded lettuce
- Diced fresh tomato
How long to marinate chicken
Since we're using an acidic base for our marinade, namely the lime juice, you don't want to marinate your chicken for longer than about four hours. Anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours is ideal, but your chicken can sit for up to about four hours and still be fine.
If your chicken marinates for longer, the citrus juices start to break down the chicken, making it stringy and mushy.
The purpose of the marinade isn't to permeate to the center of the chicken (this is actually a myth!), so it doesn't need to sit for a long period of time. Instead, the marinade is meant to be the first thing that cooks when it hits the grill, creating a caramelized, flavorful crust on your chicken. Here's a great article with more information on marinades: Bon Appetit - How long to marinate chicken
Tips for grilling chicken
- Use oil with a high smoke point - this means an oil can stand up to higher heat (like a grill) without burning. Avocado oil and canola oil are good choices.
- Oil the grill grates before placing food on the grill. This ensures your food doesn't stick.
- Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. Chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking for longer will result in dry, tough chicken. Using a meat thermometer guarantees juicy, perfectly cooked chicken.
- Move your chicken as little as possible for nice grill marks. Gently lift up one corner to check the progress of your chicken, then lay it back down in the same spot if it's not ready to be moved yet.
Grilled Chicken Tacos (Tacos de Pollo Asado)
Grilled chicken tacos
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, or thighs
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, rough chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup packed fresh cilantro
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- corn or flour tortillas
Taco toppings (optional, add your favorites!)
- 1 small sweet onion, diced
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 limes, sliced into wedges
- Carefully slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create thin pieces (as if you were butterflying them, but continue slicing all the way through). Or, pound thick chicken breasts down to 1 inch thickness.
- In the bowl of a food processor (or blender) add lime juice, orange juice, vegetable oil, onion, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until mostly smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add chicken and toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours (do not marinate for more than 4 hours).
- Preheat grill to medium-high heat, about 375 to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. If needed, clean grill grates.
- Wipe grill grates lightly with oil, then place marinated chicken perpendicular across the grill grate. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes before flipping. Cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Rely less on time and more on the temperature and look of your chicken to determine when they're done. Grill temperatures and conditions can vary greatly.
- Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing into bite sized cubes.
Toppings and assembly
- Meanwhile, warm your tortillas in one of two ways:Microwave: stack tortillas on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave in 30 second bursts until warmed through.Stove top: in a dry skillet over medium heat, add tortillas one at a time and cook for 15-30 seconds per side.
- Assemble your tacos - add cubed chicken to each tortilla, then top with diced onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice (or your favorite toppings).
- Chicken should not sit in marinade for more than 4 hours - citrus marinade is very acidic and will begin to break down the chicken, causing it to become mushy.
- Leftover chicken will keep for about 3 to 4 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Freezer meals - This recipe is easy to separate into smaller portions and freeze. After preparing your marinade, separate chicken into freezer-safe bags, pour marinade on top, seal tightly, and freeze. Chicken can be thawed in the refrigerator overnight. Or, fill a large bowl with hot tap water. Plunge sealed bag of chicken into water and chicken will thaw in about 30 minutes.
- I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to check your chicken for doneness and to prevent overcooked/dry chicken.
- Add your favorite taco toppings, like salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded lettuce, and sour cream.