Red Chile Marinated Grilled Chicken

This is some of the best chicken I’ve ever eaten – grilled, roasted, baked, whatever. Juicy, spicy, tender, lipsmackin’ good. Here’s the deal, there are two ways to make this recipe. One way entails making your own red chile sauce from scratch, using dried ancho and guajillo chiles that you can usually only find at a specialty Mexican market. Even our local Whole Foods doesn’t carry these dried chiles. The second method starts with a base of canned red chile sauce, which is a little easier to find in a regular supermarket, and saves quite a few steps. I’ve made this recipe both ways. As you might expect, if you have access to the dried chiles and can make the time to make your own sauce base, it’s totally worth it for the extra intensity and depth of flavor. The good news is that if you can’t get a hold of the dried chiles, or you don’t have the time, canned red chile sauce works fine as a base for this sauce. Red chile enchilada sauce works too, though you may need to add some chili powder to it to increase the heat. In any case you are going to pump up the sauce a bit with ground cloves, cinnamon, and cumin.

The sauce is slightly acidic. So, as with marinating chicken overnight with yogurt or buttermilk, a long marinating time in this sauce will help the chicken be surprisingly moist and tender.

Red Chile Marinated Grilled Chicken Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

Making the sauce from scratch, our chicken ended up quite spicy hot, almost like jerk chicken. Using canned sauce as a base, even one with medium heat, most of the heat was lost in the cooking process. If you like your chicken spicy hot, and you are using a canned sauce, I recommend starting with one that is graded "hot".

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts, preferably thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
  • Salt
  • 1 1/4 cup Mexican red chili sauce, either homemade* or canned (if you are gluten intolerant and are using canned chili sauce, make sure to read the ingredients on the can, some makers put wheat products in their sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • A couple of turns on a black pepper grinder
  • A pinch of dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

Garnish

  • Avocado slices
  • Thinly sliced lettuce or cabbage
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Cilantro

* To make your own homemade sauce, take 2 ancho and 2 guajillo chiles, open them up, remove the stems, seeds, and ribs. Lightly toast the chiles on a medium griddle or cast iron pan for a minute or two, flattening them down with a metal spatula. Place the chiles in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let soak for 10-15 minutes, until chiles are softened. Place chiles, 1 1/4 cup of the soaking water, 1 clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Put mixture through a strainer to strain out any solids. Proceed with the recipe, but don't add any more garlic to the sauce.

Method

1 Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan on medium heat. Add the chili sauce. Add vinegar (2 Tbsp if using canned sauce, 4 Tbsp in you've made your own sauce), cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, oregano and garlic. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

2 Sprinkle salt over all the chicken pieces on all sides. Put chicken pieces in a non-reactive bowl or a large freezer bag. Add the marinade, make sure all pieces are coated well with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator at least one hour, preferably overnight.

3 Remove the chicken from the refrigerator before starting up the grill. Preheat your grill, allowing for a space on the grill for cooking the chicken with indirect heat. (If using coals, move all the coals to one side of the grill, if using gas, after the grill is hot, turn off one of the burners.) Brush the grill grates with olive oil. Make sure the chicken pieces are well coated on all sides with the paste-like marinade. Place the chicken pieces on the indirect heat part of the grill (not over a flame or coals). Cook, covered, for 25-30 minutes, turning the pieces over after the first 15 minutes. Try to keep the temperature in the grill around 350°F. Chicken is done when juices run clear, breasts have an internal temperature of 165°F and thighs 175°F.

3a no grill If you aren't in a grilling mood, you can bake the chicken pieces in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chicken pieces in a roasting pan, skin-side up. Cook for about 45-50 minutes, until breasts have an internal temperature of 165°F and thighs 175°F.

Serve garnished with sliced avocado, sliced lettuce or cabbage dressed with a little vinegar and oil, sliced radishes and cilantro.

Makes for great leftover chicken to cut up and put into tacos.

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Recipe adapted and inspired by Diana Kennedy's Barbacoa de Pollo in The Art of Mexican Cooking.

24 Comments

  1. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    I gave up eating the skin of chicken a long time ago, but the photo of this chicken makes me want to indulge again! I love how the long marination tenderizes the chicken, and makes it better able to withstand the grill. Perfect!

  2. Reluctant Arkansan

    Oh my, I am going crazy this weekend!
    This, homemade red chili sauce, grilled corn salad, and sangria. . . . on the patio, daddy-o!

  3. jill

    I love this idea

  4. Heather

    How long should I marinade this if using boneless skinless breasts?

    Hmm. Good question. Our Moroccan spiced grilled chicken breasts marinate for 6 to 10 hours, so that’s probably a good guideline. BTW, I have no idea how this recipe would be with boneless, skinless breasts. The chile marinade is very strong and I think bone-in, skin-on will hold up much better to the flavor. ~Elise

  5. diningoncents

    I love new variations on bone-in chicken! Thanks for the recipe- I think that Korean gochujang (red chili paste), sugar, sesame oil & rice vinegar would work really well as a marinade to cook chicken in this way too. My friend and I have recently started a food blog and you are truly an inspiration for us! :) ~Y

  6. Melissa at glutenfreeforgood

    I’m a New Mexican at heart and this red chile chicken recipe looks amazing. I printed it out, photo and all! Thanks — lovely photo, by the way.
    Muchas gracias,
    Melissa

  7. Kay Shumway

    You talk about using thighs for the recipe and then say to cook until the breasts are done. Cookbooks are hard to write. I prefer thighs lately. I am sick to death of boneless chicken breasts.

    Yes, I prefer thighs for this recipe, but that’s not going to stop people from using chicken breasts, so the temp guidelines are for both. ~Elise

  8. Fermat

    It’s relatively easy to find dried chilies online. Just do a search on google. Even Amazon sells them.

    Yes, you can find almost anything at Amazon.com. ~Elise

  9. growitgreen

    I love this recipe. The flavors melt and explode in your mouth all at the same time. This is a wonderful recipe and even my kids ate it.

    Thank you for sharing.

  10. Sophia from Kitchen Caravan

    The chicken in your photo looks absolutely delicious! It looks just as juicy as you describe. I am half Mexican and use a lot of chiles in my cooking. Last year we made an Orange Chile Ancho Sauce to go on top of fish, if anyone is looking for more chile sauces to try. It also uses a combination of Ancho and Guajillo chiles. I have found dried chiles pretty easily in my local conventional supermarkets. I am sure that if people request them, the markets can order them. It seems they are getting more and more popular.

  11. Charles

    Hmm, think I’ll try this with a whole roaster and my rotisserie attachment to my grill…

  12. courtney

    You know, I’ve found that the less nice supermarkets around me carry a pretty decent assortment of dried chile’s. I’m sure it’s because I live in Fl, and we have a large hispanic population, but don’t have to many bodegas. Whenever I want to make ethnic dishes, and I can’t find what I am looking for in my regular supermarket I stop in there.

  13. Karina

    Juicy, spicy, tender, lipsmackin’ good. Is that all? ;) Sounds delicious, Elise. I’ve added this recipe to my gluten-free picks for the week.

  14. Caroline

    Do you think this would work on fish? If so, what type of fish would you recommend?

    I don’t think so. It would be like putting barbecue sauce on fish. But if you try it, do let us know how it works out for you. ~Elise

  15. iffet

    It looks awesome and I like the plate too…

  16. Michelle

    Love all your recipes – especially the chicken and the grilled corn recipe. This is the type of food my family likes to eat.
    Thanks!

  17. Rich

    Great recipe, and thanks for sharing. I made this last night, and it was a pretty big hit with both me and my wife. I am glad I let it marinade overnight – the flavor throughout the chicken was amazing.

    I need to turn the heat up a bit more the next time I make the Red Chile Sauce, I tend to be conservative the first time I try a recipe like this.

  18. april

    This was soooo good! Made it a couple of days ago and WOW! This was an instant hit that I’ll make many any times. I added ground cayenne and aleppo pepper for added heat, and it worked very well.

  19. Eeshani

    We made this last night, and it was REALLY yummy. Thank you for the recipe! However, the marinade didn’t adhere as well as it seems to have in the case of the chicken in the picture. We followed the instructions closely, so could the reason have been thst we baked the chicken rather than grilled it? Unfortunately, its still too wet to grill here… :(

    You might try basting half-way through cooking with any marinade that didn’t make it onto the chicken in the first place. That puts extra marinade on the chicken. ~Elise

  20. Linda in Washington State

    Great Recipe Elise!. I love spicy food and eat alot of chicken. This would nice top of a salad too. I also love the small ethnic grocery shops. Even if I can’t speak the language, the owners who knows how to use the ingredients he/she sells will help me and answer any questions I have.

  21. dick

    I have had wonderful luck with Penzey’s Spices whenever I need something like these dried chilis. They have a fabulous selection of all kinds of dried chilies there.

    Also good when you are looking for spices that are hard to find, such as fenugreek.

  22. ari brown

    I live in New Mexico where red and green chile are made in my kitchen weekly (it’s a staple, like water or air…) I can’t believe I have never thought to do this! I am definitely making this for dinner tomorrow, and know even before I make it that it will be delicious! Yum!

  23. Sindhu

    This recipe most definitely works on fish. I am an Indian living in Mexico and I came up with a similar recipe after eating some delicious fish tacos here in Mexico. However I use whole spices, roast them dry and grind them all with the roasted, deseeeded chiles, vegetable oil and garlic. I also add some brown sugar to balance the otherwise bitter taste left by the chiles. (I throw in some dried chile morita too). Not really necessary to marinate the fish. I just cover the fish pieces with the mixture, squeeze some fresh orange juice on top and bake. After they are done you can once again squeeze some fresh orange juice on top and serve with warm corn tortillas (please don’t use flour tortillas. They absolutely kill the taste). In Mexico fresh chopped cilantro, onions and tiny pineapple bits are offered to add as toppings. Also limes to squeeze on lime juice if required. Simply amazing! The marinade keeps for quite some time especially if refrigerated.

  24. Candy

    I often need something for luncheons where after a 2 hour meeting, we all come back to my place to eat. I tried this recipe and it worked…Grilled the chicken in the morning (after overnight marinade), then put it in a crock pot on low for the 2 hrs I’m gone. When we all arrive back at the ranch, I put the chicken out on serving platter with some squeezes of lime on top. Meat falls off the bone, and it has that wonderful grilled taste, too. Big hit with everyone, no leftovers, lots of raves. Good job!! Thank you for the recipe.

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