Red Chile Marinated Grilled Chicken

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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".


  • 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


  • 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.


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.

Showing 4 of 17 Comments

  • Jen

    This is absolutely delicious! I made it last weekend for guests and everybody asked me for the recipe. Sent them your way!

  • Krystle

    Another good one! I made this today for my family. My daughter had seconds and said she gives it “five stars.” Husband agrees that this one should go in the recipe box. I used bone-in, skin-on thighs, and baked them for 55 minutes juuuuust to be sure. They were still moist and juicy and not dried out at all. The dark meat gave it some good flavor. I did end up using mild red enchilada sauce instead of the red chile sauce because all three of us have sensitive stomachs, and don’t tolerate spicy food all that well. Even with the enchilada sauce, it was far from bland. The sliced avocado gave it a really nice, cooling touch, and the smell of cinnamon/cloves/cumin/garlic was a really nice touch, too! We had it with a side of rice. Thanks for the recipe! Will definitely be trying many more. :)

  • Susanne Perez

    Hi Elise — I am thawing out some boneless chicken thighs for this recipe to start tomorrow. I don’t have a grill, but I was wondering if anyone has tried pan roasting on the stove ? I had bought some ready to cook chicken adobado from my market and just threw it on a skillet with a little olive oil about 10 – 11 minutes. It blackened a bit and was smoky and delicious. Would that work here?

  • 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.

  • 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.

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