Chipotle Chicken {Copycat Recipe}

Chipotle Chicken {Copycat Recipe} | Culinary Hill

I could eat Chipotle every single day.  It’s the one “fast food” restaurant I can visit and feel like I got my money’s worth and didn’t ruin all previous exercise and dietary efforts.  If I haven’t had enough vegetables recently (something that happens over the holidays or when I’m traveling), I can reset my system with a healthful, filling burrito bowl or salad.  If your food allergies aren’t affected by potential cross-contamination, virtually all people with dietary restrictions can find something to eat at Chipotle.  This week I am setting out to deconstruct a Chipotle burrito bowl, recreating recipes with a Copycat version.

I’ll start with the elusive Chipotle Chicken marinade recipe. I am not the first person to undertake this.  Many have come before me, most notably Matt Silverman of ChipotleFan.  His recipe has inspired my version in a very direct sense.  However, I have made it enough times that I think I can offer some original unique insights into the preparation and use of the ingredients as well as the recipe itself. Chipotle Chicken {Copycat Recipe} | Culinary Hill

For example, did you know that the marinade for the chicken will yield about 2 cups?  And that 1 cup will flavor about 5 pounds of chicken?  And since 5 lbs. of chicken is a lot, you can freeze half (1 cup) of marinade for another time.  This is wonderful news as the marinade itself is rather labor-intensive, so it’s nice to know you can make a large batch at once and save part of it for later.

I’d also like to point out that soaking the dried ancho chiles takes a long time – at least 12 hours.  Once they have softened, I like to open them up, remove the stems, and rinse out the seeds.  If that all sounds too exhausting for you, you can also purchase Ancho Chile Pepper powder and use that instead.  1/4 c. of the powder is equivalent to 2 oz. of the peppers (stems and seeds removed, ground up).  The recipe also requires a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (that is what gives the marinade its delicious smoky flavor).  Use the adobo sauce but not the chipotle peppers (you can discard them or use them in another recipe such as my Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers).  I strained the sauce to keep out the seeds and extract as much liquid as possible.  For additional heat, add in seeds from the chipotle peppers.

A note on gluten in chipotle peppers with adobo sauce: Many brands do not have gluten, especially imported brands such as La Morena and La Costeña.  If gluten is of interest to you, please read the label before moving forward as some contain wheat.

Chipotle Chicken Marinade {Copycat Recipe} | Culinary Hill

On to the chicken: Chipotle uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs which yields tender, juicy pieces of chicken.  You may use boneless skinless chicken breasts, but your chicken will probably end up dryer than if you use dark meat.

Finally, the cooking method.  Grilling is a great option if you have the equipment and talents.  I have neither.  I have tried using a flat-top indoor cast-iron grill pan with a foil-covered brick (to flatten the chicken) and a large cast iron skillet with a cover.  I preferred the skillet because it helps prevent a lot of grease and marinade spatters.  Also, being able to cover the skillet meant the chicken could cook through more easily.  Last, the cast iron skillet collected bits of fond which contributed to the most delicious, caramelized pieces of chicken in the whole batch.  This was probably true with the cast iron grill pan as well, but I was so concerned about grease splattering that I failed to appreciate the fond in that instance.

Tangent: the foil-covered brick.  Yes, I went to the gardening section of my local discount store and picked up a paver for forty-eight cents.  I covered it in foil.  I laid it on my cooking chicken in various stages.  I found the whole thing to be very awkward and scary.  For one thing, the brick became extremely slippery.  So here I am, trying to pick up this slippery brick while standing over an extremely hot cooking surface that is covered in splattering oil.  Not a pretty picture.  Add in a curious toddler and you officially have a recipe for a disaster!  If you’re really into that sort of thing, a safer idea is to invest in a cast-iron grill press.  It has a handle and has other uses as well if you’re into grilled sandwiches.  Who isn’t?

Obviously no Chipotle experience is complete without cilantro-lime rice, seasoned black beans, grilled veggies, pico de gallo, and of course the famous Chipotle guacamole.  Be sure to check back all this week for more Chipotle-inspired, thoroughly tested recipes!

*Please note, my marinade recipe below yields 2 cups of marinade.  However, the assumption is that you will use half immediately (enough for 5 lbs. chicken thighs) and freeze half for later.  To use the full marinade, please double the quantity of chicken to 10 lbs.

Chipotle Chicken {Copycat Recipe} | Culinary Hill


Chipotle Chicken {Copycat Recipe}
Serves: 12
  • 1 (2 oz.) package dried ancho chiles, soaked at least 12 hours (see notes)
  • 1 (7 oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. canola oil, divided
  • 5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
  1. Split open each softened ancho chile and rinse the inside to the stem and all seeds (wearing gloves is recommended). Place in the bowl of a food processor or blender.
  2. Strain adobo sauce into a small bowl, discarding peppers or reserving for another use. Press down on the peppers to extract as much liquid as possible (you should have at least ¼ c.). For an especially spicy dish, add chipotle pepper seeds to taste. Add strained liquid to the food processor.
  3. Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, 5 tsp. salt, and 2 tsp. pepper to the food processor. Pulse several times until a coarse paste develops.
  4. With the motor running, pour ¼ c. canola oil through the feeding tube and continue to process until smooth. You should have two cups of marinade. Reserve one cup for immediate use and freeze the remaining for future use.
  5. Meanwhile, place half the chicken in a large freezer-safe plastic bag. Spoon in half the marinade, close the bag, and mash around to distribute. Add in remaining chicken, remaining ½ c. marinade, and repeat the mashing until all chicken is evenly coated. Place the plastic bag in a dish and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
  6. To cook, preheat a grill, indoor grill pan, or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with 2 T. canola oil. Grill the chicken in batches, turning occasionally until the internal temperature reaches 160°F on a thermometer and bits of caramelized fond have begun to cling to the outside of the chicken, 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 – 2 T. oil to your grilling surface between batches.
  7. Remove to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. Season to taste with salt. Serve on tortillas or in bowls with additional toppings as desired.
¼ c. Ancho Chili Pepper powder (such as McCormick brand) may be substituted for the dried Ancho chiles. Skip step 1 and add the powder with the other spices in Step 3.

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  • Luci {Luci’s Morsels}

    What a fun theme! And I could feel the fear of the kitchen situation with the brick. Glad everyone survived ! ;) Can’t wait to see the rest of your Chipotle copycats!

    Luci’s Morsels – fashion. food. frivolity.

    • Meggan

      Yeah, all I can say is the brick thing is not cool. And it’s not just because I’m uncoordinated… although I am. :) This was a fun series to create, and even more so to EAT! I love Chipotle, and I really love being able to eat massive quantities in one sitting.

  • Janette@culinaryginger

    Chipotle is the only ‘fast food’ I eat, I would eat this copycat everyday :-)

    • Meggan

      I think I’m on 3 weekends in a row making the Chipotle chicken… we just gobble it right up. :) Not sick of it yet! And now that I know I can freeze half the marinade, that makes it so much easier to eat this All.The.Time. :)

      • jodean

        if you do use 10lbs if chicken would you double your spices etc? going to have a large party.

        • Meggan

          The recipe for the marinade above is enough for 10 lbs. of chicken; you don’t need to double the spices. I talk about it in my post, but not everyone has time to read my babblings. You will end up with 2 cups. of marinade based on my ingredients above (2 oz. dried chiles, 1 can of chipotle peppers, etc.). That is enough for 10 lbs. of chicken. I apologize for the confusion and I’ll try to reword the recipe so it makes more sense. I normally make the whole marinade recipe, freeze half, and cook 5 lbs. of chicken right away. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Yead

    This is so delicious. I love this. Great idea.

    • Meggan

      Thank you so much Yead, I hope you enjoy it! :)

  • Laura

    This recipe is pretty awesome!!!! It’s very very close to Chipotle’s chicken. My husband has been asking forever to make it and I thought I’d never find something even close. I was wrong! I LOVE the ancho chiles and the chipotles!!!! Thank you for this awesome recipe, you now have one happy new fan :))

  • James

    Hi, I would like to make this, however, does it come out very “hot/spicy”? My reason for asking is that I don’t believe the Chipotle Restaurant version is spicy at all. I mean I don’t ever remember it being spicy any time I’ve ordered it at one of their restaurants.

    • Meggan

      Hi James, thank you for your question. First, I think “spiciness” is very subjective. If I eat chipotle’s chicken with sour cream and cheese or a burrito shell, it is never spicy because those offset. But if I eat it plain, sometimes it’s spicy. Having said that, I don’t think this marinade is super spicy. It has flavor, but you are using 1 cup of marinade per 5 pounds of chicken. And when you cook it, some of the marinade comes off. At worst, you may find a spicy bite here and there, but not really. My toddler (almost 2) eats it with no problem, and it’s not like we eat jalapenos for fun around here. To minimize the spiciness, be sure to get rid of all possible seeds from your adobo sauce. In the recipe I recommend straining, so you shouldn’t really have any, anyway. Have I answered your question? Or offered any help at all? I hope so. Spicy as in flavorful, yes. Spicy as it hot, no. Not really. Good luck.

  • Ann

    I’m really excited to try out this recipe. Where can I find the chipotle peppers and ancho chiles? Also, since I don’t have a grill, would baking the chicken be an option? TIA!

    • Meggan

      Hi Ann, thanks for stopping by! Chipotle peppers are at most grocery stores, Walmart, and Target. They will be in the Mexican food aisle near things like green chiles and salsa. Just look for a small can, “chipotle peppers in adobo.” Ancho chiles are not as widely available, but Walmart and grocery stores do have them. They are large, dried chiles (maybe 6″ long or so) usually sold in clear plastic bags. International food markets also often carry them. McCormick also sells a bottle of Ancho Chile Pepper in their “gourmet” line of spices, so you could look for that. I will figure out how much of that spice you will need, if you go that route, and post another reply today letting you know. Just in case. Also some international food markets might sell “bulk” spices, and if so, you could find ancho chile powder there which would also work.

      Last, no problem about the grill! I usually use a cast iron pan now on my stove top. Baking the chicken would certainly work, but you would probably not got as many “caramelized” pieces as you would from a skillet. It will still be delicious and flavorful, I’m sure. If you don’t want to run your oven, you could also cook the chicken in a regular skillet (nonstick or otherwise) on your stovetop. Good luck!

      • Ann

        Thank you so much! Everything worked out and it tasted great!

  • Katie

    I made this yesterday – SO GOOD! Thanks for the recipe! Just wondering if you put any of the marinade on the chicken afterwards and it seemed a bit…dry? that’s not the write word, but just not as seasonful as chipotle. Thanks again for the great recipe!

    • Meggan

      Hi Katie, I can imagine a lot of scenarios where the chicken might be dry. It hasn’t happened to me, but here are my suggestions. First, make sure you’re using dark meat, because chicken breast will obviously be drier. Also, as you cook the chicken in batches, if your skillet or grill pan seems dry, be sure to add more oil. Also, I appreciate the tip on adobo sauce. I think since you switched to the Adobo seasoning, that probably made your chicken much drier. I wonder if more liquid should be added to the marinade if you aren’t using adobo sauce? I also want to research adobo sauce and look at brands so I can (hopefully) suggest one that doesn’t have gluten. What a bummer! Thanks for your comments, and I hope your next batch is not so dry. I do think swapping the adobo sauce for seasoning was probably the biggest factor, if you followed the rest of the recipe. Thanks for your feedback!

  • Katie

    ALSO….those who are gluten free like me, BE CAREFUL with Adobo sauce…the ones I was looking at had the dreaded wheat in it. SO I actually just got some adobo seasoning instead.

    • Meggan

      Hi Katie, I did some investigating and found a few brands of chipotle peppers in adobo without wheat. One is La Morena, the other is La Costena. Both are imported from Mexico and I found them at my local Walmart. I took pictures of the cans, so if for any reason you’d like to see them, just let me know and I can email them to you. Good luck!

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  • Lindsay

    Meggan, were you able to figure out how much dried Ancho chili powder would be needed in place of the actual chiles?

    • Meggan

      Lindsay, yes! Yes I was, sorry for not replying until you reminded me. It’s 1/4 c. of ancho chile powder. Thank you for checking back and sorry for the delay. I’m going to update the recipe now as a standard way to make it going forward. Thanks again!

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  • Sonia Khawaja

    I am guessing 1/4 C means 1/4 Cup

    • Meggan | Culinary Hill

      Hi Sonia, you are correct. Going forward I will always write out “cup” instead of abbreviating. Sorry for the confusion!