These easy Grilled Chicken Tacos marinate in a tangy combination of orange juice, apple cider vinegar, achiote/annatto and other spices. This simple recipe yields a super juicy and flavorful grilled chicken perfect for loading up your tacos!
(This recipe was originally published in June 2019, but was updated with new photos and content in 2022).
Whether it's Taco Tuesday (or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, etc) tacos are a welcome addition to the menu. I'm always on the hunt for great taco recipes, and these grilled chicken tacos definitely fit the bill.
These fantastic achiote grilled chicken tacos are easy enough to whip up on a weeknight. Marinate them overnight (or in the morning) in a tangy marinade of apple cider vinegar, orange juice, chile powder, Mexican oregano, garlic, and spices. The acidity of the apple cider vinegar and orange juice not only provides flavor but helps tenderize the meat, yielding a super juicy result.
Although you can use chicken thighs, I like lightening up my grilled chicken tacos with chicken tenders or breasts instead. They are still incredibly juicy and delicious! Grill and then chop the chicken into small pieces. This intensely marinated chicken is definitely the star of the dish.
You can serve the grilled chicken on its own (simply as grilled chicken), serve it in tacos as I do here, add it to burritos or burrito bowls, chicken quesadillas, on top of salad, and so much more. It's really versatile!
- Chicken: You can use boneless skinless chicken breasts (sliced in half crosswise to make thinner cutlets), chicken tenders, or boneless skin-on or skinless chicken thighs for these grilled chicken tacos. The white meat options will take less time to cook, about 5 to 7 minutes per side, while the thighs will require closer to 10 minutes per side to cook through. Always check your chicken with an instant read thermometer to ensure it has an internal temperature of 165°F before consuming it.
- Achiote/Annatto: Achiote is the Mexican name for annatto seeds. This is a natural red food coloring used often in Latin American cuisine. You can fine whole annatto seeds, ground annatto or annatto paste. For this recipe you'll want ground annatto (you can grind whole seeds yourself in a spice grinder if necessary). Check the Latin American foods aisle at your grocery store or purchase online.
- Mexican Oregano: Believe it or not, dried Mexican oregano has quite a different flavor profile from regular dried oregano. If you can't find Mexican oregano, you're better off substituting dried marjoram to get a closer flavor match.
- Chile Powder: Do not confuse this with chili powder which is actually a mixture of spices. For this recipe you will need ground chile powder, preferably made with chiles de arbol. You can also grind whole dried chiles de arbol (with stems and seeds removed) in a spice grinder (this is what I typically do). I include a range of 1 to 2 tablespoons in the recipe below because chiles de arbol are considerably spicy. Use the greater amount if you want it more spicy.
- Orange Juice: You can use store-bought orange juice although I prefer juicing my orange fresh for this marinade. Half of a naval orange will yield about ¼ cup of juice, which is what you'll need for this recipe.
- Tortillas: I recommend corn tortillas for these soft grilled chicken tacos. You'll need to warm them up so they become soft and pliable. You can also use taco-sized flour tortillas or hard taco shells if that is what you prefer.
How to make it
Put the chicken in a large, heavy duty zip top plastic bag. Add the apple cider vinegar, orange juice, annatto, Mexican oregano, salt, chile powder, agave nectar, allspice, turmeric, and garlic.
Seal the bag closed and massage the contents of the bag to coat both sides of the chicken evenly with marinade.
Alternatively, put the chicken in a glass or ceramic bowl, add the spices, turn the chicken to coat evenly, and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight, turning the chicken a few times to marinate evenly.
Prepare a medium fire for direct heat cooking in a grill. Bring the chicken to room temperature and remove from the marinade.
Place the chicken, on the grill rack directly over the fire and cook, turning after about 5 to 7 minutes for breasts or tenders or after 10 minutes for thighs. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes (or 10 minutes for thighs) on the other side.
If the chicken is starting to burn or cook too quickly, move to a part of the grill with indirect heat and continue to cook. The chicken is done when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and chop into small pieces.
Serve the achiote grilled chicken tacos on warmed tortillas, with salsa, and toppings of your choice.
Expert tips and FAQs
The number of tacos you can make with this recipe will really depend on how much you fill your tortillas. The original Tacolicious recipe states 12, but we have made up to 18 by not filling them too full. As an average I think you can safely make around 15 tacos.
If it's not really grilling season (ie if you decide to make these tacos during a blizzard), you can cook the chicken in a skillet or even bake or broil it. Just ensure that the internal temperature reaches 165°F regardless of the cooking method.
Leftover cooked chicken will last in the refrigerator in a covered container or wrapped in foil for 3 to 4 days.
I served these grilled chicken tacos with sliced avocados, diced tomato, chopped onion, and salsa verde. I really love the acidity of salsa verde, which is a classic green salsa made with tomatillos.
Here are some suggestions for taco toppings:
- Salsa of your choice or pico de gallo
- Diced tomatoes
- Chopped onion
- Sliced avocado or guacamole
- Shredded lettuce or cabbage
- Grated or crumbled cheese such as Monterey jack, queso fresco or cotija
- Mexican crema or sour cream
- Sliced radishes
- Grilled corn or corn salsa
- Sliced jalapeño (pickled or fresh)
- Chopped cilantro
Although you can wrap a stack of corn tortillas in a damp paper towel on a plate and microwave them briefly until they are warmed though, for making tacos I recommend heating corn tortillas individually in a small skillet. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat and add 1 corn tortilla at a time. Heat for about 30 to 60 seconds per side or until it just barely starts getting some brown spots on the bottom. Transfer each tortilla to a covered container (like a round CorningWare with a lid) lined with a damp paper towel. The tortillas may seem a little dry at the edges immediately after heating, but will soften once they are stacked in the covered container.
Other recipes you may like
- Grilled Fish Tacos
- Shredded Chicken Tacos
- Adobo Chicken Tacos
- Braised Beef Short Rib Tacos
- Sweet Potato Tacos
- Chicken Burritos Mojados (Mexican Flag Wet Burritos)
- Pepito (Mexican Steak Sandwich)
- Chilaquiles Rojos con Huevos (Red Chilaquiles with Eggs)
- Homemade Pickled Jalapeños
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Achiote Grilled Chicken Tacos
- 2 pounds chicken tenders, boneless skinless breast (halved crosswise into cutlets), or boneless skin-on or skinless thighs
- ⅔ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tablespoons ground achiote/annatto seeds
- 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chile powder, preferably arbol
- 2 teaspoons agave nectar
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- Corn tortillas, warmed
- Put the chicken in a large, heavy duty zip top plastic bag. Add the apple cider vinegar, orange juice, annatto, Mexican oregano, salt, chile powder, agave nectar, allspice, turmeric, and garlic. Seal the bag closed and massage the contents of the bag to coat both sides of the chicken evenly with marinade. Alternatively, put the chicken in a glass or ceramic bowl, add the spices, turn the chicken to coat evenly, and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to overnight, turning the chicken a few times to marinate evenly.
- Prepare a medium fire for direct heat cooking in a grill. Bring the chicken to room temperature and remove from the marinade.
- Place the chicken, on the grill rack directly over the fire and cook, turning after about 5 to 7 minutes for breasts or tenders or after 10 minutes for thighs. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes (or 10 minutes for thighs) on the other side. If the chicken is starting to burn or cook too quickly, move to a part of the grill with indirect heat and continue to cook. The chicken is done when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. Serve the chicken with the warmed tortillas, salsa, and toppings of your choice.
- You may use any of your favorite taco toppings here, but some of my recommendations include salsa verde (my favorite), sliced avocados or guacamole, chopped white or yellow onion, chopped tomato, and chopped cilantro.
- Make your own chiles de arbol chile powder: stem and seed dried chiles de arbol and grind them up in a spice grinder.
- This recipe uses kosher salt (aka cooking salt, kitchen salt, coarse salt outside of the US). My preferred brand of kosher salt is Diamond Crystal. If you are using table salt, definitely scale down the salt as that is a saltier type of salt! The type of salt will make a big difference in how salty your food tastes, so keep that in mind.
- Adapted from Tacolicious.
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*