Mexican food & I have been having a serious love affair as of late, which not-so-coincidentally started when the most amazing taqueria, El Travieso, opened up in our neighborhood late last year. It’s one of Southwest Minneapolis’ best little hidden gems…as evidenced by the fact that we order takeout at least once a week. Everything on the menu is amazing, but their pastor is next-level good.
Al pastor is traditionally made by marinating pork in an earthy chili marinade & cooking it on a vertical spit. The pastor, which takes on gloriously charred edges as the spit rotates, is carved from the spit & served in a tortilla. (Sound similar to shawarma? That’s no coincidence! Al pastor is said to be originally based on lamb shawarma, brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 19th century. Pretty cool, huh?)
Since I dream about them on a near daily basis, I really wanted to try to recreate the flavors & textures of El Travieso’s pastor tacos using the ingredients & equipment that I have at home. That’s exactly how this Chicken al Pastor recipe came to be.
The secret? A broiler! Al pastor-marinated chicken bakes up on a sheet pan with pineapple until juicy & tender, & then it’s finely diced & finished under the broiler, which creates the signature crisp & caramelly finish. It’s seriously so easy, & it’s downright craveable.
Chicken al Pastor – Recipe Highlights
This chicken al pastor recipe is…
- EASY – Aside from whipping up a quick al pastor marinade in your blender, the oven does the rest of the work. It is some straight up sheet pan magic!
- VERSATILE – Tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, tostadas, you name it! You can serve it up in about a billion different ways…and they are all delicious!
- BORDERLINE ADDICTIVE. Time under the broiler creates caramelly & crisp edges on the chicken & pineapple, just like what you expect out of a street truck-style pastor taco. It is downright craveable…& borderline addictive.
Homemade chicken al pastor?! Taco Tuesday will never be the same. ♡ Read on to learn more about this Chicken Pastor, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
These easy chicken tacos start with an Al Pastor Marinade:
At the heart of this chicken pastor is a simple al pastor marinade. Made with 10 simple ingredients in less than a minute (thanks to a blender!), the marinade is what gives the signature flavor & brilliant color of traditional al pastor to the chicken.
You will need…
- Chicken – You can use either chicken thighs or chicken breasts for this chicken al pastor. Because they’re baked & broiled for a crispy finish, I prefer using thighs; thighs are a little more forgiving & don’t dry out as easily as breasts. If you choose to use breasts, either pound them out flat or butterfly them by slicing them in half lengthwise. This helps to ensure they cook evenly & quickly, creating juicier al pastor chicken.
- Achiote paste – A key ingredient that gives al pastor its signature earthy flavor & bright red color. More about achiote below!
- Orange juice & brown sugar – For a nice sweetness in the marinade that helps create crispy, caramelly edges as the chicken pastor cooks.
- Apple cider vinegar – Just a splash, which helps offset the sweetness of the OJ & brown sugar.
- Aromatics – Namely fresh garlic, chipotle peppers, ancho chili powder, cumin, & dried oregano.
What is achiote paste? ⇢ Achiote is a seasoning made with ground annatto seeds. It is commonly used in Mexican & Central American cuisine. Achiote is earthy & bitter in flavor, giving traditional al pastor (in my experience) its signature flavor & color. You’ll most commonly find achiote available as a ground seasoning or as a paste, both of which you can easily find at your local Mexican market or online. I use achiote paste for this chicken al pastor. See the Recipe Notes below for some more details!
Suggested marinating time ⇢ The chicken can soak in the al pastor marinade for at least 6 hours & no more than 3 days.
How to make Chicken al Pastor, Sheet Pan-Style!
Aside from the richly flavored al pastor marinade, the other kinda magical part of this chicken pastor recipe is that it’s a sheet pan recipe. The chicken bakes until juicy & tender, then your oven’s broiler does its magic, creating crispy, caramelized bits that mimic street cart-style al pastor tacos. It is so good, & it couldn’t be easier!
Here’s how it happens…
- Transfer the chicken to a sheet pan: Transfer the marinated chicken to a quarter baking sheet. Be sure to drain & discard any excess marinade so the chicken roasts evenly. Pile on a few cups of finely diced pineapple, stirring to lightly coat it in the al pastor marinade.
- Bake the chicken pastor: Pop the pan in the oven & bake until the chicken is just nearly cooked through. It takes about 15-18 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken.
- Dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces. I like to go for a really fine dice, matching the size of the finely diced pineapple. (A little bit easier to stuff into tortillas!)
- Broil for caramelized al pastor chicken: Place the diced chicken back on the sheet pan with the pineapple. Pop it under the broiler for a few minutes, until the edges of the chicken & pineapple are beautifully browned & crispy. Seriously the easiest al pastor ever!
Alternative cooking option ⇢ If you do not have a broiler in your oven (or if you don’t feel like turning on your oven for dinner), you can also create a similar smoky, crispy, caramelized effect using a grill or grill pan. Grill the al pastor chicken for 5-6 minutes per side, until cooked through. Easy!
How to serve chicken pastor:
Ease & flavor aside, the other thing to love about this chicken al pastor recipe is its versatility. You can use it to create any of your favorite Mexican & Tex-Mex dishes at home – chicken al pastor tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, taco salads, nachos, tostadas…you name it! The possibilites are truly endless.
I have two go-tos, which I alternate between depending on what I’m in the mood for:
- Chicken al Pastor Tacos – Warm up some good tortillas (these are my all-time fave!) & pile on the al pastor chicken & whatever other toppings you love most. OR…
- Chicken al Pastor Burrito Bowl-meets-Taco Salad – Add your favorite salad greens to a bowl with rice or quinoa, black beans, caramelly al pastor chicken, & whatever other toppings you love most. YUM.
Here are a few toppings ideas to get you started:
- Fresh veggies – Thinly sliced jalapeno, finely diced white onion or pickled red onions, matchstick radishes, etc.
- Queso fresco or shredded pepper jack, or sour cream or yogurt for extra tang. If you want a fun dairy-free sauce, try one of our three varieties of cashew crema!
- Mashed avocado, or a big ol’ dollop of guacamole!
- Loads of fresh lime juice & finely chopped cilantro
- Salsa – Quick tip for my fellow Minneapolitans, I’ve been keeping my fridge stocked with a handful of fresh salsas from Vivir (in North East). They are so good!
- & so on…
I’m seriously so excited for you to try this easy Chicken al Pastor recipe. I’m 100% obsessed with it, & I’m pretty sure you will be too. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know!: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
More Recipes Like This:
Easy Sheet Pan Dinners
Sheet Pan Chicken al Pastor! Made with an earthy, citrusy & sweet al pastor marinade & baked on a sheet pan with pineapple until completely juicy & tender. Finish under the broiler for a craveable crisp & caramelly finish. Great for chicken al pastor tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, & more. Easy, fast, flavorful & versatile!
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see Recipe Notes)
- ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
- al pastor marinade, below
- 2 cups finely diced pineapple
- for serving, as desired: charred corn tortillas, cilantro lime rice, black beans, Mexican crema or cashew crema, pickled red onions, freshly chopped cilantro, queso fresco or cheese of choice, salsa of choice, lime wedges, etc.
for the al pastor marinade:
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2–3 chipotle peppers, from a can packed in adobo sauce
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or honey, or agave)
- 1 tablespoon achiote paste (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Prep the al pastor marinade & marinate the chicken: Add all listed marinade ingredients to a blender. Blend until combined. Add the chicken thighs & thinly sliced yellow onion to a large bowl. Pour the al pastor marinade over top & toss to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator (covered) for at least 6 hours or up to 3 days.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, arranging the oven racks such that one is in the center of the oven & one is 6-8 inches under the broil. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil for easy clean up, as desired, and set aside.
- Bake the chicken: Transfer the marinated chicken & onions to the prepared baking sheet, draining & any excess marinade. Add the diced pineapple to the baking sheet. Toss to combine with the chicken & onions, spooning a little extra al pastor marinade into the mix as necessary to coat the pineapple with the sauce. Bake on the center rack for 15 minutes. The chicken should be nearly cooked through. Remove the chicken from the oven to chop, and meanwhile preheat the broiler.
- Dice the chicken al pastor: Transfer the chicken to a cutting board & carefully chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place the chopped chicken pastor back on the baking sheet.
- Broil for crispy chicken al pastor: Place the baking sheet under the broiler. Broil 4-5 minutes, turning the pan halfway through, until the al pastor chicken are browned & slightly crisp.
- Serve: Place the crispy chicken pastor in tortillas for tacos or a bowl with rice & beans for burrito bowls, finishing with your favorite taco night toppings of choice: sour cream/Mexican crema, pickled red onions, cilantro, etc. Enjoy!
- Can I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead? Yes. I prefer using chicken thighs in this recipe since they’re flavorful & stay really nice & juicy through roasting + broiling, but you can swap them out with breasts if you prefer. Either pound the breasts out flat or cut them in half lengthwise (butterflied) to ensure they roast up evenly. Skip broiling (Step 5), as the breast meat will dry out.
- What is Achiote paste? Achiote is a seasoning commonly used in Mexican & Central American cuisine. Achiote is made with ground annatto seed, which is earthy & bitter in flavor & gives traditional al pastor (in my experience) its signature flavor & color. You’ll most commonly find achiote available as a ground seasoning or as a paste, both of which you can easily find at your local Mexican market. It’s also readily available online. If you’re in a pinch, you can easily make a quick achiote substitute using pantry ingredients, but if you’re serious about replicating the signature flavor of al pastor, I highly suggest stocking up on some achiote.
- Storage & freezing: Leftover chicken al pastor will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. It’s also a wonderful freezer staple since you can easily thaw it out and use it on tacos, nachos, taco salads, burrito bowls, etc. for an easy dinner down the road. To freeze, transfer cooled chicken al pastor to a freezer bag or container. (These are my absolute favorite!) Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator overnight to thaw, or by submerging the freezer bag/container in room temp water for 20-25 minutes.
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this sheet pan chicken comes from prepping the marinade & chopping the onion/pineapple. Get it all done in advance to get a head start on your chicken al pastor – it’ll take 15 minutes, tops:
- Thinly slice 1/2 yellow onion, storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Peel, core & finely dice 1 pineapple, storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You’ll need 2 cups diced for your chicken al pastor. You can use the rest in other dishes or for snacking throughout the week, or freeze for later.
- Prep the marinade according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Marinate the chicken & onion for at least 6 hours prior to cooking or up to 3 days.
Keywords: chicken al pastor tacos, chicken pastor, chicken sheet pan dinner, sheet pan chicken, easy, Mexican, weeknight dinner
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.