Chicken al Pastor

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Introducing Sheet Pan Chicken al Pastor for your Taco Tuesday rotation! Chicken soaks up an earthy, citrusy & sweet al pastor marinade made with orange juice, achiote, & spices, & bakes on a sheet pan with pineapple until completely juicy & tender. Finish under the broiler for a craveable crisp & caramelly finish. Serve them up as chicken al pastor tacos or make a rice bowl with all of your favorite fixings. Easy, fast, flavorful & versatile!
A chicken al pastor taco on a speckled ceramic plate, topped with thinly sliced jalapeno & cotija cheese. The taco is surrounded by 3 other al pastor tacos, a small bowl of mashed avocado, fresh cilantro leaves & lime wedges.

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.

2 gold spoons scooping up broiled al pastor chicken & pineapple on a small silver baking sheet atop a white plaster surface.

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’!

Side view of al pastor chicken taco, topped with chopped cilantro & cotija cheese, on a speckled ceramic plate. The taco sits atop a white plaster surface. In the foreground are another taco & a small white bowl of mashed avocado. In the background, more al pastor tacos & a small white bowl of pickled red onions.

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.

Chicken thighs & thinly sliced onion marinate in al pastor marinade in a large glass mixing bowl atop a white plaster surface.

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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!

Broiled al pastor chicken & pineapple on a small silver baking sheet atop a white plaster surface. A woman's hand reaches into the frame with small tongs, scooping up some of the al pastor chicken.

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 tacosburritosburrito bowlstaco saladsnachostostadas…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…

Oh! Be sure not to forget the chips, a batch of guac, & a couple of margaritas. Taco Tuesday done totally right!

5 chicken al pastor tacos on a white plaster surface. 2 of the tacos are placed on small speckled ceramic plates. Surrounding the tacos are pickled red onions, mashed avocado, & fresh cilantro leaves.

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!

Love easy weeknight meals? Us too! Try this Crispy Chicken Carnitas, these Shawarma Hummus Bowls, or these Island-Style Seared Scallops next. Happy cooking! ♡

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A chicken al pastor taco on a speckled ceramic plate, topped with thinly sliced jalapeno & cotija cheese. The taco is surrounded by 3 other al pastor tacos, a small bowl of mashed avocado, fresh cilantro leaves & lime wedges.

Chicken al Pastor

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4 1x
  • Category: Tacos, Burritos & Enchiladas Recipes, Main Dishes
  • Method: Sheet Pan, Baked
  • Cuisine: Mexican & Tex-Mex
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

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!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1/2 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 cremapickled red onions, freshly chopped cilantroqueso fresco or cheese of choice, salsa of choice, lime wedges, etc.

for the al pastor marinade:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 23 chipotle peppers, from a can packed in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 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 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Instructions

  1. 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.Chicken thighs & thinly sliced onion marinate in al pastor marinade in a large glass mixing bowl atop a white plaster surface.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  al pastor-marinated chicken thighs & sliced onion on a silver quarter baking sheet with finely diced pineapple. The sheet pan sits atop a white plaster surface.
  4. 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. Baked al pastor chicken thighs & sliced onion on a silver quarter baking sheet with finely diced pineapple. The sheet pan sits atop a white plaster surface.
  5. Broil for crispy chicken al pastorPlace the baking sheet under the broiler. Broil 4-5 minutes, turning the pan halfway through, until the al pastor chicken are browned & slightly crisp. Broiled al pastor chicken, onion, & pineapple on a silver quarter baking sheet. The sheet pan sits atop a white plaster surface.
  6. 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! Overhead view of chicken al pastor tacos, pressed together side-by-side on a white plaster surface. The tacos are surrounded by fresh cilantro leaves, lime wedges, & mashed avocado & pickled red onions in separate white bowls.

Notes

  • 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.

Overhead view of chicken al pastor tacos, pressed together side-by-side on a white plaster surface. The tacos are surrounded by fresh cilantro leaves, lime wedges, & mashed avocado & pickled red onions in separate white bowls.

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Don’t forget to pin this Chicken Pastor recipe for later!!!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 8.10.21
    Anna said:

    I never ever ever thought I would like pineapple on tacos but after trying this recipe I clearly thought wrong. The flavor is incredible and sticking the chicken back in the oven after dicing it really gives it extra flavor and texture. Keeping this recipe bookmarked!

  2. 8.3.21
    Rachel Colvin said:

    I want to take a bath in this marinade. I was SHOCKED at how delicious the marinade smelled in my blender as soon as it was thrown together. Instant flavor that will make your mouth water. Waiting for the chicken to marinade is the ultimate test of patience!

  3. 6.12.21
    Shelly C said:

    Omg! I have not made this yet but I did just make your Cauliflower sweet potato black bean tacos! With that amazing sauce! I do not know you, but you are my new favorite person! Where have you been my entire life 😂 I’m soo glad I found your recipes! Truly amazing! This one is getting made next ❤️

    • 6.20.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Shelly! Thank you so much for checking out PWWB & trying our recipes – it means so much! We agree the Chipotle Lime Crema is a total game changer! Let us know how things go with the Chicken al Pastor & also be sure to check out our other easy cashew crema recipes here!

  4. 5.23.21
    kristin said:

    Hey Jess! What would you say the slickness level is on these? Kid friendly? I’ve never used achiote. 🙂 Thanks!!

    • 5.23.21

      Hey Kristin! I wouldn’t say these are spicy as much as they are spiced, if that distinction makes sense. Achiote is mild, but has a real earthy quality. If your kids have somewhat adventurous palettes or they like Mexican food, it would be worth a try! If not, leave theirs plainer & make a fun meal for the adults with the marinade. Or, you can try these sheet pan chicken carnitas, which has a really similar preparation & likely a more kid-friendly flavor profile.

  5. 4.13.21
    Rebecca Dale said:

    So delicious Jess! We made these last night and loved them. We had pickled red onions and some cotija cheese to top our taco’s with and it was a delicious combo. Will definitely be making these again soon!

    • 5.3.21

      I’m SO glad to hear it!!! Pickled red onions & cotija cheese are the perfect toppings, too. Thanks for leaving a comment, Rebecca! xx