A Bright & Zesty Mexican-Inspired Marinade
One of the things I find so crave-worthy about Mexican cuisine is how its flavors are always bold yet incredibly well-balanced. Whether we’re talking Crispy Carnitas, al Pastor Tacos, or even simple Grilled Steak Fajitas, many of my favorite Mexican-inspired meals are rich & smoky, deliciously spiced, bright & zesty, & subtly sweet…all at once!
This Chili Lime Marinade is no different. It’s a recipe I developed a few years ago with grilling season in mind, but it’s one we’ve come back to again & again over the years.
Inspired by my favorite chili lime seasoning, Tajín, this Mexican-inspired marinade is brightly acidic with a smoky-sweet punch of flavor and it couldn’t be easier to make! You need just 8 simple ingredients, all of which are probably already on hand in your kitchen: tons of fresh lime, smoky & aromatic spices, & the littlest bit of agave nectar for balanced sweetness. Simply mix it up & marinate your favorite protein – chicken, steak, shrimp, tofu, whatever!
You can roast it, sauté it, broil it, or grill it to make everything from Grilled Chili Lime Chicken to hands-off Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas. Its spices really come to life as the marinade cooks, while its natural sugars transform into beautiful bits of charred, caramelized goodness – downright craveable!
Chili Lime Marinade Recipe Highlights
This chili lime marinade is an absolutely fantastic & super versatile marinade recipe that you’ll come back to again & again. You’ll love it because it’s…
FLAVOR PACKED. A combination of lime juice & zest, mildly spicy ancho chili powder, & other warm + smoky spices creates serious flavor, while a little bit of agave or honey cuts through it all with a dash of sweetness. It’s a perfectly balanced punch of flavor that you’ll want to put on everything!
SIMPLE. This recipe calls for just 8 total ingredients, many of which are probably already in your pantry. Plus, you can mix it up in 5 minutes or less – easy!
VERSATILE. Use this chili lime marinade to add a little bit of Mexican-inspired flavor to just about anything – zesty chili lime shrimp, roasted chicken fajitas, juicy steak, fruit, you name it!
It just doesn’t get better than that! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Chili Lime Marinade, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
This chili lime marinade uses 8 flavor-packed ingredients to create perfectly bright & zesty flavor, all with a touch of heat & balanced sweetness. Plus, most of the ingredients come straight from your spice cabinet, making it a quick & easy option for any night of the week!
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Lime – For maximum flavor & zesty brightness, be sure to use both the lime zest & juice. Simply run a microplane over the surface of the fruit to capture all of its zest before slicing & juicing.
- Spices & aromatics – Head over to your spice rack & grab ancho chile powder for mildly spicy heat, cumin for warm earthiness, smoked paprika for some extra smoky depth, & dried oregano for a robust peppery bite. You’ll also want some garlic. I always use fresh garlic cloves when I make this chili lime marinade, but granulated garlic powder also works well in a pinch.
- Agave nectar – This little touch of sweetness is essential to balance out the citrusy, spicy flavors in the rest of the chili lime marinade. Plus the natural sugars caramelize super well on a hot grill or under your broiler, giving any protein or veggie a beautiful char. Feel free to swap agave for honey, pure maple syrup, or even brown sugar if that’s most convenient.
- Olive oil – Just enough to bring it all together. Since this chili lime marinade has such rich flavor, you don’t need to use the fanciest oil in your pantry but you will want to use something with good, mellow flavor. DeLallo is my go-to!
Lime Marinade Tips & Tricks
Tips & Tricks
Whenever you’re seasoning with an especially citrusy marinade, like this chili lime marinade, it’s important to be mindful of how all the acid may impact your protein. A few tips:
- Can you marinate with lime overnight? ⇢ Due to the high level of acidity in this chili lime marinade, we suggest marinating your foods for at least 6 hours & no more than 8 hours. So skip the overnight soak & let it marinate throughout the day instead.
- Will lime juice cook chicken? ⇢ Acidic lime juice is strong enough to “cook” shrimp & fish for dishes like ceviche because their meat is super delicate. It doesn’t work that way with heartier chicken. If left in lime juice for too long, the acidity starts to break down the proteins in the meat, which makes your chicken mushy – no good!
How to Make Chili Lime Marinade
Don’t let its punch of flavor fool you – this Mexican-inspired marinade is still super easy to make – you only need 5 minutes to mix it up!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Here’s how you do it. ⇢ Simply combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl & whisk to combine well. From there, you can either use it immediately or pop it in the fridge for later.
Prep Tip! ⇢ If you’re prepping for later, simply add all of the ingredients to a Mason jar & shake to combine. We love Mason jars because they often have built-in measurement lines for quick prep & minimal clean-up.
Suggested Marinating Time & Meal Prep Tips
How Long To Marinate?
After testing this chili lime marinade with a variety of different proteins & different marinate times, I found a 6-hour marinating period is ideal for most proteins & veggies. The flavor of the chili lime marinade takes a bit of time to sink into the meat. That being said, it can’t soak for too long, or else the lime juice can impact the meat’s textures. Since it’s so acidic, we do not recommend marinating anything longer than 8 hours.
Make-Ahead & Meal Prep
If you’d like to marinate something later in the week, I suggest making the marinade in advance so it’s ready to go when you are. You can mix up this chili lime marinade & store it for up to 5 days in your fridge. As a bonus, the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits! Then, about 6 hours before you’re ready to get cooking, simply pour the mixture over your chosen meat or veggies. Easy!
What to Pair & Serving Suggestions
Sweet & spicy, bright & zesty, this chili lime marinade makes pretty much everything that much better! A weeknight dinner dream come true!
A few of our favorite uses for this chili lime marinade include…
- Chicken. Boneless skinless chicken breasts & thighs take to this smoky & acidic marinade well. Grill ’em up whole or bake then broil them into perfect Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas.
- Whole chicken. Whole Grilled Chili Lime Chicken is one of my favorite summer entertaining showstoppers. The meat stays juicy & tender & the skin gets deliciously charred & crisp, all with the perfect blend of smoky heat – SO good!
- Beef. Grilled chili lime beef is another amazing summer dinner. Ribeye, NY strip, or thinly cut flank steak all work beautifully with the bright & zesty flavor of this lime marinade. Slice it up & top with Chimichurri Sauce!
- Pork. Pork’s mild flavor lends really well to this zesty Mexican marinade! Try soaking pork chops or whole pork tenderloin in chili lime marinade before tossing the pork on the grill.
- Seafood. We love adding zesty lime to seafood like salmon, white fish, or shrimp. Serve your seafood with a drizzle of Jalapeno Pesto to kick the heat up a notch.
- Tofu. Use this chili lime marinade to make sofritas-inspired tofu for tacos, burritos, or burrito bowls. A fun plant-based twist!
- Veggies (or Fruit!). This chili lime marinade easily adds irresistible smoky-citrus flavor to summer veggies & also pairs well with grilled fruits like pineapple or mango.
No grill? No problem! If you don’t have access to a grill, this chili lime marinade also works well with many other cooking methods – stovetop, skillet meals, sheet pan meals, etc. Tip! ⇢ To create a similar caramelized grill effect, use a grill pan on the stovetop or finish baked meat under the broiler for a little smoky char. 🔥
I can’t wait for you to try this Chili Lime Marinade! It is the perfect way to dress up your favorite ingredients with a zip of Mexican-inspired flavor. We’re completely obsessed & I think you will be too.
If you do give it a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
Want more grilling marinade ideas? ⇢ We’ve got you covered. 🙌🏼 Check out our 15 Go-To Grilling Marinades next!Print
This Chili Lime Marinade is a recipe I developed a few years ago with grilling season in mind, but it’s one we come back to again & again all year-round. It’s bright & zesty with a smoky-sweet punch of flavor & it couldn’t be easier to make!
You need just 8 simple ingredients, all of which are probably already on hand in your kitchen: tons of fresh lime, smoky & aromatic spices, & the littlest bit of agave nectar for balanced sweetness.
Simply mix it up & marinate your favorite protein – chicken, steak, shrimp, tofu, whatever! You can roast it, sauté it, broil it, or grill it to make everything from Chili Lime Chicken to 20-Minute Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas.
Be sure to check the Recipe Notes, below, for easy recipe swaps & marinade tips, & read through the blog post, above, for plenty of pairing suggestions. An all-purpose marinade you’ll come back to again & again! ♡ Happy cooking!
- 2 pounds meat or veggies of choice
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 limes, zested & juiced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar (or honey)
- 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Mix the chili lime marinade: Add the olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, agave, ancho chile powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, dried oregano, kosher salt & ground black pepper to a medium bowl or jar. Whisk or shake to combine. Set aside, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Marinate: Pour the chili lime marinade over your meat or veggies of choice. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours.
- Grill as desired. Enjoy!
- Suggested marinade time: After testing this chili lime marinade with a variety of different marinade times, we found a 6-hour marinade period to be ideal. The flavor of the marinade really sinks into the meat without affecting its texture. Because of the amount of lime juice used in this marinade, I do not recommend marinating longer than 8 hours.
- Jess’ Notes & Tips:
- Ancho chiles are dried poblano peppers with nice mild-medium heat & great flavor. Ancho chili/chile powder is just that – a powder of finely ground ancho chile peppers. I love Simply Organic Ancho Chili Powder, which is certified organic & has wonderful flavor – I keep it stocked in my spice rack at all times, as it’s great for adding extra flavor & mild heat to Mexican-inspired dishes. If you do not have ancho chile powder on hand, you can substitute with “chili powder” for this particular recipe. Standard “chili powder” here in the U.S. is most often a blend of ground chiles & spices like oregano, cumin, & garlic – so it’s not a perfect substitute for pure chile powders all the time, but all of these flavors work well in this chicken fajitas recipe.
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to marinate something later in the week, I suggest making the marinade in advance, whenever you’re meal prepping for the week. Store it in a jar or an airtight container for up to 5 days – the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits. At least 6 hours before you’re ready to hit the grill, simply pour the marinade over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy peasy!
Keywords: Chili Lime Marinade, marinade recipe, easy, no-cook, grilling & smoking, Mexican & Tex-Mex, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat