Pollo Pibil is made with citrus-marinated chicken thighs that are slow-cooked to perfection. This iconic Mexican dish can be prepared in a slow cooker, Instant Pot, or popped into the oven for an ultra-satisfying dinner.
Pollo Pibil is a traditional Mexican dish from the Yucatan in which chicken is smothered with achiote paste, orange juice, and spices and then slow-cooked in banana leaves. This recipe takes that traditional Mexican braised dish, but makes it easier to make at home.
Use it for tacos, panuchos, burritos, quesadillas, and more.
It’s no secret that I absolutely love a good slow-cooker meal. During the cooler months, we could all use more cozy recipes in our life. That’s where this mouth-watering Yucatecan Pollo Pibil comes in. Even if you don’t own a slow cooker, you can easily make this dish in the oven or pressure cooker.
Hailing from the Yucatan peninsula, Pollo Pibil is a classic dish made with chicken thighs marinated in achiote paste, spices, and a flavorful blend of citrus juices. The meat is then cooked until it’s fork-tender, easy to shred, and bursting with amazing flavors.
This dish is more often made with pork and is called Cochinita Pibil. However, it is also really delicious with chicken.
As with most slow-cooker recipes, this dish is super hands-off and basically lets the slow cooker do all the work for you. With only a few minutes of prep work and some marinating time in the fridge. From there, the rest is easy and the end result is something that tastes like you have been cooking for days.
Once I’ve shredded the chicken, I love stuffing it into some warm corn tortillas with pickled red onions, fresh cilantro, habanero salsa, and fresh lime juice. It also tastes amazing atop nachos or taco salads, over a bed of rice and beans, or wrapped in burritos.
This versatile dish is perfect for any Mexican-inspired dinner with friends or family. It’s delicious, nourishing, and incredibly easy to make. Seriously, it’s a must-try Mexican chicken dish to add to your rotation this winter. Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think! This Chicken Tinga and Chicken Birria are also great staple Mexican chicken dishes.
Pollo Pibil Ingredients
To make this Mexican-inspired chicken dish, you will need a few key ingredients:
- Chicken thighs: Make sure to use the boneless and skinless kind for this dish. If using frozen, let them thaw in the fridge for 24-48 hours before using. Chicken breast can be used as well or swap in the more traditional pork. Bone-in chicken pieces also work, just remove the skin and bones after cooking.
- Citrus juice: One of the most important components of this dish is the combination of orange juice and lime juice. I highly recommend using fresh juice for the best flavor, but you can use store-bought orange juice if needed. If you need a little more tang with sweeter store-bought juice, add a splash of white vinegar.
- Achiote paste: This paste is a staple in Mexican cuisine known for its peppery aroma and subtle, earthy flavor. If you can’t get your hands on achiote paste, achiote powder will also work.
- Herbs and spices: You will need a combination of cumin, Mexican oregano, allspice, bay leaves, and salt to complete the delicious flavor profile of this dish.
Recipe Tips and Variations
Looking to make the best Pollo Pibil out there? Here are some of my top tips and variations to help you get there:
- Swap out the meat. Can’t get your hands on any chicken thighs? No problem! You can make this dish using chicken breasts, chicken legs, or pork.
- Freeze your marinade. The leftover marinade will last in the freezer for up to 6 months, so don’t toss out your extras. You never know when you might need it for round two. You can also keep any leftover achiote paste in the freezer if it isn't something you use often.
- Kick it up a notch. If you like your food on the spicier side, feel free to toss in some chilies or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Add some veggies. To add some flavor and make this a complete dish, try adding in some of the vegetables you have laying around. Some of my top choices include bell peppers and onions.
Ways to Serve Pollo Pibil
This dish is a flavorful Mexican-inspired entrée that can be served with just about anything you’re in the mood for. If you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are some of my favorite ways to serve this dish:
- Tacos: This delicious shredded chicken is perfect for filling your tacos. Simply stuff the meat into a corn tortilla and add your favorite toppings.
- Rice and beans: For a healthy and balanced meal, serve this entrée alongside a classic side of rice and beans. Personally, I love serving this dish with warm black beans or Quick Refried Beans and Mexican Cauliflower Rice. It also makes a great taco bowl.
- Nachos: Looking to instantly upgrade your nachos? This shredded chicken recipe is great for spreading atop your next nacho platter. Add some pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream, and you’ll have yourself an absolutely drool-worthy appetizer or game-day snack.
- Burrito and taco bowls: Craving a grain bowl? This dish is a great topping option! To make homemade taco bowls, choose your favorite greens, rice, beans, and toppings. Then, finish them off with a couple of spoonfuls of this delicious chicken.
- Salads: Looking for a lighter lunch or dinner option? Pollo Pibil is a great way to jazz up your favorite Mexican salads. Personally, I recommend this Mexican Chopped Salad with Honey Lime Dressing.
How to Store This Dish
This dish is wonderful for cooking in batches and storing for quick and easy meals throughout the week. I love adding it to my salads for lunch and my burrito bowls for dinner. The options are endless, so don’t be afraid to wind up with leftovers!
To store your leftovers, allow the meat to cool to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight storage container. Then, you can store it in one of two ways:
- In the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
- In the freezer for up to 3 months.
What is achiote paste?
Achiote paste is also known as recado rojo. It is a popular spice blend used in Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean recipes. It is made from ground annatto seed, which is where it gets its bright red color. Most achiote paste also contains cumin, black pepper, coriander, oregano, cloves, and garlic. The paste is mixed with liquid and used as a marinade for meats and for sauces.
There is no easy replacement for the achiote paste. If you have annatto seeds, you can make a homemade achiote paste using other common spices. Although it won't have the same flavor, some people swap in paprika for achiote. While similar in color, they have different flavors though since paprika is made with peppers and achiote is made with ground annatto seeds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this dish:
Can I use a different type of meat?
While I prefer using chicken thighs for the flavor, you can absolutely use a different cut or type of meat altogether. Some of my favorite choices include boneless and skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, and flank steak.
Is this dish healthy?
Yes! This dish is made with a lean source of protein and simple, wholesome ingredients like fresh citrus juices and spices. When paired with healthy side dishes like whole grains and vegetables, this is an incredibly healthy meal to add to your weekly rotation.
Can you freeze pollo pibil?
Absolutely. To store this dish in the freezer, it’s important to allow it to cool down to room temperature. Once it’s cooled, you can transfer your Pollo Pibil to an airtight storage bag or container and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy it again, let it thaw in the fridge for 24 hours and then reheat it on the stove until warmed through.
Can I make this with banana leaves?
Cochinita pibil and pollo pibil are traditionally made with banana leaves. The meat is wrapped in the leaves and braised in a pit. If you are able to find banana leaves, you can wrap the chicken in the banana leaves before placing it in the slow cooker or oven.
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- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 1.5 oz achiote paste (1/2 package)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (more to taste)
- 1/8 tsp allspice
- 1 bay leaf
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
Oven Method: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking dish with a couple of layers of foil. Add the chicken and bay leaf. Then seal the aluminum foil tightly. Cook for 1-1.5 hours until the chicken is fork tender. Shred.
Instant Pot: Add the chicken, bay leaf, and marinade to the Instant Pot. Use the Manual setting for 20 minutes. Then let naturally release for at least 15 minutes Shred with two forks.
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