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Of all the marinades in the world, THIS Southwest Chicken marinade is the one I make the most. Hands down. My kids love it. All adults love it. And it can be served any way you dream up–a la carte, in tacos or quesadillas, on top of a burrito bowl or salad.
“My husband loved this chicken and asked for me to make the exact same meal the next day!”
– Charlotte ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Marinating chicken is THE key to infusing flavor into typically lean, bland poultry cuts. This complex marinade requires mostly pantry staples to turn that lackluster cut into something that makes your tastebuds sing.
Let’s meet the key ingredients…
- Avocado or olive oil – Use a fairly neutral oil keeps things moist without an overpowering flavor.
- Apple cider vinegar – Cider vinegar adds a delicious twist on the acid component but white vinegar will work.
- Fresh chopped cilantro (or parsley) – Adds a pop of green and fresh flavor. Leave out if you don’t have it on hand, though.
- Chili powder – Smoky, subtle heat from ground chilis. Flavor can vary between brands.
- Garlic powder – This pantry staple adds big (and convenient) garlic flavor that rounds out the whole marinade.
- Ground cumin – Love this smoky yet not spicy addition.
- Dried oregano – Crush in your hand before adding to release the oils in this dried herb.
- Salt – A must in any chicken marinade.
- Ground black pepper – Gives a little bite. Add more if you’d like.
- Optional: Red pepper flakes – I’ve started adding in a good pinch of red pepper flakes for a little heat, but you do you. 🙂
How to Make Southwest Chicken
Place the marinade ingredients straight into a large Ziploc bag and give it a good shake. This saves you an extra dish. You could also mix the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and pour it over the chicken. Options galore!
Add the chicken to the ziplock bag with the marinade. Close securely and gently massage it into the meat. Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
4 Ways to Cook Marinated Chicken
Chicken breasts are by far the most popular cut to marinate and cook, so we’re giving you several cooking options below. You can grill, bake, slow cook, or pressure cook your boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs).
Here are four easy ways to cook Southwest Chicken:
Bake in the Oven
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place chicken in a casserole dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken, until done.
Slow Cook in the Crockpot
Place chicken and marinade in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. Really! That’s all it takes to get it done, otherwise, you’ll overcook and dry it out.
Here is a whole post about how long to cook chicken in the Crockpot if you’re interested!
Pressure Cook in the Instant Pot
Place chicken, marinade, and 1/3 cup chicken broth in a 6-quart Instant Pot. (Note: If using an 8 quart, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth.)
Lock and seal the lid. Cook at high pressure for 7 minutes and use a quick release of the pressure when the cook time is up. (Note: It will take 10-15 minutes to come to pressure before the cook time starts.)
Grill the Chicken
Pound out the chicken to about 3/4 inch thick (or cut it in half lengthwise) to help with fast and even cooking.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat (400-450°F) and clean the grates well. Grill for 4-6 minutes per side, closing the lid in between flipping. The cook time may take a little longer, depending on the thickness of the chicken.
How to Know When Chicken is Done
Chicken is done when it reaches 165°F internal temperature. A digital meat thermometer is a must to help cook chicken perfectly!
A great use of your time is prep a few freezer meals using this marinade. Like most of our chicken freezer meals, simply combine the ingredients (the marinade & the chicken) and freeze for later. No need to let the chicken marinate before freezing either. When you want to use it, let the chicken thaw one of these safe ways.
Then, grill, slow cook, pressure cook, or bake your marinated chicken. We’ve included instructions for how to cook boneless chicken breasts in the recipe below.
Ideas for Serving Southwest Chicken
Idea #1: Southwest Chicken Salad
Marinated chicken, colorful Tex-Mex toppings, and a creamy Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette top a bed of crispy lettuce for this mouthwatering Southwest Chicken Salad. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and packed with all the good things your body craves. Prep ingredients ahead and enjoy all week long.
Idea #2: Southwest Chicken Burrito Bowls
I love this make-ahead meal option. Cook your chicken ahead of time. Then provide cooked rice or quinoa, chicken, black beans, and all your favorite Mexican toppings so everyone can personalize their bowls.
Idea #3: Southwest Chicken and Bacon Wraps
Inspired by one of my favorite restaurants in town, I created this build-your-own wrap recipe using marinated chicken and a super simple sauce. Plus…BACON! You’ll love it!
Idea #4: Southwest Grilled Chicken Kabobs
Kids love this fun way of eating chicken! You can also thread your favorite veggies, like onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini, on separate skewers and grill at the same time. I keep the chicken on separate skewers from the veggies because they usually cook at different rates.
Is the marinade spicy?
This marinade is smoky but not spicy. I’ve started adding a pinch of red pepper flakes to mine, because I like some spice in the background.
Will this marinade work for other kinds of meat?
Yes. This Southwest Marinade would work well for marinating pork tenderloin, pork chops, drumsticks, or steaks.
How long should you marinate chicken?
The ideal marinating time for chicken is anywhere between 2-24 hours. The specific time can depend on the type and cut of chicken, as well as the acidity level of the marinade.
Can you OVER marinate chicken?
Yes, over-marinating chicken can actually have a negative effect on the texture and taste of the meat. Acidic marinades, in particular, can break down the proteins in the chicken too much and leave it with a mushy texture.
Can you reuse marinade for chicken?
You shouldn’t reuse marinade but you can boil it to use safely as a sauce over your finished dish using these directions. I actually do this all the time.
To kill all the raw chicken germs, be sure to bring the marinade to a rolling boil in a pot on the stove for at least 1 minute, according to the CDC‘s directions for making water safe to drink. The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source notes that bacteria are rapidly killed at temperatures above 149°F (65°C), which is below that of boiling water or even a simmer. So rest assured you’ll be safe if you boil it well for 1 minute. We’d suggest straining it after boiling to remove any chicken pieces.
More Chicken Marinades
Try some of our other favorite healthy chicken marinades to mix things up:
- Lemon Garlic Chicken Marinade
- Honey Dijon Chicken Marinade
- Balsamic Herb Chicken Marinade
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Marinade
- Asian Chicken Marinade
- The BEST Savory Chicken Marinade
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Of all the marinades in the world, THIS Southwest Chicken Marinade is the one I make the most. Hands down. My kids love it. All adults love it. And it can be served any way you dream up–a la carte, in tacos or quesadillas, on top of a burrito bowl or salad.
- 1/3 cup oil (recommend: avocado or olive oil)
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Optional: pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 – 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs)
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Make It Now:
- Make the Marinade: Add the oil, vinegar, cilantro/parsley, chili powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, ground cumin, salt, pepper, optional red pepper flakes, and chicken to a gallon-sized freezer bag. Seal and squish around to make sure the chicken is covered in marinade and everything is combined. (Freezing instructions begin here.)
- Marinate Chicken: Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Cook Chicken: Cook the chicken using one of these methods. The chicken is done when it reaches 165°F internally and/or is no longer pink inside.
- Bake in Oven: Preheat oven to 400°F. Place chicken in a casserole dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. (Tip: Spray the dish/sheet pan with cooking spray to prevent sticking.) Bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes, until done. May take longer depending on the thickness of the chicken.
- Slow Cooker: Place chicken and marinade in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. Really! That’s all it takes to get it done, otherwise, you’ll overcook and dry it out.
- Instant Pot: Place chicken, marinade, and 1/3 cup chicken broth in a 6-quart Instant Pot. (Note: If using an 8 quart, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth.) Lock and seal the lid. Cook at high pressure for 7 minutes and use a quick release of the pressure when the cook time is up. (Note: It will take 10-15 minutes to come to pressure before the cook time starts.)
- Grill: *Before marinating, pound out the chicken to about 3/4 inch thick (or cut it in half lengthwise) to help with fast and even cooking. To do this, place one breast at a time inside a freezer bag and pound with the flat side of a meat mallet. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (400-450°F) and clean the grates well. Grill for about 4-6 minutes per side, closing the lid in between flipping, until done. The cook time may be longer depending on the thickness.
Freeze For Later: Follow step 1. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Prepare From Frozen: Thaw, using one of these safe thawing methods, and follow Step 3. No additional marinating time needed once it is thawed!
- How to Know If Chicken Is Done: Chicken is done when it reaches 165°F internal temperature. (A digital meat thermometer is a must to help cook chicken perfectly.)
- Storage Tip: A great way to store this freezer meal or leftovers is in our favorite reusable freezer bags.
- Where We Get Our Chicken: We get our meat from ButcherBox. The chicken is organic and curated from small, trusted farms. We highly recommend this service to source healthy meat–like uncured bacon, wild salmon, and grass-fed beef–and have used it for years ourselves.
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