Red Chile Marinated Grilled Chicken

This is some of the best chicken I’ve ever eaten – grilled, roasted, baked, whatever. Juicy, spicy, tender, lipsmackin’ good.

Here’s the deal, there are two ways to make this recipe. One way entails making your own red chile sauce from scratch, using dried ancho and guajillo chiles that you can usually only find at a specialty Mexican market. Even our local Whole Foods doesn’t carry these dried chiles.

The second method starts with a base of canned red chile sauce, which is a little easier to find in a regular supermarket, and saves quite a few steps.

I’ve made this recipe both ways. As you might expect, if you have access to the dried chiles and can make the time to make your own sauce base, it’s totally worth it for the extra intensity and depth of flavor.

The good news is that if you can’t get a hold of the dried chiles, or you don’t have the time, canned red chile sauce works fine as a base for this sauce. Red chile enchilada sauce works too, though you may need to add some chili powder to it to increase the heat. In any case you are going to pump up the sauce a bit with ground cloves, cinnamon, and cumin.

The sauce is slightly acidic. So, as with marinating chicken overnight with yogurt or buttermilk, a long marinating time in this sauce will help the chicken be surprisingly moist and tender.

This recipes is adapted and inspired by Diana Kennedy’s Barbacoa de Pollo in The Art of Mexican Cooking.


  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts, preferably thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
  • Salt
  • 1 1/4 cup Mexican red chili sauce, either homemade* or canned (if you are gluten intolerant and are using canned chili sauce, make sure to read the ingredients on the can, some makers put wheat products in their sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • A couple of turns on a black pepper grinder
  • A pinch of dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic


  • Avocado slices
  • Thinly sliced lettuce or cabbage
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Cilantro

* To make your own homemade sauce, take 2 ancho and 2 guajillo chiles, open them up, remove the stems, seeds, and ribs. Lightly toast the chiles on a medium griddle or cast iron pan for a minute or two, flattening them down with a metal spatula. Place the chiles in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let soak for 10-15 minutes, until chiles are softened. Place chiles, 1 1/4 cup of the soaking water, 1 clove of garlic, a pinch of salt, in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. Put mixture through a strainer to strain out any solids. Proceed with the recipe, but don’t add any more garlic to the sauce.

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