Chicken Pibil main


Pollo Pibil

Last December, Daniel and I went to Yucatán. I was swept off my feet by the grandiose nature and history of the old Haciendas, but mostly by the uniqueness of the cuisine. It stands out from the rest of the country; with its aromatic, pungent, citrus flavors, charred and toasted ingredients and elements not found anywhere else.

Since at the Institute we established topics for the 2009 program in January and I left Yucatán as a December closing session, by the time class came around I was desperate to share these flavors. What a tortuous self imposed wait!

Of course Pollo Pibil had to be included, as it is one of the most loved dishes of the area. The rest of the menu was built around: Dzotobi-chay tamales, Mexican avocado soup, strained beans, a yellow rice, and old fashioned flan for dessert.

Chicken Pibil 1(One of the views inside of Hacienda San José)

Pollo Pibil is made with one of the pillars of Yucatecan cuisine, recado rojo or achiote paste,  which can now be found in many stores or online. If you walk into any market in Yucatán, you will see countless stands boasting colorful mountains of the main recados or pastes: black or chilmole, brown or de bistek, green or pepita and red or achiote.

The word Recado translates to message. In a way, each of the recados has a unique combination of ingredients, which makes a distinct bouillon of sorts, that translates a particular message of flavors into the dishes it is being used in.

They will sell you as much as you want...

Chicken Pibil 2

Or have it ready in previously measured bags…

Chicken PIbil 3

A couple of things distinguish anything cooked Pibil style…

First is the marinade. With achiote paste as a base, it has a rusty brick-like color and a pungent and sort of permanent flavor. That’s because of the achiote seeds it is made with. Then the paste is mixed with oregano, cumin, allspice, black pepper, salt and charred garlic; and diluted with bitter orange, which has a peculiar a flavor, quite different from regular oranges.

Since bitter orange can be hard to come by, many cooks have found substitutes such as a mix of orange juice and vinegar or a mix of different citrus juices. After testing for a while in my kitchen, I found the substitute I like the most to be equal parts of grapefruit, orange and lime juices and white distilled vinegar. The marinade is flavorful and aromatic and, as it has a high acidic content, it tenderizes the meat beautifully.

Chicken Pibil 4(A freshly opened bar of achiote paste, posing for my camera so you can take a look)

The second thing that distinguishes a Pibil is the cooking technique, which is what gave it its name. Traditionally, Pibil meats were marinated, wrapped in banana leaves and placed in “Pibs”: roasting pits buried underground layered with stones and pieces of wood. The “Pib” gave the dish a rustic, earthy and ashy feel while the banana leaves infused the meats with a grassy fragrant flavor and kept them moist.

Since it’s not likely that we are going to dig roasting pits on any given workday in our backyards anytime soon, many cooks have tried to find a method that can accomplish similar results.  Some wrap the chicken or meat in leaves and cook it in a steam bath in a large covered pot, while others do the same in the oven.  However, the dish becomes way too juicy and you are missing that earthy, roasted, ashy flavor.  When you cook in an earthen pit, although the chicken is wrapped, the excess moisture escapes through the pit, so the final dish is not that wet.

Here again, restless me, kept testing in the kitchen. And later then, very happy me, found a great and quick method to obtain similar results. First roast the chicken in the oven (detailed recipe below)  for that charred earthen flavor with the plus of nice browned skin and a thickening and seasoning of the marinade. Then bundle with banana leaves (if you have them) and/or aluminum foil to give it that final cooking that will make the meat come off the bones. Chicken Pibil 5

Chicken Pibil is an absolute hit paired with pickled red onions and a fiery and feisty habanero chile sauce. Yes, its spicy, but it is a welcome shock.

Chicken Pibil Style

Pollo Pibil

Recipe Yield

5 to 6 servings

Cooking time

6 hours 10 minutes

Rate this recipe

4 from 6 votes


  • A 5 to 6 pound chicken cut in pieces
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned achiote paste or recado rojo
  • 2 cups of bitter orange juice or substitute (1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup grapefruit juice, 1/2 cup lime juice and 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 5 garlic cloves charred, broiled or toasted and then peeled
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 red onion roughly chopped
  • 2 tomatoes roughly chopped
  • Banana leaves optional

To Prepare

  • To make the marinade, place the achiote paste, bitter orange or its substitute, chicken broth, charred garlic cloves, oregano, cumin, allspice, salt and pepper in the blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
  • Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry. Place in a zip lock bag or container and pour the marinade on top. Make sure all the chicken pieces have been bathed in the marinade. Close or seal the bag or container and place in the refrigerator for 4 to 24 hours. Flip and move around the chicken pieces once or twice along the way.
  • Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Spread the roughly chopped red onion and tomatoes on a large baking dish/pan. Place the chicken pieces on top of that layer and pour the marinade on top, making sure the pieces are not on top of each other. Place in the oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until the skin has nicely browned and crisped.
  • Remove the baking dish from the oven. Flip the chicken pieces to the other side and baste with the marinade. If using banana leaves, wrap them around the chicken making a bundle. Cover the whole baking dish with aluminum foil, securing it around the edges. The less steam that is able to escape, the better.
  • Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish back in the oven and let the chicken bake for about 1 1/2 hours. The chicken should be completely cooked through and almost coming apart from the bones. Remove the baking dish from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Place the chicken on a platter. You may serve whole chicken pieces or remove the meat from the bones. Ladle the remaining sauce into a bowl and either drizzle the sauce over the chicken or serve it on the side. This dish is also delicious with a side of pickled onions and habanero salsa.


50comments inPollo Pibil

  1. Kathleen

    Aug 03

    I used skinless chicken breasts for this recipe. Very good! Breasts don’t need as long to cook. Thirty minutes at 400 deg., then check temperature. You want them at 160 deg. F. If they need more time, cover and cook at 350., checking every 5 – 10 minutes until they reach 160. They will reach the required 165 deg. as they sit a few minutes more out of the oven.

    1. Pati Jinich

      Aug 04

      Great Kathleen, thanks for the feedback 😉

  2. Michelle

    Oct 20

    Hello Pati,
    Is it possible to make pollo Pibil on the stovetop from beginning to end and have similar results as baking in the oven?

    1. Pati Jinich

      Oct 22

      Yes! Here’s the fast-track version, Michelle:

  3. Deborah

    Aug 29

    Hi Pati,
    I have enjoyed your shows on the Yucatan. In 1974, as a new high school grad, I traveled to Merida accompanied by my 14 year old brother. (What was my mother thinking!?) Merida remains exactly as I remember it! One of my fondest memories over these many years has been the Pollo Pibil. Back in the 70s, I could not find a recipe, but thanks to the miracle of Pati and the internet, I have one! Can’t wait to try it. Thank you!

    1. Pati

      Sep 11

      Oh I’m so glad the episodes brought back such good memories for you, Deborah! I hope you love the pollo pibil.

  4. Margo Clarke

    Feb 18

    This was such a great recipe! I actually had sour oranges I was going to compost and they did the trick with the juice of 1 lime. I added roughly chopped green pepper on the base as well to give a bit of extra flavour. I made the pickled onions as well and was so happy I had brought back allspice from St. Lucia as freshly ground was so fragrant. I kept the chicken breasts aside and once cooled, shredded them and strained the onion, tomato and pepper base to top it off in the fridge. The sauce is reserved in another container and along with the pickle will be great on a crusty bun! It couldn’t have turned out any better! Love you and your show. Would be fun to be your sidekick on your trips to Mexico!

    1. Pati

      Feb 19

      So glad you enjoyed it Margo…and if I ever need a sidekick…I’ll let you know 😉

  5. Philomena Ojeda

    Dec 19

    Thank you Pati it’s what I was looking for and it was worth my waiting, I can’t wait to make it. Have a Merry Christmas 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻❤️❤️❤️❤️

    1. Pati

      Dec 19

      Yay! Happy holidays to you too!

  6. Jill Abbott

    Jul 08

    I made this last week and my husband said it was the best chicken dish I’ve ever made and I make a lot of chicken dishes. I had to hunt a little to find the anchiote paste. I did add chipotle in adobo for some heat. Just want to thank you for the recipe and your wonderful exploration of the Yucatan. We are heading back again this fall.

    1. Pati

      Jul 11

      Thank you so much Jill!

  7. Barbara

    May 10

    Hi Pati,
    Since I live out in the country, I can indeed dig a roasting pit in my “backyard”. So how would you make this chicken pibil if you roasted it in a pit? How deep, covered with charcoals, how long, etc? Thank you.

    1. Pati

      May 12

      ​There are tutorials online, good luck Barbara!

  8. Niamh

    Apr 13

    Hi Patti,
    I cannot find any recipe for the avacado spread used with the “Pollo Pibil” sandwich shown on your show along with pickled onions. Would you please share the recipe for the avocado spread. I remember only …ripe avocado and some sort of sour cream??? Thank you

  9. Claudia Musetti

    Apr 08

    Hi Patti,

    I am the type of person that never sits to watch TV, however, I saw your show the other day and I loved it. I definitely will try this recipe as I do enjoy cooking for my family. Can you please post the link for the habanero chile sauce for me?

    Thank you ??

    – Claudia

    1. Pati

      Apr 10

      Claudia thank you for tuning in! I hope you and your family like the chicken and here is the habanero hot sauce:

  10. susan aka kitchenhag

    Apr 03

    Hi Patti,
    I enjoy your show so much! Could I make this in my slow cooker?

    1. Pati

      Apr 07

      Susan, absolutely!

  11. Jasmine Wilson

    Feb 22

    Is there a way to speed the process up on the stovetop? I already have some left over pulled pork and would like to turn it into pibil, how would I go about doing So?

    1. Pati

      Feb 24

      Jasmine…try using the pork with this recipe:

  12. Sandra

    Feb 12

    Could we get the pickled onion recipe that went with the chicken pibil? I love pickled onions and yours sounded and looked delicious.

  13. Meg

    Feb 11

    I have an electric stove so cannot pass the banana leaves through an open flame. Can I microwave the leaves to achieve the same flexibility and enhanced flavor? If that works, how long should I microwave them? Or is there anything else I can do without an open flame to sufficiently heat them up to make pibis? I love, love, love your recipes!

    1. Pati

      Feb 20

      Hola Meg…no worries, then just open them up and let them dry for 10 to 15 minutes. They should be perfectly fine for you to use.

  14. LMK

    Jan 10

    I tried this with skinless chicken breast and I would maybe suggest modifying the roasting step? My chicken ended up dryer than I would have liked, but otherwise the flavor was great. I also made the pickled red onion (super good!) and habenero salsa! Pibil had a unique flavor that I’m glad I tried – I think I’ll make the cochinita next time though when it’s a little further away from New Year’s resolutions 😉

    I was also wondering if this is eaten more with tortillas, bolillos, or rice traditionally? I asked my Mexi novio and he said tortillas and avacados, but he basically eats 7834 avacados a week… so I’m unsure how accurate that advice is

  15. Cortez

    Jan 05

    I tried to make today, but my in laws being from Mexico City, they said it tasted a little bit like medicine? What did I do wrong? I measured everything and did step by step, Thank you so much.

    1. Pati

      Jan 06

      I’m so sorry to hear this!

  16. Gabriel

    Nov 10

    Hola Pati,

    Christina y yo acabamos de cocinar esta receta, esta deliciosa! Y lo acompañamos con tu salsa de chile habanero y cebollitas encurtidas. Buenísimo! Un abrazo.

    Gabriel y Christina

    1. Pati

      Nov 11

      Que gusto Gabriel!! Muchos besos a ti y a Christina y para la próxima nos invitan! Oye: Vamos a SF en diciembre, están ahí por el 2 o 3 de enero?
      Besos! Pati

  17. Magaly Bayonet

    Aug 04

    Gracias por tu programa, es mas que interesante y nos da una prospectiva diferente a la comida Mejicana, yo no es el gran enigma que usaba ser. Me encantantan tus recetas; Muchicimas Gracias y adelante.

    1. Pati

      Aug 05


  18. Kirsten

    Jul 26

    Pati, I enjoy reading your stories & trying your recipes, like a walk through memories of many visits to Mexico & Latin America. I love cooking things in banana leaves, the aroma & flavor they give is like some exotic tea. You do not mention in the directions that the leaves will tear into shreds when you work with them unless they are first “cooked” by slowly drawing them across an open flame until they become flexible & turn a waxy green color. They can also be “cooked” in the microwave for about 1 minute. Thanks.

  19. Jorge

    Jun 16

    Normal oregano makes a decent substitute but I would highly recommend using the Mexican Oregano. Subtle but significant difference in flavor.

    Mexican Oregano – Lippia graveolens
    Oregano spp. – Origanum vulgare

  20. CindyB

    Jan 27

    Pati this recipe sounds soooo delicious. I was wondering if you could use the same recipe to prepare cochinita pibil? I had it once before and would really like to try making it at home. Which cut of pork do you think would be best?

    1. Pati

      Jan 29

      Of course, Cindy!! I recommend using a pork shoulder roast. Please let me know how it turns out.

  21. prisma

    Jan 21

    I have been trying to eat healthier, This might be a silly questions but does anyone know if this would be considered a healthy dish?

    1. Pati

      Jan 23

      Hola Prisma, Yes, I would consider pollo pibil a healthy dish!! You can even make it healthier by using only boneless skinless chicken breasts.

  22. Phil

    Mar 27

    Hi Pati- thanks for the recipe. My wife and I just spent two weeks in Merida and loved the Pollo Pibil at Chaya Maya…we will attempt to recreate with your recipe!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Mar 28

      Hola Phil, hope you and your wife enjoy, and it brings you back to Merida!

  23. Laura

    Dec 10

    Que tal?. Estoy en búsqueda artículos sobre el la alimentación que brinda el pollo como tarea de colegio, seguiré buscando en su web, pero si me pueden decir si escribieron algo más al respecto sería perfecto. Voy a visitar su sitio mas seguido a partir de ahora. Les dejo saludos, y les pregunto de donde son ustedes? Muchas gracias!

  24. Ann

    Jun 26

    I wouldlike to get the recipe for flan mad in the blender

    1. Pati Jinich

      Jun 28

      Hola Ann, here is a link to my recipe for Orange and Almond Flan:
      I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

  25. Tino Juarez

    Dec 20

    Will you be posting the recipe for yellow rice?
    Always looking for a new rice recipe.
    PS love your site!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Dec 20

      Yes! I will be posting it, absolutely. Many thanks, so glad you like it…

  26. Denyse Tannenbaum

    Dec 19

    Every single entry entices me to want to try it! This winter holiday I am making your cake that is a celebration in itself, your pollo pibil, those delicious meatballs? abo…., and a few more, if I don’t get tired of being in the kitchen.
    This is a gorgeous website, and I look forward to reading every new entry.
    Thank you Pati!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Dec 19

      Oh Gosh Denyse!!! You just made me feel like writing 1,000,000 more new entries!!! Thank you so much for such a lovely message…

  27. Tamara

    Dec 18

    So happy you published this recipe!!! I have always wanted to cook this! You forgot to add how yummy this is for a Thanksgiving turkey, mmmmmm.
    I love the photo of the allee of palm trees–unbelievable beautiful.
    Thanks!!! un besote!

    1. Pati Jinich

      Dec 18

      Great!!! Those Yucatan photos were taken by Daniel, I will let him now you liked them, he will be thrilled…

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