Slices of grilled Achiote Chicken from Yucatan.


Grilled Achiote Chicken has a unique, earthy taste that must be experienced to be believed. It’s a traditional Yucatan dish known as Pollo Pibil; pollo means chicken and pibil means pit-roasted. In my kitchen we call it Pollo Pibil just because it’s fun to say and we love it!

Achiote paste is the secret ingredient and it can be used as both a seasoning and marinade. It’s made from the hard red seeds of the annatto tree and is used in Mexican and South American dishes. The seeds are crushed into a powder then made into a paste by adding vinegar, herbs and spices. The dry paste dissolves in liquid and gives a vibrant red colour to whatever you’re cooking. If you’re adventurous I recommend you find some.

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Grilled Achiote Chicken, a Yucatan specialty.

Menus for Entertaining

One of my entertaining tips for less stress in the kitchen is to create and save an entire menu. That’s what I did with this chicken recipe. I pretty much always serve it with this exact menu because it is a magical combination of flavours. I’ve also got at least ten different appetizers or salads to choose from if I want to add one.

Coming up with a menu for entertaining takes time and people often tell me they aren’t good at it. You probably want a delicious meal, something a little more special than an everyday dinner, but not so much work that you dread having friends over. By creating seasonal menus you always have something different to make and if you love your menu you don’t mind making the same meal for two different crowds.

This menu was created after a trip to New Mexico many years ago. We fell in love with Southwestern cuisine in general but were specifically introduced to the the unique flavours of achiote paste. After eating a fabulous meal at Cafe Pasqual’s we bought their cookbook, Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe. That book inspired me to make many dishes and this menu has stood the test of time in our house. I look forward to making it for friends every year in spring, summer or fall.

Buying Achiote Paste

Packaged as an orange-hued, claylike brick achiote paste is packed in a small box and can be found at Latin American markets. The La Perla Del Mayab is the only brand of achiote paste I’ve ever bought and it’s gluten free (at the time of writing).

Get The Tools – Grilled Achiote Chicken

If you haven’t heard of reusable grilling sheets yet look for them. Mine is a Cookina Reusable Grilling Sheet and it protects your food from cross contact with gluten but perfectly cooks anything and still gives food the grill marks you want. You can cut grilling sheets into the sizes you need, send them with kids to a barbecue and carry them to use on public grills at campsites and parks. If you’re interested in more uses checkout my post, Reusable Grilling Sheets.

Let me know in the comments below if you tried achiote paste and if you made this Grilled Achiote Chicken.

More Recipes Using Achiote Paste

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Grilled Achiote Chicken

Grilled Achiote Chicken is a traditional Yucatan dish that has a unique, earthy taste that must be experienced to be believed.
Author: Cinde Little
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Grilled Achiote Chicken
Servings: 6 people



  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • inches cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp whole cloves
  • tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 oz achiote paste* (about ⅓ of a 3.5 oz box)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ½ Tbsp dried marjoram
  • ¼ cup olive oil


  • 6 chicken breast halves



  • Dry roast the cumin, cinnamon and cloves in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Shake the pan frequently, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour into a spice grinder and let it cool for a few minutes.
  • Add black peppercorns and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
  • Combine remaining marinade ingredients in a food processor or blender crumbling the achiote paste with your fingers. Add spice powder. Blend until smooth.
  • Pour marinade over chicken and allow to marinate for 24 hours.


  • Preheat barbecue. Remove chicken from marinade.
  • Grill, turning once, until chicken is juicy but cooked through, about 7 minutes per side.
  • Remove from grill and let rest for a few minutes. Thinly slice chicken and lay it on top of the saffron rice. Serve with balsamic marinated vegetables.


*Achiote paste can be used as both a seasoning and marinade. It's made from the hard red seeds of the annatto tree and is used in Mexican and South American dishes. The dry paste dissolves in liquid and gives a vibrant red colour to whatever you're cooking. It is a claylike brick sold in a small box at Latin American and Mexican shops. 
This is a sensational summer menu worth repeating for all the different groups of people you cook for. No one will be disappointed!
Grilled Achiote Chicken with Balsamic Marinated Vegetables and Saffron Rice. with  Aztec Chocolate Ice Cream for dessert.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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