There’s no need to wait for Taco Tuesday to enjoy these easy grilled chicken tacos! Chicken thighs are tossed in a tangy cilantro lime marinade, then grilled until charred and juicy. The marinade is fool proof and 100% make ahead for a healthy weeknight dinner the entire family will get all swoony over (yes – kids too!). You’ll have empty plates aplenty when you serve these fast and easy chicken tacos!
No, it’s not Taco Tuesday. It’s Taco Thursday. Because in this house, every day is a good day for tacos.
You too? Excellent. We can totally be foodie BFFs.
I’ve found myself cooking on the grill every chance I get now that the weather is (mostly) warm with (mostly) sunny days. Lemme tell you, that collection of storms that came through last week had me in a serious fit of grilling withdrawal – let’s just say I was not at my most graceful.
But the storms have passed for now, and I get to share this recipe for these crazy flavorful and insanely easy grilled chicken tacos.
These chicken tacos are intensely flavored with lots of lime juice and a double layer of cilantro. The marinade can be made completely in advance and takes just a few minutes to prepare.
Whip it up first thing in the morning before work, and then slap that chicken on the grill when you get home. You’ll be rewarded with tender, juicy grilled chicken for tacos that cooks up in under 15 minutes to crispy, charred perfection.
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Grilled Chicken Tacos Recipe Notes
Oh how I love this recipe!
It’s easy. The cilantro lime marinade is completely foolproof, and incredibly forgiving.
It’s fast. The marinade takes just 5 minutes to prepare, and the chicken thighs cook in under 15 minutes. This is weeknight family dinner at it’s best.
It’s big time flavorful. Tangy lime, bright cilantro, peppery garlic, and adjustable spice to suit whatever palette(s) you need to please.
It’s totally kid friendly. My oldest gobbled up several of these chicken tacos without skipping a beat. Considering he has the palette of a super picky 2-year old, this is such a win for me.
It’s flexible. Make a double or trip batch of these grilled chicken tacos and you’ve got a fast and mostly make-ahead recipe fit for a crowd. Serve it with a variety of toppings (see below for suggestions) at your next party or gathering and you’ll cover almost every dietary restriction and persuasion in attendance.
Cilantro Lime Marinade
This chicken taco marinade comes together in just 5 minutes. Whisk together the juice of 2 limes (about a quarter cup) with a few smashed garlic cloves, a handful of chopped cilantro, a few glugs of olive oil, and some seasoning. Add in the chicken and marinate.
The chicken marinates in as little as 30 minutes, but I prefer several hours (up to 12 in an airtight bag) for best flavor. The lime juice and salt tenderize the chicken, breaking down the fibers, give you super flavorful and crazy juicy chicken. It’s the bomb.
Chicken Thigh vs. Chicken Breast
Boneless skinless is the way to go for obvious reasons, but the choice of chicken thigh or chicken breast is really yours. I personally prefer chicken thighs because they’re a bit fattier (more flavor! and more crispy bits!), more uniform in size (they cook evenly), and when cooking for a crowd, they’re slightly more economical.
You can absolutely use chicken breast, but I suggest the following modifications for best results: (1) pound out the chicken breasts to make them a uniform thickness throughout; (2) double the salt to give them some extra brine, and therefore extra juiciness.
How to Grill Chicken for Chicken Tacos
Look, I know we’ve talked about this before, but guys, I loooooooove my charcoal grill. I made the switch to a Weber Kettle Grill last summer and I’ll never go back to a gas grill.
You really cannot beat the smokey, slightly sweet flavor of grilled chicken on a charcoal grill. The little bits of fat from the chicken and the marinade drip down onto the hot briquettes, where they singe and shoot flavor back up into the chicken. Heaven. On. A. Plate.
But really – enough about my truly deep (and likely weird) obsession with charcoal grilling, because the important thing here is that you make delicious grilled chicken for tacos, and there are other perfectly acceptable ways to travel that road.
A gas grill will get the job done (and done well) as will a grill plate on your stove. If you’re grilling on the stove, I’ll remind you right here to turn on the vent fan because these do smoke up the room.
Chicken thighs grill for 5-6 minutes per side, turning them once. Get ’em nice and crispy on one side, then flip. If the chicken is sticking, it’s not ready to flip. Give it another minute and then try again.
Grill these guys until they reach 160* using an instant read thermometer. Yes, that’s right, I said 160* not 165*. The chicken will continue to cook while it’s resting, and you’ll have a juicer grilled chicken situation by taking them off the grill slightly sooner.
Once they’re cooked, set the chicken thighs onto a cutting board to rest for at least 5 minutes. If you cut into them straight away, they’ll leak that precious moisture all over the cutting board and you’ll be left with flavorful, but super dry chicken. No bueno.
When you’re ready to serve, slice up the chicken into half-inch strips, then give it another squeeze of fresh lime juice and another layer of chopped cilantro.
So. Much. Yums.
Grilled Chicken Taco Toppings and Diet Modifications
You can get a lot topping mileage out of these grilled chicken tacos – they go with just about anything.
Establish your base:
- Corn tortillas for gluten free, flour tortillas for carb loving, or lettuce cups for paleo and grain free
- Sprinkle your shell with shredded red cabbage or romaine lettuce
- Then add a few slices of avocado or a scoop of guacamole
Get your toppings on:
- Diced red onion or pickled red onion
- Queso fresco, cojita, or shredded monterey jack
- Fresh pico de gallo, sliced radishes, or grilled corn
- Sour cream or cilantro lime crema
Once you’ve stuffed that taco, grab that flavor bomb and gobble it up. Then go make another and eat that one too 😀
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Cilantro Lime Chicken and Marinade
- 2 limes juiced (about 1/4 cup), plus additional slices for serving
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- 2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes up to 1 tsp total for additional heat
- 1/2 c chopped cilantro plus additional for serving
- 1/3 c olive oil
- 2 lb boneless skinless chicken thigh
Toppings for Grilled Chicken Tacos
- 1/2 c shredded red cabbage
- 2 avocados sliced
- 1/2 c queso fresco
- 1/2 red onion diced
- 12 corn torillas
- Place the lime juice, smashed garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes, cilantro, and olive oil into a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Add the chicken and toss with tongs to coat. Cover tightly and marinate at least 30 minutes, but preferably 2 hours and up to 8.
- Light a charcoal or gas grill to high heat, or light a grill pan under a high flame. Allow the grill to heat to at least 400* Using tongs, remove the chicken thighs from the marinade and place on the grill. Grill 5-6 minutes per side, flipping once, or until the temperature registers 160* using an instant read thermometer.
- Remove the chicken from the grill, place on a cutting board or platter, loosely tent with foil, and allow to rest at least 5 minutes. The internal temperature should rise to 165* after resting.
- Slice the chicken, then sprinkle with additional lime juice to taste and additional chopped fresh cilantro. Portion into corn tortillas and serve with various suggested toppings. Leftover chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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