Pollo Tropical is a delicious restaurant in Florida that specializes in Cuban cuisine. One of their most popular menu items is an amazing citrus marinaded, grilled chicken dish served with rice, black beans, and plantains.
The chefs at Pollo Tropical use their own special recipe for the marinade to give it a zesty zing! I’ve tried to replicate those flavors here with pantry staples and ingredients that are easy to get at your grocery store.
In this post, I’ll share my quick and easy take on Pollo Tropical’s secret recipe so you can make your own Cuban-style, citrus grilled chicken dish at home. I hope I’ve taken their recipe and translated it for home cooks who like simple recipes.
This Pollo Tropical copycat recipe for grilled chicken is easy to make. And it tastes so similar to what you get in the restaurant. The original recipe includes “bitter orange juice”. My substitute for the sour orange juice comes from the freezer section of your grocery store.
This recipe is a great way to try the delicious taste of Pollo Tropical without leaving your kitchen.
The chicken should be marinated for at least 45 minutes before grilling. Still, I’ve marinated it for 20 minutes and also overnight and not really noticed a difference.
Once cooked, top the chicken with the remaining marinade. Make sure to boil! After you bring it to a boil, lower the cooking temp and reduced it to a tart and flavorful citrus sauce. Typically you’d never serve a sauce that has touched raw chicken. However, once properly cooked, it will be as safe to eat as the chicken itself.
Side Dish Ideas
I serve this with a quick side dish of black beans and white rice. Season it with sauteed onion and green peppers. Use more garlic, oregano, and cumin to mirror the “Cuban trinity” that’s also in the marinade for the chicken.
I’ve made this recipe at least three times this summer and it’s great no matter how much I change it from this tested recipe. You can cook the chicken on the stove or in the oven, but the very best way is on an outdoor grill. That unique grilled flavor cannot be duplicated or replaced.
We love this grilled chicken and we know you will too! It’s easy, healthy, flavorful – it has everything you’re looking for in a dinner dish.
Recipe Ingredient Tips and Tricks
I use a can of frozen orange-pineapple concentrate. You could substitute frozen orange concentrate, in which case I would add in more fresh lime juice for tartness. Also, you can substitute equal parts of orange juice and pineapple juice. I would try one cup of refrigerated orange juice and one cup pineapple juice. Bottle juice works, but the citrus flavor is less intense and the sauce will be thinner unless you reduce it more at the end.
Fresh lime juice is a must. There’s no equivalent substitution for the unique flavor that’s as good. In an absolute emergency you could use bottled lemon or lime juice, or even a little vinegar, but don’t @ me. The sour ingredient is necessary, but the fresh lime juice elevates the whole dish.
Kick it up a notch with fresh lime zest (just the green part) into the marinade. Also, add zest into any rice you serve on the side. It adds so much fresh flavor. Don’t zest far into the white inner peel, the pith. It’s bitter and you won’t like it.
I used dry herbs and that’s what my measurements are for. Also, I used fresh garlic minced from about two garlic cloves, but you can use minced jarred garlic in the same amount (or more; never limit your garlic). You could use garlic powder in a pinch, but the amount is between you and your palate.
This recipe uses boneless skinless chicken thighs. They stay moist and juicy no matter what and are very forgiving for beginning cooks. If you substitute for a different cut of chicken, you’ll have to adjust the cooking time.
While the chicken is on the grill, put the remaining marinade in a saucepan. Start it on medium-high heat, bring it to a boil, then reduce it to low heat. Stir frequently until it’s reduced and thickened.
For boneless skinless chicken breasts, I recommend splitting or butterflying them so they cook quickly and completely without drying out. Cooking chicken breast on the grill is a dangerous game where you teeter between raw in the middle and dry as dust.
Preheat your grill so it’s very hot when you first start grilling the chicken. You can adjust the heat, but starting with a hot grill gives you the best grill marks and so much flavor.
Don’t poke or press the chicken on the grill. Once you remove the chicken from the grill let it sit on a clean plate or cutting board for about ten minutes. Resting the cooked meat keeps it juicy.
Protect yourself from foodborne illness. Wash your hands frequently when handling raw meat. Don’t reuse plates, utensils, or tongs on cooked meat if they’ve come into contact with raw meat or marinade.
You can increase the amount of chicken in this recipe as long as there’s enough marinade to cover it. This is a great chicken recipe to scale up for a barbeque or for plenty of leftovers. It’s a big hit with my family and I think your people will like it too.
8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
I can frozen orange pineapple juice concentrate
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 Tablespoon dried ground cumin
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of half a fresh lime, about 2 Tablespoons
2 Tablespoons of oil like olive oil, canola oil, etc.
If you need more dinner ideas, check out this Easy, Skinny Rosemary Chicken recipe.