El Pollo Loco Chicken (Copycat)

El Pollo Loco Chicken marinated in citrus and pineapple juice overnight for the PERFECT El Pollo Loco copycat recipe!

El Pollo Loco Chicken marinated in citrus and pineapple juice overnight for the PERFECT El Pollo Loco copycat recipe!El Pollo Loco Chicken is hard to describe if you’re not local to the restaurant. There is a definite citrus flavor, but there is also a definite brick chicken quality to it. I used to watch them cook the chicken on my lunch hour while waiting for my food, I’d see them put a metal press on top of it. While you don’t HAVE to do this, it is the best way to get a delicious crispy skin on the chicken.

And if you’re an old school El Pollo Loco Chicken lover like I am, pair this with El Pollo Loco BBQ Black Beans (Copycat) for the perfect meal!

The perfect El Pollo Loco Chicken copycat recipe, marinaded in citrus and spices overnight.

Looking for more copycat Mexican recipes?

Or perhaps you want more chicken copycat recipes!

Some important notes about this El Pollo Loco Chicken:

  • Yes, El Pollo Loco uses food coloring. They do it to make the chicken look better. This adds nothing to the flavor so I left it out but notated it into the recipe for you.
  • They marinade the chicken for an extended period of time. That is why there is so much flavor in the chicken without any sauce! The flavors are similar to this Slow Cooker Cuban Mojo Pork.
  • Yes, you can and should make this in the slow cooker too! I do it all the time. When done I just crisp under the broiler for a minute then shred into tacos. Tastes like chicken carnitas.
  • You can cook it through on your stovetop too if you don’t want to bake, but careful you don’t burn the skin too much. The flavor of the pressed crispy skin is vital to el pollo loco.

Tools Used in making this El Pollo Loco Chicken recipe:
Grill Pan: Love this for cooking and pressing foods, the grill marks are great without having to go outside and be in nature. 🙂
Grill Press: I use this for bacon, chicken, stuffed foods, rolled foods, etc. A great kitchen tool.
Pig Tail Flipper: I use this to flip the chicken without damaging the skin and its super easy. I use this tool EVERY time I cook something that requires flipping, it is amazing.

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El Pollo Loco Chicken (Copycat)

El Pollo Loco Chicken marinated in citrus and pineapple juice overnight for the PERFECT El Pollo Loco copycat recipe!  
Yield 8 Servings
Prep Time 8 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 8 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Author Sabrina Snyder


  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 jalapeno seeded and minced very finely
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 chicken thighs bone in and skin on


  • Mix up all the ingredients except for the chicken into a large bowl.
  • Whisk well then reserve ¼ cup of the marinade in a small tupperware.
  • Add the chicken to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  • Marinade overnight.
  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a cast iron grill pan add the chicken skin side up.
  • Cook in the oven for 25 minutes.
  • Using potholders, add the pan to the stovetop on medium high heat.
  • Spray some foil with canola oil spray and put sprayed side down over the top of the chicken.
  • Press onto the meat with either a bacon press, a foil wrapped brick or a second heavy pan (I used my normal cast iron skillet on top of the chicken.
  • Spoon half the reserved marinade over the chicken while it cooks.
  • Cook for another 3 minutes then remove the bacon press/brick, flip chicken (add some more marinade) and cook a final three minutes before serving.


In the authentic recipe yellow food coloring is added. This adds nothing to your dish, but if you want to add it, use 6 drops.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 281kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 110mg | Sodium: 233mg | Potassium: 270mg | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 90IU | Vitamin C: 4.9mg | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 0.9mg
Keyword: El Pollo Loco Chiken (Copycat)
The perfect El Pollo Loco Chicken copycat recipe, marinaded in citrus and spices overnight.
El Pollo Loco Chicken marinated in citrus and pineapple juice overnight for the PERFECT El Pollo Loco copycat recipe!

About the Author: Sabrina Snyder

Sabrina is a professionally trained Private Chef of over 10 years with ServSafe Manager certification in food safety. She creates all the recipes here on Dinner, then Dessert, fueled in no small part by her love for bacon.

Sabrina Snyder is a professionally trained personal and private chef of over 10 years who is the creator and developer of all the recipes on Dinner, then Dessert.

She is also the author of the upcoming cookbook: Dinner, then Dessert – Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5 or 7 Ingredients which is being published by Harper Collins.

She started Dinner, then Dessert as a business in her office as a lunch service for her coworkers who admired her lunches before going to culinary school and becoming a full time personal chef and private chef.

As a personal chef Sabrina would cook for families one day a week and cook their entire week of dinners. All grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning was done along with instructions on reheating. As a private chef she cooked for private parties and cooked in family homes in the evenings for families on a nightly basis after working as a personal chef during the day.

Sabrina has been certified as a ServSafe Manager since 2007 and was a longstanding member of the USPCA Personal Chef Association including being on the board of the Washington DC Chapter of Chefs in the US Personal Chef Association when they won Chapter of the year.

As a member of the community of food website creators Sabrina Snyder has spoken at many conferences regarding her experiences as a food writer including the Indulge Food Conference, Everything Food Conference, Haven Food Conference and IACP Annual Food Professionals Conference.

Sabrina lives with her family in sunny California.

Dinner, then Dessert, Inc. owns the copyright on all images and text and does not allow for its original recipes and pictures to be reproduced anywhere other than at this site unless authorization is given. If you enjoyed the recipe and would like to publish it on your own site, please re-write it in your own words, and link back to my site and recipe page. Read my disclosure and copyright policy. This post may contain affiliate links.


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  1. Hi I have watched many videos on trying to make this delicious chicken. I saw where they said don’t use the yellow food coloring. Instead use saffron instead but only use a couple of pieces. Just wondering because I now reside in Ohio and a lot of places don’t carry saffron.

    1. Hi it’s actually Annatto powder which gives it a yellow orange color. You can find it in Latin markets and in some Asian markets. It doesn’t have a flavor it’s just for color. Hope this helps.

    2. I made this recipe last night and used approximately table spoon of tumeric powder instead. Whenever a recipe calls for yellow coloring, I use tumeric powder. Got it at Costco.

  2. Can I get slow cooker instructions, you say you should do it in the slow cooker didn’t provide recipe. Thank you

  3. Does not taste like el pollo loco or eve close…very bland. Also the cook time is not long enough for the chicken to be tender. Sorry, but not worth the effort; might work better with boneless chicken but the flavor needs a boost

  4. As a formar grill master at pollo loco btw I didn’t know anything about grilling and for some reason the chicken always came out good this recipe is not even close to pollo loco chicken they marinate there meat in a tumbler with only spices.

  5. We tried this tonight. I was excited because the recipe was highly rated, but I didn’t read the comments first. I should have. Though the chicken has a good flavor, it is not even close to El Pollo Loco. The recipe name needs to be changed to pineapple/Hawaiian/tropical/Caribbean or something along those lines.

  6. I use to go to El Pollo Loco in San Diego a lot and you could see the chicken marinating in the Big drums ……I never saw Pineapple in the Mix only Oranges and Limes for the Fruit and I think it’s Tumeric that gives it the Exact Color Not Food Coloring I don’t think it would Stain the Color into the chicken like the Tumeric does so well. Just my Thoughts ……. I always go for your Recipes and check them out ….you are an accomplished Chef Thank You for all you share with us it’s Greatly Appreciated

  7. I had 12 bone-in chicken thighs, so I did a 1.5X recipe for the marinade, followed exactly otherwise. Grilled it (like they do at El Pollo Loco) instead of cooked in the oven and on stovetop. This tasted nothing at all like El Pollo Loco. However, it was absolutely delicious. I basted with the reserved marinade and the pineapple juice nicely caramelized on the chicken, giving it a really sweet-tasting char. Cut all the meat off the bone and chopped up for tacos al carbon with onions, cilantro, and pico de gallo. Excellent!

  8. You should know Sabrina that a website called Cooking Frog copied your blog post on El Pollo Loco word for word and posted it as his own.

  9. This doesn’t make sense. The El Pollo Loco chicken is cooked over open flames. Your recipe is for baked chicken.

    1. Grilling the chicken totally works, when I made the recipe it ends in the grill pan being pressed down for the same flavors of el pollo loco without the grill. If you want to use a press on a grill it would be great too!

  10. So disappointing. I used to live in California and had the real El Pollo Loco, my favorite fast food chicken. I’ve been searching for a good copycat recipe ever since I moved out of state. This tastes nothing like the real thing. It was bland and tough even though I followed the recipe exactly.

    1. I’ve been trying to recreate this recipe myself after eating it at Pollo Chicken in Santa Clara Ca.

      I found the identical tasting ingredient and it is called. Chef Meritto Chicken Pollo Spice Mix. It also works great as a seasoning on fried corn tortilla chips.

      The spice mix can be ordered through Amazon, but it maybe in your local Food Max store in the spice rack by the butcher counter. They seem to like to hide his spices since they use it in the marinated chicken they sell.

      But I am still trying to duplicate the recipe from scratch.

    2. It was tough because you shouldn’t marinate chicken with an acidic marinade for more than 30 minutes, let alone overnight. Even knowing that, I tried it as written. I think if you shortened the time marinating to 30 minutes and maybe doubled the salt it would be a lot better.

  11. I made this recipe today and it’s delicious!! Of course is not going to be exactly like El Pollo Loco that’s why is a “Copycat recipe” for the ones Whining about it!
    Thank you for sharing this recipe!

  12. Tried this recipe tonight, it was good, but not El Pollo Loco… Thank you for doing what you do though, just because it wasn’t what I or others thought or maybe expected it to be is no reason to verbally attack you or anyone who takes time to put together and post recipes for us to try. Thank you again.

  13. This exact recipe has been floating around the internet for at least the last 10 years so I hope you are not claiming it as your own. While it does create a decent pollo asado it in no way, shape or form replicates the El Pollo Loco recipe. I spent a year trying to convince myself that it was close after 10 or 15 attempts. But whenever I would have the real thing thing I had to be honest with myself. Some folks who claim to have worked there mention lots more garlic or rubbing with pineapple butter. If you research Sinaloan or Sonoran pollo asado you’ll see there are other herbs and spices used and probably another citrus. I am surprised no one has nailed this one yet. Other Pollo Loco copycat recipes out there (salsa aguacate and their black beans) are much closer to the real thing.

  14. Wow, no, no, no, you didn’t. Man, is this awesome to see this recipe on your site. It’s like Christmas a few days early !!!

    I know I keep begging you for a replica of Luby’s Fried Cheesecake with strawberry glazing. But, I am glad that you are showing us how to make this. I go to Pollo Loco pretty frequently, and they are actually affordable in Houston, Texas.

    But, anyway, I am so glad you shared this recipe. You are one of my favorite chefs, and anything that I have made of yours has been good — if I did it right. Again, thank you

  15. followed the recipe to a tee and it didn’t taste ANYTHING like El Pollo Loco! My guests still said it was flavorful, but not the flavor we were expecting. Very disappointed. ??

  16. Thank you for this recipe!..I drove a truck late 80’s-early 90’s and was in California every week..always found my way to one of the El Pollo Locos..they had the best chicken on the west coast in my opinion..Wish we had these on the East Coast ..where Im living…I can still smell that chicken cooking on the huge grill they used…

    1. We had them in Florida over probably 15 years ago and I loved it but it didn’t make it. Don’t you always say to yourself, I would have gone there a lot more if I knew they were closing!

  17. I grew up in Southern California and Pollo Loco has been a staple for us for many, many years. Although this chicken tasted good (not great) and smelled terrific while cooking, it just did not taste like El Pollo Loco chicken AT ALL. I was very hopeful and saw all of the five star ratings… I should have looked closer at the comments – I don’t know why people give five stars for recipes they haven’t even tried… A comment like “looks great” or “I love copycat recipes” is not really saying anything about why a recipe is worthy of five stars. If this were just a recipe for chicken I would have given it 3 stars but as a copycat recipe I would give it zero stars. Therefore, the two stars is where I landed. The pictures on your site are gorgeous and I am looking forward to trying more of your recipes. Thanks for posting.

      1. I wondered about that, especially with the inclusion of yellow coloring. Annatto would be the coloring in the anchiote paste or powder. It’s cheap and found in the Mexican food section! 😀

  18. Has anyone actually made this recipe? I did actually made this, marinaded over night and the chicken dissolved while cooking.. had to throw the whole thing out… probably should only marinate for 2 hours max.

    1. Oh no! It sounds like the bromelain in the pineapple juice broke down the chicken. My pineapple juice wasn’t fresh so that’s why I didn’t have an issue. Next time, you can microwave the juice and then allow it to cool back down before using. Hope this helps!

  19. The directions were a bit confusing to me? It said to preheat oven but not when to put chicken in the oven? Then said to spray foil with canola spray & place brick on the chicken then put 1/2 the remaining marinade on. How is that possible if the foil & brick is in the chicken? I’m going to give it a go and pray it works ???

    1. Hopfully I can help clear up any confusion. You’ll be placing the chicken in the oven to cook for 25 minutes (step 7). When it’s time to spoon on marinade, simply lift the brick or whatever the heavy item it is that’s on it and spoon it on. Place the brick back down onto the chicken. I hope this helps and that you enjoy it!

  20. This recipe sounds amazing, I will definitely be making this in the near future. I too thought to add turmeric to the marinade in order to achieve the yellow color to the chicken. If you don’t add too much it shouldn’t change the flavor of the chicken.

  21. Best marinade I ever used. The large, 5 lb. cut up bird that was marinated overnight was destined for the barbeque . 2 1/2 hours with charcoal at 300° produced what Pollo Loco wishes they were making. Incredible is all I can say.
    And for those who wonder why marinated chicken with yellow food dye looks better it’s because that’s how wood fired cooking makes meat look. Pollo Loco uses gas fired grills so the color is added.

  22. El Pollo Loco came to Norfolk, VA, and just when we had fallen in love with it, it closed. Thank you for sharing this recipe; I can’t wait to make it.

  23. I am attempting to make  this for tomorrow Memorial Day dinner, its marinating I’m the fridge now , can’t wait to try. I know it will make me feel at home again seeing that I live in Texas now 

  24. OMG!! You have made mine and my husband’s food wishes come true!! We no longer live in So-Cal(Washingtonian’s now) and missed El Pollo Loco chicken! Can’t wait to try this!!

    1. Not without cooking it first to kill any of the bacteria in it. Sorry for the delay this comment got caught in the spam filter.

  25. Tasty recipe. Thanks. Just one wee little critique. You are correct that you make marinade to put the chicken in, but you put it in the fridge to marinate. Marinade = noun, marinate = verb

    1. Everybody loves a grammar nazi, because it is so vital to the recipe right? Sheesh. Lighten up. This site and the recipes are great, why be a debbie downer? Rebeckah G Watkins you must be an English teacher.

      No matter how it is spelled, or whether your chicken is marinating or still in the marinade, the recipe is good!

    2. Becky, why be that way to others? That’s just rotten nasty behavior. Do you feel superior when you put others down? Or feel fantastic?

  26. I notice the use of food coloring — not in the original. It used “Azafran en bolitas” and not food coloring. Azafran is also one ingredient used in Mexican Chicken and Rice…

  27. I made it with skinless, boneless chicken breast and it was great.  Not a ton of flavor, but still flavorable and worth making again.  I also bbq’d it on a grill.  

    1. I don’t recommend it because they skin is what keeps the chicken moist. If you know that going in, you could definitely try it.

  28. That chicken looks AMAZING!! We’ll be trying it soon…never had the other version. We don’t have that restaurant here.

  29. This will be the first time trying this for me. That crispy outside is making my mouth water!

    1. Sabrina,
      This was excellent! El Pollo Loco or not . My family raved about it ! There was nothing left over this evening !
      Cheers and Thank you

      1. I just cooked this recipe on thinly sliced chicken breast. I like cutting it up and adding to salads throughout the week. Love the flavor. We have a pollo loco two blocks away but they never have chicken ready and want to make you wait 20 minutes. Thank you chef for this recipe!