El Pollo Loco Chicken (Copycat)

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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)

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


  • 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


Note: click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.

  1. Mix up all the ingredients except for the chicken into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk well then reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade in a small tupperware.
  3. Add the chicken to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  4. Marinade overnight.
  5. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  6. In a cast iron grill pan add the chicken skin side up.
  7. Cook for 25 minutes.
  8. Using potholders, add the pan to the stovetop on medium high heat.
  9. Spray some foil with canola oil spray and put sprayed side down over the top of the chicken.
  10. 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.
  11. Spoon half the reserved marinade over the chicken while it cooks.
  12. 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.

Recipe Notes

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.

Nutrition Information

Yield: 8 Servings, Amount per serving: 189 calories, Serving Size: 1 , Calories: 189g

All images and text © for Dinner, then Dessert, Inc.

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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!

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Chicken Copycat Recipes Main Course Main Dishes Meat & Seafood Recipe

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

    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.

  2. 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.  

    Rating: 5
  3. 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…

  4. 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!

  5. 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!!

  6. 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 

    Rating: 5
  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    Rating: 5
  9. 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.