Chipotle’s chicken – my son is wild about it & orders the Chicken Burrito every time he goes, which is as often as he can. He isn’t the only one that likes Chipotle: there’s always a line, there are numerous Copycat recipes and a fan site. People are crazy about Chipotle.
I don’t blame them – for fast food, Chipotle uses decent ingredients, spans a wide taste range from mild to hot and delivers a huge, one pound burrito for seven to eight bucks. Think about it, though, that’s seven to eight bucks a pound, which isn’t so cheap, especially when one considers how cheap the ingredients actually are…
Heck, you can have a steak at home for that price! And throw in the sides, too!
Chicken is a reasonably priced ingredient. Beans? Rice? Some of the cheapest foods out there. Cheese, sour cream, even tortillas? Regularly on sale. Pico de Gallo? The fresh ingredients might vary, but a small amount won’t break the bank. I knew I could do better.
I ended up making quite a study of it, this Chipotle Chicken Burrito. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. I just wanted to make a flippin’ burrito for my kid. 🙂 I started around October with a copycat recipe, and disappointed, in the next few weeks, I tried every “tastes just like Chipotle” recipe I could find. None of them did.
It was time to go rogue.
I searched for hints and clues from Chipotle’s site and employees. For months (obsessive much? yeah…) I studied, tasted, and refined, again and again. When I thought I was close, I’d buy a bowl with Chipotle chicken (but to the side so it touched nothing else) and do a side by side tasting, then go back to the whiteboard.
This week, child number 2 finally gave the thumbs up! While my son didn’t mind all that tasting, now that I’m done? I don’t want a burrito or bowl again for a long, long time. And yeah, my friends and family are probably relieved that they don’t have to hear about it anymore and can try it for themselves.
On our last side by side tastings (which we tested a few times just to be sure) my son did think Chipotle’s chicken was still a bit saltier (theirs is very salty.) I thought mine might be still a tiny bit more flavorful – I’m talking flavor, not heat. Chipotle’s chicken is not hot at all and a lot of my experimenting was cutting back on the spiciness. See, I had a preconceived idea of what the chicken should taste like.
Some Chipotle Grills use a flat top and others grill, and each has it’s own distinct flavor. Even on my grill, I couldn’t seem to get mine as smoky as the Chipotle restaurants – maybe a little mesquite on the coals or few drops of liquid smoke in the marinade would do it.
So no wild, self-aggrandizing claims here of “It tastes just like Chipotle.” Just a humble (or not), “This is as close as I can get to Chipotle’s, and I hope ya like it!!” As a matter of fact, I’m pretty darn sure you will!
Chipotle Mexican Grill now has a complete list of every ingredient for every item they sell. That would have saved me a lot of work! I’m not going to alter my recipe to remove the soy or honey or change all the chipotle to a powder. I like it just the way it is.
Taste's like Chicken, Chipotle's Chicken
- 1 pound chicken breast or thighs, boneless, skinless*
- 1 one-inch piece of Chipotle chile, seeds removed, diced and mashed
- 1 tablespoon oil (Chipotle uses Rice Bran oil)
- 1/2 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- scant 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon Chipotle powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- scant 1/8 teaspoon black pepper**
- scant 1/8 teaspoon oregano**
Mix all ingredients in a Ziploc bag, squeezing out excess air. Massage thoroughly into and around chicken. Place in a container in the fridge.
This needs a long marinade process, 12 to 24 hours; I found it perfect if I threw it together the evening before so it was ready about dinner time the next day. A few hours doesn’t cut it. (If you only have a bit of time, use your judgment and go a bit heavier on the spices. It won’t have quite the same subtle flavor as Chipotle, but more spice will help adjust for less time.)
When ready to cook, place chicken on grill or hot skillet over medium-high heat and cook or grill until just done. Remove, rest a few minutes if able, then chop into small pieces. Save chicken and any juices together to make the burritos or bowls.
- You may wonder about the very small amount of the Chipotle Chile from the canned Chipotle in Adobo and the tiny amount of the Chipotle powder. I don’t know what the restaurant actually uses, but I tried many variations of many combinations of the two as well as tried using just one or the other – using both makes it taste more like the restaurant version.
- Vinegar: I found nothing that indicated Chipotle uses vinegar, but Chipotle, but vinegar (standard to an Adobo sauce) adds a little pep that is missing in other home-made versions.
* If the chicken is thick, slice in half horizontally.
**Scant is not used in recipes as often as it used to be; if you’re not familiar with the term it means to slightly short the measurement, but not quite by half. If you don’t have the 1/8th inch measurement, just use a good pinch of the oregano and pepper.
The Rest of the Team:
- 1 can of black beans, doctored with a squeeze of lime, 1//4 teaspoon each of chipotle powder, cumin, onion powder and garlic powder plus a pinch of oregano and pepper. Canned beans, they will probably not need any salt added. Use about 4 ounces per person, so one can is just slightly short – if you want to have the perfect burrito, you’ll need two cans and will have some left over.
- Cilantro Lime Rice. See my post on Cilantro Lime Rice, Instant Pot or Stove-top. Use about 4 ounces, a bit more than 1/2 a cup per burrito.
- Monterrey Jack Cheese, 8 ounces, grated, 1/4 of this per burrito.
- Sour Cream or Crema: If the sour cream is very thick, give it a good stir to loosen it up so that when rolled in the burrito, it has a texture thin enough to ooze throughout. If necessary, you may wish to dilute your sour cream very slightly to get just the right thickness. Chipotle says they use two ounces, but they actually use more. Much more.
- Pico de Gallo, recipe below.
- Tortillas: Costco (of which I’m not a member) is said to have the large tortillas that are very similar to the ones Chipotle uses. I’ve found very large ones at Aldi’s, too.
The texture of the tortilla is very important to a successful burrito. The tortilla should be steamed and soft. I find the easiest method is to wrap several in clean towel, place in the microwave for about ten seconds, turn over and microwave 10 more seconds. Keep wrapped and pull out one at a time.
If the tortillas are dry, wrap loosely in a slightly moist towel. Wet the towel, wring it thoroughly to remove as much moisture as possible, then microwave the tortillas. Don’t leave them in the wet towel when done, fold each into quarters and place, stacked into another towel to keep them moist.
To Assemble and Roll:
The order of the ingredients is very important for a successful roll. The order should be rice, beans on top, but use a slotted spoon to drain off the excess moisture, chicken, salsa, sour cream and then cheese. Place all ingredients, in proper order on the tortilla, but when placing the ingredients, don’t put them in the exact center, but just slightly toward you.
Fold the portion closest to you toward the back while at the same time, tucking in the sides. I’ve found that it takes a deft hand because there are going to need to be a couple of little adjustment tucks as you go. Once the top is over, pull it towards you, pressing down a bit, tightening up the burrito and then finish the roll.
A good tight burrito actually tastes different than a loose one – all the flavors are forced together and meld throughout the burrito.
Wrapping in foil seems to not only keep a mess from happening but also continues to steam the tortilla a bit – and that texture is more important than the type of tortilla used – even a thicker tortilla seems more delicate.
Pico de Gallo
- 2 tomatoes, seeds removed, finely diced
- 1/2 red onion, minced (about 1/2 the volume of the tomatoes)
- 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- juice of 1/2 lime, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
- Chopped cilantro, to taste
- salt to taste
Gently mix ingredients together. Best if it has a bit of time to blend, but begins to deteriorate after a day or so.
Note: I’m not super fond of cilantro, so I used a little green onion, thinly sliced, instead.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! Every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings!
- Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
I have someone waiting for this recipe, so here are the basics!
- Chicken: I never buy full price chicken – it goes on sale too often. Some sales are better than others, but usually every few weeks it will drop to $1.89 a pound, and I stock up then. I prefer bone-in breasts over boneless (see Bone-In Chicken Breasts, How to Deal with in a Frugal Manner) but I’ll buy either bone-in or boneless at this price. I portion the chicken in Ziploc bags, a breast per person for meals and freeze. If breasts are super large, I’ll trim them down to about six ounces and make tenders for the kids or use the bits for stir-fry. Dark meat thighs will cost a bit less. Cost $1.89
- Chipotle: I had some from last time they were on sale – and since every recipe I’ve ever made calls for one or two, I freeze the remainder in a Ziploc. (I do the same with tomato paste, so be sure to label so as not to mix up the two!) I simply open the Ziploc and chop off a chunk of either as needed, and refreeze the rest. They don’t freeze very hard, but you could thaw in the microwave or a bit of hot water if necessary. The cost for a can was $1.10 for 8 ounces. The portion for this recipe is around 6 cents.
Put Your Own Spin on It:
Making these at home allows you to adjust taste and ingredients as well as portion sizes.
Notes on Copykat/Copycat recipes:
This is what I’ve found that might be helpful to other bloggers and home cooks looking to recreate their own ultimate versions of Chipotle’s chicken. Of course, this is all IMHO. Here’s what’s wrong:
Chipotle gave a partial recipe for an Adobo sauce to a reporter for the Huffington Press. It leaves out some of the ingredients:
- The key ingredients for a classic Adobo sauce are missing from the recipe,
- The other ingredients that Chipotle uses in their marinade, as stated many times by Chipotle employees, are missing.
That recipe from the Huff Press has caused many people to buy a can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce, remove most of the peppers, and use the canned adobo sauce left behind along with the ingredients that Chipotle listed in that partial recipe for adobo.
- That makes NO sense because these cooks are doubling down on the adobo: using the canned adobo AND ingredients from a “partial” recipe for adobo.
- Chipotle indicated they were giving a “partial” recipe and these cooks are not adding the missing ingredients from the adobe.
- These cooks also aren’t adding in the other ingredients that employees have stated over and over Chipotle uses in addition to adobo.
- The adobo, while fine for the chipotle peppers inside the can, isn’t something you’d want to eat. Taste it. Is it good? Do you want to eat more? That should be the first clue. Adding a bunch of junk that’s already in there isn’t going to improve it.
- After the chipotle peppers are removed, the sauce amounts to about to about four ounces. Since home cooks are making a pound, maybe 20 ounces of chicken, the proportion of adobe to chicken is way off. Way, way, way off.