Tastes like Chicken – Chipotle’s Chicken!

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.

Chipotle's Chicken Burrito Copycat - check out Costco or Aldi for Giant tortillas
Chipotle’s Chicken Burrito Copycat – check out Costco or Aldi for Giant tortillas

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 white board.

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!

Copycat Chipotle's Chicken Bowl - Chop the meat and use dark meat if you'd like
Copycat Chipotle’s Chicken Bowl – Chop the meat and use dark meat if you’d like.

Taste's like Chicken, Chipotle's Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 min + marinade
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 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 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 judgement 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.

Notes:

  • You may wonder about the very small amount of the Chipotle Chile from the canned Chipotle in Adobo and the tiny amount ofthe 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 (even if they claim no MSG) used ingredients that have natural occurring msg. The 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.

from the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

The Rest of the Team:

  • 1 can of black beans, doctored with a bit of cumin and garlic powder to taste, a pinch of oregano and pepper. When using 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.
  • 1 1/2 cups rice, basmati is preferred, cooked as directed on package with the addition of 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of oil added to the rice. When finished, add the zest and juice of 1/2 lime and finely chopped cilantro to taste. (The oil helps distribute the flavor of the lime and cilantro.) Use about 4 ounces, a bit more than 1/2 a cup per burrito.
  • White Cheddar 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 slighty to get just the right thickness. Chipotle’s 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 Tortillas:

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.

Put your ingredients ever so slightly towards the portion of the tortilla closest to you.
Put your ingredients ever so slightly towards the portion of the tortilla closest to you.

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 of 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

  • Servings: abt 1 cup
  • Time: 10 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 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
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Chopped cilantro, to taste
  • salt and pepper 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.

from the kitchen of http://www.frugalhausfrau.com

Classic Pico de Gallo
Classic Pico de Gallo

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • 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.

Strategies Applied:

 I have someone waiting for this recipe, so here’s 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. 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. I like mine with more Chipotle Chili, a bit more vinegar and a lot less salt.

I also like them a bit smaller than the gargantuan Chipotle burritos. I suspect that although the Chipotle nutrition is based on 4 ounces each of chicken, beans and rice, that they actually serve more than that in their burritos.

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 ultimate versions of Chipotle’s chicken – and if any of you feel you can help improve mine, speak up, please! 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 is NOT a full recipe and leaves out some of the ingredients: 1st – the key ingredients for a classic Adobo sauce missing from the recipe and 2nd – the other ingredients in addition to Adobo Sauce that Chipotle uses in their marinade, as stated many times by Chipotle employees.

Keep in mind that Chipotle’s chicken is only very loosely based on the classic adobo sauce in the first place – I’m sure that many Mexican cooks as well as cooks of Mexican food realize this.

  • That has caused many people to buy Chipotle Peppers in Adobo sauce, remove most of the peppers, and use the canned adobo sauce, PLUS add in the ingredients listed on Chipotle’s “partial” recipe for adobo.
  • This makes NO sense because the ingredients in the recipe are already in the canned Adobo sauce. Chipotle stated theirs was a “partial” recipe, and the cooks aren’t adding in the missing ingredients or the other ingredients Chipotle uses as attested to by Chipotle employees. These recipes taste “muddy” and dull and don’t really taste like Chipotle.
  • The canned Adobo, while fine for the chipotle peppers one finds inside the can, isn’t really a sauce that you’d want to eat. Taste it. Is it good? Do you want to eat more? Not really. That should be the first clue. Adding a bunch of junk that’s already in there isn’t going to improve it.
  • The other problem is that the canned adobo sauce, after the chipotle peppers are removed, amounts to about four ounces. Most home cooks are probably making about a pound, maybe 20 ounces of chicken – The proportion of adobe to chicken is way off. Way, way, way off.

A few others have taken a completely different tack – they use fajita or taco seasoning mixes – which is just so not right. I’m not sayin’ it wouldn’t make a good, tasty burrito or bowl. I’m just saying it’s not right to claim it tastes just like Chipotle’s or you’ve recreated Chipotle’s. That’s just a big ol’ fib.

16 thoughts on “Tastes like Chicken – Chipotle’s Chicken!”

  1. I tried this over the weekend and it is delish (I have not tried chicken at Chipotle, so I can’t comment on how “close” it is.) I doubled the recipe, marinaded for 24 hours, then cooked indoors using a grill pan. This is my new “go-to” recipe for any chicken that is needed for a mexican or tex-mex dish. Thank you so much for all the work you put into perfecting this!

  2. I’ve worked at Chipotle for a while, I would say it was damn near dead on to Chipotle’s chicken except even better!

  3. Since you absolutely nailed the chicken… question about the rice – do you add it to the rice cooking liquid or after the rice is cooked?

      1. Definitely not too late on the rice… I’m sure I will make it many times moving forward! I actually squeezed in a combination of lemon, lime, and orange because I read that Chipotle uses a “citrus juice,” and I thought that worked well. Thank you for the advice about the brining… Brining has made an amazing difference in other chicken dishes I’ve made, but next time I’ll just skip that step since there’s already enough salt in the marinade. Makes it even easier! Thank you again for taking the time to come up with such a great recipe!

  4. Oh my god you are a genius. I just made this and it tastes exactly like chipotle’s chicken. I used half breasts, half thighs and marinated for 24 hours. I brined the chicken first and it was a little salty, so I think next time I’ll just leave the salt out of the marinade after brining it. Absolutely amazing recipe. Bravo!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback, Emily! You made my day. I’ve made up my own versions of many meals we’ve eaten out, but this one took a lot of work, so I appreciate the comments! 🙂

    2. I wanted to comment on the brining – since the chicken sits it the salty marinade for quite a while, the marinade actually acts like a brine. If you feel like skipping the brining, I think you’re more than safe here. I’ve started brining more of my chicken for all kinds of recipes, too – I think a lot of restaurants do that and it’s why chicken tastes so much more flavorful when eating at a restaurant – a lot of them also inject with oils, too but I’ve never wanted to take things that far! I don’t need to worry about salt intake though.

    1. Hi Emily, that’s exactly what I used, the canned chipotle in adobo sauce, but I just remove the chilis from the sauce; I don’t make any effort to wipe them clean or anything, just pull them out and use as is. That was a great question and I’ll put a clarification in the recipe. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and letting me know!

      1. Awesome, thanks for the clarification. Just stuck my chicken in to marinate for 24 hours before I cook it tomorrow – can’t wait to try it!

  5. Hi, you wouldn’t believe how many recipes and how long I’ve looked for the Chipotle chicken. This one was so differnt, but I decided to try it anyway and you did it! Wow, better you than me! Plus I’ve been looking at a lot of your recipes. Sorry to comment so much, but it’s like you wrote down all the recipes I want to try! Thanks! And if any body out there wants Chipotlel chicken, this is amazing. I’m pinning!

    1. Thanks much, Bethanie! This was one of the toughest recipes I’ve made, because if I wanted to claim it tasted like Chipotle, I felt it really should taste like it! Plus I started off with a whole different direction – I never would have guessed it was so easy!

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