Cilantro Lime Marinated Chicken

This cilantro lime marinated chicken recipe makes a dish that is delicious as a light, healthy main course. Cilantro lime chicken also makes the perfect protein in sandwiches, over rice or pasta, in tacos, or to top a power salad. Make a salad that the meat eaters in your house will love!

cilantro lime marinated chicken on black grill pan with lime slices; in background is cutting board with sliced chicken breast

Why marinate chicken in lime juice?

This is one of my favorite chicken marinades. For one thing, citrus juices like lime juice naturally tenderize meat. Lemon, lime, and orange juice are acidic, which makes them ideal for tenderizing tough meats. They also add vitamin C!

The citrus acid breaks down the meat, almost pre-cooking it. You don’t want to break down the meat too much, though, so don’t leave the meat marinating in the fridge for more than 24 hours.

In this cilantro lime marinated chicken, the fresh lime juice makes the chicken super tender. The juice and lime zest also add tangy flavor. 

One of my favorite light, healthy meals: cilantro lime marinated chicken on a power salad.

What else makes this marinade great?

Soy sauce adds salt, and brown sugar adds just enough sweetness. Cayenne pepper adds a little kick. The secret ingredient is liquid smoke: it give it that extra kick for when you’re grilling inside but want that smokey outdoor grilling flavor.

As for garlic–well, fresh garlic makes just about everything better, right? When it’s chopped, garlic releases allicin, a compound that helps fight infections. It may even lower cholesterol and blood pressure. 

TIP: Healthwise, garlic works especially well in a marinade because the allicin content increases if the garlic sits for a while between chopping and eating. The prep for this recipe ensures plenty of time for that.

Of course, one of the star ingredients of a cilantro lime chicken marinade is fresh cilantro, an herb that’s akin to parsley. You may be used to seeing cilantro leaves in Mexican or Tex-Mex recipes. Like garlic, it’s a nutrition powerhouse. Its antioxidants may give it anticancer benefits and help fight inflammation.

Cilantro has a unique flavor, a little subtler than parsley. I think it’s a perfect herb to add to citrus chicken recipes because it has a lemon-peppery flavor.

foreground is cutting board with sliced skinless chicken breast, background is grilled chicken breasts in black pan

What kind of chicken should you use?

Go with free-range meat whenever you can. I like to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this cilantro lime chicken recipe. However, you could also marinate chicken thighs. The chicken breast is better if you’re trying to cut back on calories and saturated fat, but many people just prefer the taste of the dark meat.

There’s no reason you can’t make cilantro lime marinated bone-in chicken, too.

Preparing Cilantro Lime Marinated Chicken

Whisk together the ingredients really well to get the marinade emulsified.

Then slice the chicken breasts horizontally on a cutting board. Check out the video on this page to see how. That gives you more surface area for the cilantro lime marinade to penetrate and tenderize the chicken. The thinner horizontal cut will give you more flavor, too!

Put the chicken in the bowl with the marinade and let it marinate for four hours in the refrigerator.

I start the pan on high heat. Once your pan is very hot, you can turn the heat down to medium and cover the the chicken to cook through evenly. Grill the chicken breasts until the temperature is 155 degrees and then remove them to a plate. They will continue to cook a bit outside the pan to reach 160 degrees.

Slice the chicken breast across the grain into strips. Thanks to the citrus marinade, the meat will be tender and juicy!

cilantro lime marinated chicken on black grill pan with lime slices; in background is cutting board with sliced chicken breast

Cilantro Lime Marinated Chicken

5 from 1 vote
Course Main Course
Cuisine American


  • Juice from 3 limes plus the zest of 2
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped
  • 1/4 soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 4 cloves large garlic finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or boneless skinless chicken thighs


  • In a medium bowl, combine all but the chicken and mix well. Add the chicken and incorporate the brine all around the chicken breasts. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
  • Remove chicken from the refrigerator and heat grill pan or cast iron skillet on high heat. Grill chicken for about 8 minutes on the first side. Turn over and cook for another 5 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Remove chicken to a cutting board and allow to rest for about 10 minutes.
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One Comment

  1. Jody Frank says:

    5 stars
    I made this to put on the power salad. The marinade is great–it made the chicken really tender.

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