Chicken Al Carbón

May 1, 2019 Updated: May 1, 2019

Chicken Al Carbón

A beautiful and delicious dish, chicken al carbón is a whole chicken roasted over the fire. To me, what makes this shine is the extra time it requires to smoke on the grill, which develops a distinctive campfire flavor. The variety of light and dark meat, along with the occasional charred bits of skin, are delicious when rolled up in a tortilla. Served with rice and beans, fresh salsa, and maybe some grilled onions, this is a hands-on family dish, where you pull off the meat and build your own tacos with corn or flour tortillas.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, giblets and excess fat removed
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 (3.5-ounce) packet achiote paste (see Tip)
  • 1 dried ancho chile, stemmed
  • 6 dried chiles de árbol, stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 8 (6-inch) flour tortillas, store-bought or homemade
  • 2 medium onions, cut into thick rings
  • 3 large jalapeño peppers, stemmed and cut in half lengthwise

Place the chicken on a clean work surface, breast-side down. Using kitchen shears, cut lengthwise along both sides of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Remove the backbone and save it for stock or discard. Open the bird like a book, then place it skin-side up. Press down firmly with both hands to flatten the bird.

In a blender, combine the orange juice, lime juice, oil, soy sauce, achiote paste packet, ancho chile, chiles de árbol, garlic, cumin, and salt and purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer 1 cup of the mixture to a large resealable plastic bag. Reserve the remaining sauce. Add the chicken to the bag and move it around to fully coat it in the sauce. Remove as much air as possible and seal. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hours.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 1 hour before grilling to come to room temperature.

Heat a charcoal grill to 400 degrees F, or until the coals are ash-gray and very hot.

Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil. Put them on the grill to warm them through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the chicken, breast-side up, on the hot grill and cook until lightly browned, 15 minutes. Flip the chicken and baste the cooked side with the reserved sauce. Grill for 15 minutes more. Flip the chicken and baste again. Grill for 15 minutes more. Flip the chicken, baste with the remaining sauce, and grill until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to a cutting board, cover, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. (Keep the grill hot.)

Meanwhile, lightly brush the onion rings and jalapeños with oil and season with salt. Grill the vegetables until char marks appear and the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Carve the chicken into 8 pieces and then slice the breasts. Serve family-style with the grilled vegetables and warm tortillas alongside.

Tip: You can find achiote paste in the spice section of most grocery stores or online.

Reprinted with permission from “Tex-Mex Cookbook: Traditions, Innovations, and Comfort Foods from Both Sides of the Border,” by Ford Fry, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Johnny Autry. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.