This grilled chicken with cilantro crema is a perfect summer meal. With juicy marinated and grilled chicken breast, and a creamy, tangy cilantro crema, it's a delicious and flavorful pairing that's amazing for weeknights or summer cookouts.
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Why You'll Love Grilled Chicken with Cilantro Crema
I am so excited to finally have a little outdoor space where we're able to have a grill. This summer will be filled with everything grilled, from chicken to veggies to dessert. If it can be grilled, it will be.
But you don't need to have an outdoor space to make that a reality. There are plenty of public spaces that have grills available, like parks and swimming pools, where you can meet with friends to grill.
There's also the option to use a grill pan (which I did for the past 10 or so years). I'll provide directions here for a gas grill, a charcoal grill, and a grill pan.
So, why will you love this dish? First, the chicken is incredibly juicy with the browning people love from grilled foods. It's marinated in a super flavorful marinade of tangy lime juice, punchy garlic, and fresh cilantro that's both easy and quick to make.
It's flexible, too. Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes or up to overnight. The lime juice will start to cook the chicken breast at this point, so be sure to keep a close eye on the temperature of the meat when cooking.
Serve this up with your favorite sides and you'll have an incredibly delicious dinner on the table!
What You'll Need for this Grilled Chicken Recipe
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- Chicken Breasts I call for thinly sliced chicken breasts here. If you can't find these, try slicing a larger chicken breast in half lengthwise, or pound your chicken out until it is about half an inch thick.
- Limes You'll need both the juice and the zest in this recipe.
- Cilantro Fresh cilantro adds tons of flavor to the marinade! I would not swap this for dried cilantro.
- Garlic Use fresh garlic for this recipe. If you can't find it, buy some jarred garlic in a container rather than using garlic powder.
- Olive Oil Any quality of olive oil will be appropriate for this recipe. You can also swap in a neutral oil like grapeseed or avocado oil.
- Salt Kosher salt is what I use in my recipes (and for my personal cooking at home). All of my recipes use measurements for kosher salt, so if you're using table salt or sea salt, divide the salt by about half and taste for seasoning once the chicken is cooked.
- Pepper (optional)
Cilantro Lime Crema
- Sour Cream I recommend using full-fat sour cream for this recipe.
- Mayonnaise You can also use 1.5 cups of Mexican crema in place of both the mayo and the sour cream.
- Garlic Fresh garlic is key to this recipe, so don't swap this for garlic powder.
- Fresh Cilantro
- Lime Juice If you're having trouble finding limes for fresh lime juice, you can buy bottled lime juice from most stores.
- Salt My recommendation is always kosher salt when cooking. It is less salty per teaspoon than sea salt or table salt, making it easier to taste as you go and harder to oversalt your food!
How to Make Cilantro Lime Chicken
Step One Mince the garlic for the marinade or grate it into a bowl using a Microplane.
Step Two Finely chop the cilantro.
Step Three Zest the lime into a bowl with the cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and salt.
Step Four Mix well to create the marinade for the chicken.
Step Five Spoon the marinade over the chicken in a gallon plastic bag, ensuring it's evenly coated on both sides, and move the chicken to the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
Step Six Meanwhile, make the cilantro crema using the instructions in the linked post.
Step Seven Once the chicken is done marinating, remove the chicken from the bag and pat it as dry as possible, removing any pieces of garlic and large pieces of cilantro. Discard the remaining marinade.
Step Eight For gas grill Preheat the grill to high heat. Cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 3 minutes per side, covered, or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For charcoal grill Heat the grill to medium heat. Place the chicken on the hot side of the grate and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
For grill pan Heat the grill pan over high heat. Cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 4 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees F.
Step Nine Let the chicken breast rest for 10 minutes.
Step Ten Slice and serve with cilantro crema.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Grilled chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. It should appear to be cooked through and no longer pink in the center, but the meat should instead be glistening and white.
This will depend on the thickness of the chicken and the heat of the grill. If using traditional thick chicken breasts and a charcoal grill, it will take about 9 to 10 minutes in total. If using thin-cut chicken breasts, it will take 6 to 8 minutes in total.
On a gas grill, I recommend using high heat. A thin-cut chicken breast will cook through in about 4 to 6 minutes and a thick-cut chicken breast will cook through in about 8 to 10 minutes. However, this will depend on the overall thickness of the chicken. Be sure to use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness.
Grilled chicken will maintain its moisture better if it has been marinated in a mixture containing salt. This will increase moisture absorption. Also, be sure to watch your chicken closely and remove it from the heat once it has reached 165 degrees F to avoid overcooking and thereby drying it out.
Variations and Substitutions
Different Protein This marinade is also great with seafood, like shrimp, or steak. Steak can marinate for a longer period of time - up to 48 hours - while shrimp should only be marinated for about 30 minutes to an hour.
Spicy You can make this recipe spicy by adding some finely chopped jalapeno pepper or red pepper flakes to the marinade.
Avocado Try adding avocado to your crema for an extra creamy sauce.
Skillet If you don't have access to a grill or a grill pan, cook this chicken up in the skillet! It's just as delicious.
Storing Leftover Chicken with Lime Crema
Fridge Store leftover crema in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. Store leftover grilled chicken for 3 to 4 days, separately, in an airtight container.
Freezer I do not recommend freezing this recipe. The texture of the crema won't be the same when it defrosts.
Reheating Grilled chicken can be reheated in the microwave at 30-second intervals until heated through.
- For a gas grill, closing the lid will increase the temperature on the grill's surface. For a charcoal grill, removing the lid will increase the temperature on the grill's surface. So, to preheat a gas grill, keep the lid closed.
- For perfect grill marks, do not move the chicken around while it is cooking. Cook on one side at a diagonal angle with the grill grates. Then, when ready to flip, just flip once to the opposite side and allow it to cook through.
- If your chicken still needs more seasoning after marinating and cooking, add a pinch of salt. I always recommend tasting a tiny piece of whatever you're going to serve to your guests or family before serving it up to ensure the seasoning is right.
How to Serve this Grilled Chicken with Cilantro Crema Recipe
This grilled chicken dish goes perfectly with a variety of side dishes. Try the suggestions below!
Rice Make some perfectly cooked brown or white rice as a side with this chicken. It's also great with beans!
Tacos Try slicing the chicken or chopping it and serving it with the crema in a taco. Just add some thinly sliced cabbage and a squeeze of lime juice. Or add some fresh pico de gallo!
Salads Add the chicken and a dollop of crema to your favorite salad for a light meal!
Grain Bowls Add grilled chicken to a bowl with chimichurri rice, fresh greens, and sliced cucumbers for an easy make-ahead lunch.
Looking for a cocktail to serve with this summer favorite? Try a delicious blueberry mojito!
More Summer Recipes to Try
Grilled Chicken with Cilantro Crema
- Measuring Cups
- Gas or Charcoal Grill or Grill Pan
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast thin-sliced or pound into ½-inch thickness
- 2 limes juice of, about 4 tablespoons juice
- 1 lime zest of, about 4 teaspoons
- 2 cloves garlic minced or grated
- ½ cup cilantro finely chopped
- ¼ cup olive oil or a neutral oil like avocado or grapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt see note 2
- 1 recipe cilantro lime crema
- Add the minced or grated garlic, finely chopped cilantro, mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, and salt to a bowl. Stir well to combine. You can also add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for a completely smooth crema.
Lime Cilantro Chicken
- Zest the lime into a bowl with the cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. Mix well to create the marinade for the chicken.
- Spoon the marinade over the chicken in a gallon plastic bag, ensuring it's evenly coated on both sides, and move it to the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.
- Once the chicken is done marinating, remove the chicken from the bag and pat as dry as possible, removing any pieces of garlic and large pieces of cilantro. Discard the remaining marinade.
- For gas grill Preheat the grill to high heat. Cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 3 minutes per side, covered, or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.For charcoal grill Heat the grill to medium heat. Place the chicken on the hot side of the grate and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side.For grill pan Heat the grill pan over high heat. Cook the chicken breasts for 2 to 4 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees F.
- Let the chicken breast rest for 10 minutes.
- Slice and serve with cilantro crema.
- This crema recipe will make 12 2-tablespoons servings. You can store the remaining crema in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 5 days.
- If using table salt, sea salt, or another salt that is not kosher salt, reduce the salt by half and taste for seasoning after you have cooked the chicken. Kosher salt is less salty per teaspoon than other types of salt.
- Calories are for 4 ounces chicken breast with 2 tablespoons of crema.
- Fridge Store leftover crema in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. Store leftover grilled chicken for 3 to 4 days, separately, in an airtight container.
- Freezer I do not recommend freezing this recipe. The texture of the crema won't be the same when it defrosts.
- Reheating Grilled chicken can be reheated in the microwave at 30-second intervals until heated through.