Pit-Barbecued or Grilled Chicken

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Chilapa, Guerrero Inspired by a Recipe of Senorita Carmen Villalba There are some recipes that stick in your mind even after a cursory glance, and this is one of them. I read about it three years ago, and yet it stuck with me, reminiscent of a dish I had eaten years before in Guerrero. In this case, barbacoa refers to pit barbecuing, the original method of simple country cooking in Guerrero and many other regions, although the recipe says it should be steamed or baked in the oven. I did both, and then I grilled the chicken, which was the most successful of all. Since I am fortunate enough to have access to avocado and banana leaves the year round in my garden, I served the grilled chicken on a bed of slightly singed and smoking avocado leaves and let the guests help themselves to the toppings.(see Notes) Start the Day Before 

NotesIf you don’t have the fancy leaves on hand and want to bake or steam the seasoned chicken, just use cooking parchment to wrap the meat. But if you can get hold of, or store up, a few dry avocado leaves, they do add a very special flavor.

I have used my own special way of baking the chicken; I personally prefer not to steam it. Steaming does not imitate the action of a pit barbecue, as most of the flavor drops back into the water, while in the barbecue the condensed, sealed steam drops back onto the meat.

Serves6 to 8

Cooking Methodbaking, grilling, steaming



Total Timea day or more

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free



Taste and Texturemeaty, savory, smoky, spiced


  • 6 chiles anchos
  • 6 chiles guajillos
  • 1¼ cups (315 ml) water, approximately
  • ½ cup (125 ml) vinegar
  • 6 whole cloves, crushed
  • 8 whole allspice, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • 2 peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 1-inch (2.5 cm) cinnamon stick, broken up
  • 2 teaspoons (or to taste) sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil, lard, or chicken fat
  • 1 large chicken (about 3½ to 4 pounds; 1.5 to 2 kg), cut into serving pieces


  1. Baking

  2. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Prepare and wrap the chicken in the same way as for steaming. Place in one layer in a casserole with ½ cup (125 ml) of water in the bottom. Cover with a lid or more banana leaves and bake for about 30 minutes. Increase heat to 375°F (190°C), turn the package over to baste, and return to the oven, uncovered, and bake until tender-about 20 minutes.

  3. To Serve

  4. If the grilling method is used, cover grilled chicken lavishly with the toppings, If the chicken is steamed or baked and covered with the leaves (see Notes), open up packages and cover meat with toppings. Atternately pass toppings for diners to serve themselves.


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