Chili Lime Chicken (an easy wet rub with big flavor)


When it comes to food preparation, I sometimes worry that I do too much for my kids. Most mornings, I have breakfast ready for them instead of letting them fend for themselves, and I see only occasional flickers of wanting to learn even the most basic tasks such as frying an egg or cooking pasta. Even brownies don’t reel them in!

When it comes to breakfast, I do this partially because I think they’ll start their day on a healthier note. Also, I really enjoy a hearty, ready-to-go breakfast, and it would be inconsiderate to make something just for me, right? Of course, there’s also this little job of mine that pretty much assures that I will be doing the lion’s share of the food prep no matter what time of day.

A recent letter from camp from my 13-year-old son, however, offered a glimmer of hope. Perhaps he won’t live alone in an apartment someday existing on boxed cereal and Ramen noodles alone. Perhaps the tiniest interest in cooking has rubbed off.

The letter detailed an overnight camping trip where my son’s cabin group grilled hamburgers over the campfire. There was extensive detail regarding the juicy, tender burgers—with a not-so-modest mention that they likely tasted better because he built the fire and did most of the cooking. Lest all the awesomeness be in the meat patty alone, he grilled the buns over the open flame to make them crispy. It’s all about texture, you know.

No campout would be complete without s’mores, but as it turned out, the graham crackers got smashed in a fellow camper’s backpack. Undeterred, they made a sundae of sorts with the toasted marshmallows, melted chocolate, and graham cracker crumbs. Apparently, it was divine.

While a diet of burgers and s’mores will not set my son up for a lifetime of stellar health, I was happy that he wanted to be a part of the preparation process and found enjoyment in sitting down with his counselors and friends, savoring the food they had eagerly prepared. To me, the biggest reward in the process of cooking is the prospect of gathering around the table and enjoying a meal with those whom I love. Amidst sports practices, meetings, and homework, this is often the only time in the course of the day that we truly slow down and catch up.

The following recipe is one that my sons could someday read and easily prepare for their family or friends. (And I hope they do!)  The fantastic flavor imparted by the wet rub makes this chicken a favorite in our house, and the short list of spices can be mixed well in advance. The creamy sauce adds a special touch but the unadorned chicken absolutely holds its own. Consider cooking enough chicken to have leftovers; the bright flavor will perk up a variety of south-of-the-border and Asian recipes…and will make quick work of next week’s recipe!

Chili Lime Chicken
Yields 4 servings.
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  1. 4 boneless chicken breasts halves* (approximately 2 pounds)
  2. 2 teaspoons chili powder
  3. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 1 teaspoon smoked paprika**
  5. 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  6. 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  7. 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  8. 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  9. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  10. 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice and the zest of 1 lime
  11. 1 teaspoon honey
  12. Optional: Chipotle Lime Crema and/or lime wedges for garnish or squeezing
  1. In a bowl that is large enough to fit the chicken or in a zipper-top bag, mix the dry spices (chili powder through cayenne pepper), and then stir in the oil, lime juice, zest, and honey. Add the chicken breasts, and flip them a few times to evenly coat in the spice rub. Time permitting, allow the chicken to marinate all day or overnight. The chicken will still taste delicious if marinated for a shorter time–aim for at least an hour or two–but the flavor will improve with time. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to grilling.
  2. Preheat the grill and remove the chicken from the marinade. There won’t be much excess marinade, but you can discard what remains. Cook the chicken over medium heat for 7-8 minutes per side, depending on thickness, or until the chicken is just cooked through (internal temperature should read 170 degrees F with a quick read thermometer). As an option, lightly coat a large skillet with oil, and place over medium to medium-high heat. Cook the chicken breast halves for 5 minutes per side, or until the meat is no longer pink in the center. (The chicken can also be cut into bite-size pieces and stir-fried.) Remove from the heat and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before cutting. Garnish with lime slices if desired.
  1. *Boneless, skin-on chicken is a great option for grilling, if available. Even if you prefer not to eat the skin, it will help the chicken retain moisture while cooking. Boneless, skinless breasts are a fine option, too. For evenly cooked, juicy chicken, you may wish to pound the breasts so they are roughly 1/2-inch thick throughout.
  2. ** If you aren’t familiar with smoked paprika and are willing to try a new spice, I highly recommend it. Smoked paprika is the Spanish relative of the more commonly used sweet Hungarian paprika. Its incredible flavor and deep red color comes from pimiento peppers that have been dried, smoked over an oak fire, and ground into a fine powder. Though traditionally used in chorizo and some paella dishes, its smoky (though not spicy-hot) flavor complements a wide variety of foods like potatoes, tomato-based soups and stews, ribs, chicken, fish, eggs, and more. McCormick’s offers smoked paprika, and it can be purchased online through Penzeys. Locally, small quantities may be purchased at The Herb Shop at Lancaster Central Market.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen
Chili Lime Chicken -- an easy, flavor-packed wet rub

The Chipotle Lime Crema is optional…but an easy and tasty option!

Chipotle Lime Crema

I like to make extra chicken for use another night in this recipe for flavorful and super-easy burrito bowls.

Chili Lime Chicken is perfect as is or for use in burrito bowls and more

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  1. Beverley

    I did all the cooking in my kitchen while my boys were growing up. I was surprised as to how they must of been watching me because when they left home to go to University their culinary skills were awesome. They cook healthy nutritious food which not only tastes great but looks great too. Wait and see and let me know that this will also happen to you. Your boys have a great teacher Ann. love you lots xoxo

    1. Ann

      Beverley, you have a way of saying just the right thing! I love that your boys were quietly observing and enjoy cooking as adults. I am hopeful. : ) We will have fun comparing notes years from now. You’re the best! xoxo

  2. Dale

    My mother went back to work Fulltime when I was in kindergarten. As a result, it was one of my chores to cook the family dinners.

    Prior to this I had often helped my mother cook, bake and can food so it wasn’t a big stretch.

    At age 7, a neighbor called me to see if I would make a birthday cake for her 5 year old son. It was my first cake sale of many to come over the years.

    Funny thing is my sister is two years older but never learned to cook until she was out of the house and living on her own when she was forced to learn.

    1. Ann

      What a great story, Dale. I can only imagine how proud you were to make that cake for your neighbor as a seven-year-old. Impressive! Thanks so much for your comment and the inspiration!

  3. Jen G.

    SOOO flavorful!!! I made this for my family and then used the leftover for your burrito bowls. Also used for fajitas making extra marinade to toss with the pepper and onion mixture. Grill the chicken, sauté or grill the veggies….awesome!!

  4. Pingback: The Fountain Avenue Kitchen – Easy Chicken Burrito Bowls

  5. Jenn

    I had to share that I made your chili lime chicken and horseradish carrots the other night for dinner … FANTASTIC!!! Carrots were even better cold the next day. I always enjoy checking out and trying your recipes.