Chipotle Just Debuted Chicken Al Pastor—But Is It Healthy?

Discover how this protein stacks up to steak, pork, plant-based and other chicken options on the menu.

While we have more plant-based protein choices than ever and there's a growing interest in beyond-meat options, 80 percent of those surveyed in June 2022 by the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences say they still turn to poultry, fish and seafood, pork and beef as their main sources of protein. And as far as those animal sources go, chicken reigns supreme. According to estimates from the USDA, the average American consumes about 102 pounds of chicken per year. That's about twice as much as the amount of beef and pork we eat, and more than five times(!) more than we eat of turkey and fish or seafood.

With the OG white meat still the most popular protein in the country, it's no surprise that restaurant brands are seeking new ways to showcase it—while still spicing things up. Joining classic chicken and the new-for-2022 spice-coated pollo asado, fast-casual brand Chipotle announced on March 14 that they'll now be offering chicken al pastor on the menu.

"It's got this fire marinade that has the right amount of heat balanced with a splash of pineapple, fresh lime and cilantro," says Chipotle's social media team in a recent Instagram post.

The "fire" marinade is a mix of Chipotle's signature adobo, morita peppers, ground achiote and pineapple juice. The Chipotle menu describes the chicken as "juicy and aromatic with slightly smoky notes and a hint of fruitiness that evokes the flavor of traditional al pastor."

You can now choose chicken al pastor as part of any burrito, burrito bowl, lifestyle bowl (which can be customized to be "plant-powered," high in protein, balanced in macronutrients, loaded with veggies and more), salad, quesadilla or order of tacos.

a photo of a Chipotle storefront
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So why this recipe, and why now? Chris Brandt, Chipotle's chief marketing officer, says in a press release: "Guests are looking to restaurants for unique menu items they cannot make at home, and al pastor has been gaining mass appeal in recent years. We've put our own spicy spin on al pastor [which is typically made with pork] with our freshly grilled chicken."

(Before we go any further, if you're looking for something even closer to the classic al pastor, you might want to try our Pork and Pineapple Tacos or Grilled Pork Chops with Chile and Pineapple for dinner this week.)

So Is Chipotle's Chicken Al Pastor Healthy?

According to Chipotle's nutrition calculator, each 4-ounce serving of chicken al pastor has:

  • 200 calories
  • 11 grams of fat
  • 3 grams of saturated fat
  • 4 grams of carbs
  • 23 grams of protein
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 2 gram of added sugar
  • 820 milligrams of sodium

Compared to your other protein options at Chipotle, chicken al pastor falls right in the middle regarding two features we often peek at: calories and protein. For reference, your other choices range from garlic guajillo steak at 250 calories and 27 grams of protein to plant-based sofritos at 150 calories and 8 grams of protein.

Chicken al pastor does stand out—and not in the best way—in terms of one other feature: sodium. This is actually the highest-sodium protein on the Chipotle menu, and delivers more than one-third of the 2,300 milligrams of sodium you should aim to consume in a day, per the current 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (BTW, if you have high blood pressure or have risk factors for heart disease, you might want to aim for closer to 1,500 milligrams per day, the American Heart Association recommends.)

The Bottom Line

If you're craving these zesty flavors and the rest of your day's menu is fairly low in sodium, there's no need to sweat over choosing Chipotle's chicken al pastor. It's low in added sugar and is a quick and easy way to amp up the protein in your entree. Just keep that factor in mind as you're planning the rest of your meals and snacks; perhaps consider sprinkling in some of these low-sodium foods or low-sodium dinner recipes.

Have a bit of extra time and up for a little DIY? Try our Chipotle Chicken Quinoa Burrito Bowl, Vegetarian Black Bean and Quinoa Burrito Bowls, Jackfruit Barbacoa Burrito Bowls or Adobo Flank Steak Tacos for a similar flavor experience at home—and in a way that allows you to save some money and sodium all at once.

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