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As soon as I spy those sizzling bacon-topped chicken breasts on the menu, I know exactly what I’m ordering at Chili’s. Their signature Monterey Chicken is one of my all-time favorite entrees. That irresistible combination of juicy chicken, melted cheese, crispy bacon, and zesty barbecue sauce delivers on all levels.
The tender chicken breasts get a quick sear for flavor before being finished in the oven under a blanket of gooey Monterey Jack cheese. Each creamy, cheesy bite is punctuated by bits of smoky bacon. Then it’s all brought together with a generous brushing of sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.
I’ve been craving this dish at home, so I came up with my own easy recipe to recreate the flavors.
Now I can enjoy this Chili’s classic any night of the week without leaving my kitchen.
Monterey chicken is thought to have originated in California in the 1960s. Its name comes from Monterey Jack cheese, a key ingredient in the dish. While restaurants like Chili’s have made it famous on their menus, it’s easy to make this irresistible chicken yourself at home. I’ve experimented to come up with my own take on this classic that truly satisfies.
Why You’ll Love Monterey Chicken
It’s incredibly versatile. You can bake, grill, or cook it in a skillet. I’ve even used it in quesadillas, tacos, casseroles, and more.
It’s a crowd-pleaser. With its addictive taste and texture, this dish satisfies all preferences. The bold flavors and easy prep also make it perfect for entertaining.
You can prepare it fast. Thanks to quick-cooking boneless chicken breasts, this entire entrée comes together in just 30 minutes or less.
Bacon makes it even better. Crisp, salty bacon crumbles add fantastic texture and porky flavor. I’ll never say no to more bacon!
The sauce is rich, creamy, and packed with flavor. Ooey melted cheese, tangy lemon, and fresh parsley make it irresistible.
It’s budget-friendly. Chicken and pantry staples like broth and cream of chicken soup keep costs down.
You can prepare the sauce ahead of time. Get that step done in advance for quicker weeknight dinners.
It’s family-friendly. With its mild spice level, kids will happily devour this chicken.
Customize with your favorite add-ins. Try peppers, onions, mushrooms, or other veggies you enjoy.
It’s endlessly adaptable. Change up the cheese, sauce, or mix-ins to customize Monterey Chicken to your liking.
It’s a delicious restaurant at home. Now you can enjoy Chili’s-worthy flavor using your own fresh ingredients.
Leftovers heat up nicely. Enjoy any leftovers the next day for easy meals on the go.
Tips for Making the Best Monterey Chicken
- Choose evenly sized chicken breasts for even cooking. Pound thicker pieces to an even thickness.
- Allow the chicken to marinate in the sauce mixture for extra flavor. Even 20-30 minutes makes a difference.
- Don’t overcook the chicken. Cook just until juices run clear to keep it tender and juicy.
- Use good melting cheeses like Monterey jack, cheddar, pepper jack, etc. Avoid low-fat options.
- Use high quality bacon for the best texture and flavor.
- Make extra sauce. You’ll want it for dipping cooked chicken or drizzling on tacos or rice.
- Serve over rice, with tortillas or taco shells, or on top of pasta or mashed potatoes.
- Garnish with extras like sour cream, guacamole, crushed tortilla chips, or pico de gallo.
- Broil at the end for extra crispy, melted cheese.
- Serve with onion rings or fries to complete the Chili’s experience!
The Key Ingredients
I prefer using boneless, skinless chicken breasts for ease of cooking and serving. Choose breasts of similar size and pound any thick pieces to an even thickness so they cook evenly.
Bacon is non-negotiable! Good quality, thick-cut bacon will crisp up the best in the oven. I cook the bacon first in a skillet for control, then top the chicken.
Monterey Jack Cheese
Though you could use any melting cheese, Monterey Jack complements the other flavors perfectly while providing that essential gooey, cheesy experience. Mild cheddar also works well.
Classic sweet and tangy barbecue sauce mimics the Chili’s original flavor, but feel free to get creative. Buffalo, ranch, teriyaki, or your favorite sauce would all be delicious.
Fresh green onions add a pop of color, crunch, and mild onion flavor. If you don’t have them, regular onions or chives work too.
How to Make Monterey Chicken
Prepare the Chicken
Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Cook the Chicken
In an oiled skillet over medium-high heat, cook the chicken breasts for 5-7 minutes per side until browned and cooked through.
Cook the Bacon
While chicken is cooking, fry bacon strips in another skillet until crispy. Drain on paper towels.
Top and Bake
Brush each chicken breast with barbecue sauce. Top with crumbled bacon and shredded cheese. Bake at 400°F for 5-7 minutes until the cheese melts.
Finish and Serve
Garnish Monterey Chicken with chopped green onions. Enjoy!
What to Serve with Monterey Chicken
- steamed broccoli
- roasted potatoes
- rice pilaf or risotto
- crisp green salad
- warm cornbread
- mac and cheese
- french fries or tater tots
- baked beans
- Use chicken tenders or boneless thighs instead of breasts.
- Try pepper jack, cheddar, or Mexican blend cheese.
- Swap barbecue sauce for buffalo, ranch, teriyaki, etc.
- Use chopped chives instead of green onions.
- Try crispy pancetta instead of bacon.
FAQs About Making Monterey Chicken
What’s the difference between Monterey Chicken and Chicken Monterey?
Monterey Chicken was created and popularized by Chili’s restaurants, featuring chicken topped with bacon, cheese, and barbecue sauce. Chicken Monterey is another American dish made with chicken, ham, cheese, and mushrooms in a cream sauce.
What can I serve monterey chicken over?
Rice or pasta make excellent bases. You can also pile it into tortillas or taco shells. Or just eat it on its own!
Can I make Monterey Chicken on the grill?
Absolutely! Grill the chicken over direct heat until cooked through, then move to indirect heat. Top with cheese, cover, and grill until melted. Add bacon and sauce at the end.
What’s the best cheese for Monterey Chicken?
The original uses Monterey Jack, but any good melting cheese works well. I also like pepper jack or a Mexican blend. Mild cheddar is always a sure bet.
Can I use chicken thighs instead?
Chicken thighs work wonderfully, especially for their extra juiciness. Cook them a few minutes longer than breasts. Chicken tenders are also excellent.
Should I bake or broil the Monterey Chicken?
Baking allows the cheese to melt gradually without burning. For extra crispy bacon and cheese, pop it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes at the end. Watch closely to avoid burning.
What sides go well with it?
Rice, beans, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, quesadillas, and salad are all great options.
How long does the sauce keep?
Store leftover sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat gently before using.
Can I prepare the dish ahead of time?
Yes, you can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead. Marinate the chicken 12-24 hours in advance too.
Can I freeze monterey chicken?
The cooked chicken freezes well for 2-3 months. The sauce can also be frozen but its texture may change.
Monterrey Chicken Quesadillas
- Large skillet
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Mixing bowls
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (1.5-2 lbs)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 slices bacon
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Season chicken all over with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- In a skillet, cook chicken in oil over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, 5-7 minutes per side.
- Meanwhile, cook bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels.
- Arrange chicken in a baking dish and brush with barbecue sauce. Top with bacon and cheese.
- Bake for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted.
- Garnish with green onions before serving.