The best Chipotle Rice copycat recipe

When you're eating a burrito, it's hard to call rice the star. After all, it's mostly there to act as a filler — rice is inexpensive, so loading up on it is a great way to save money. That said, rice can be boring, especially if you don't add any flavoring ingredients. That's what makes Chipotle's famous cilantro lime rice so good: Their soft, fluffy rice is perfectly chewy without any trace of stickiness, the lime juice gives it a delightfully tangy flavor, and the cilantro lends a burst of herbaceous notes. It pairs perfectly with the intense flavors of Chipotle's spicy salsas, charred fajita vegetables, or spiced meats. If you're hoping to replicate it at home, you'll want to take care; that rice makes up about half of your wrap or burrito bowl, so the flavor has to be spot-on.

How do they make something as simple as white rice so exciting? It's all about choosing the right type of rice and treating it in a specific way before it gets cooked. Then, all you need are a few flavoring ingredients and you can make a rice that tastes almost exactly like Chipotle cilantro lime rice at home. Will it taste as good as the original? Read on to find out!

Gather your ingredients for perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe

The first step to creating the perfect Chipotle rice copycat recipe was determining the ingredients. While Chipotle doesn't exactly make the ingredients or their quantities public,  they do go into enough detail on their website that we could easily figure it out. They confirm that they steam the rice with bay leaves to add an "herbal fragrance" to the dish. Then, the rice is seasoned with lime and lemon juices and tossed with cilantro. When it comes to rice, they talked about how longer grains are firmer and fluffier, which is why they use long-grain white rice.

Then, we just had to put together the final pieces of the puzzle. We confirmed from their allergen statement that it was both vegetarian and vegan, so that ruled out the addition of chicken broth or butter. We were certain the rice contained some type of oil to add flavor to the grains, so we read their write-up about rice bran oil, the primary cooking oil at Chipotle. They use it to cook vegetables and meat, but they also use it "to season our rice," so we added it to our list. From there, we added in a pinch of kosher salt to bring all the other flavors together, and our ingredients list was complete.

For a full list of ingredients, including quantities and step-by-step cooking instructions, check out the directions at the end of this article.

Should you use a rice cooker to make perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe

According to Redditors, Chipotle uses a massive 55 to 60 cup rice cooker to make their cilantro lime rice. While you likely won't have access to a commercial rice cooker like this, that doesn't mean you can't use a rice cooker; there are several smaller models that work perfectly for home cooks. If you have one on hand, we absolutely recommend using it. 

Rice cookers automatically turn off when the rice is finished cooking because of built-in temperature sensors. CNET breaks down the science of how these rice cookers work by explaining that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (at sea level), but steam is significantly hotter. When the rice absorbs all the water in the bowl, the temperature inside the bowl will increase and the rice cooker will shut off.

You can absolutely cook rice for Chipotle's cilantro lime rice on the stovetop, but you'll want to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn. Burning the bottom of the rice will certainly affect the flavor of your copycat Chipotle rice.You can make a lot of things in a rice cooker, too (other than rice, of course), so it's worth picking one up if you cook a lot of rice, quinoa, or steamed vegetables.

What type of rice can you use for perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe?

There are several different types of rice, so you might be wondering which type of rice we chose for our copycat Chipotle cilantro lime rice recipe. We went with white long-grain rice because it's the type that Chipotle uses in their restaurants. You can certainly make some ingredient swaps if you don't have that type of rice on hand (or, if you want to make the brown rice version of Chipotle rice), but there are a few things to keep in mind.

According to the Whole Grains Council, long-grain rice is the best rice to use if you're looking for fluffy rice because the grains stay separate instead of sticking together. This mostly contributes to the rice's texture, so if you swap in medium- or short-grain rice, your Chipotle rice will be softer and stickier. If you want to use long-grain basmati rice, the dish will be more fragrant, with floral and nutty notes. Finally, using a brown rice variety to replicate Chipotle's cilantro lime brown rice means you'll need to increase the water to 2-1/2 cups of water for every cup of rice. Brown rice takes longer to cook, too, so plan ahead for 40 to 50 minutes of cooking time instead of 15 minutes.

Why rice bran oil is important for making Chipotle rice

Most copycat Chipotle rice recipes call for the addition of olive oil, but we found out that the only oil Chipotle uses is rice bran oil. In fact, people claiming to be Chipotle employees on Reddit have claimed that using olive oil on the rice just won't work as well. That's because the rice bran oil is incredibly light with a slightly nutty flavor, but overall it has an almost undetectable flavor. It's the perfect ingredient to add mouthfeel to the rice without overpowering it with an oily taste. As a bonus, rice bran oil has also been touted as one of the world's healthiest oils, containing zero trans fats and a handful of vitamins and antioxidants.

Unfortunately, rice bran oil isn't necessarily easy to find. We went to several grocery stores in our area, and none of them carried the oil. On the bright side, rice bran oil is widely available from online retailers. If you can't wait for the product to be delivered, go ahead and use olive oil for this recipe. Just keep in mind it will taste a little heavier with a stronger flavor.

The first step for perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe is rinsing the rice

Now that we've reviewed all the ingredients, it's time to get started making the rice. Many copycat recipes start with toasting the rice kernels in oil, but we're not going to do that. While it may add nutty flavor to the rice, it's not strictly authentic; a Redditor that used to work at Chipotle confirmed that there is "no saute involved." 

We're not just going to plop the rice into the rice cooker, though. Skipping the rinsing step on rice is one of those mistakes everyone makes when cooking rice. Why is this a necessary step? According to Cook's Illustrated, rinsing long-grain white rice is the best way to ensure the grains turn out separate and distinct because it removes the excess starch from the outside of the grains. That means the rice will be fluffy and light instead of sticky and creamy. 

You can certainly rinse the rice in a large bowl, and you can even soak it for a few minutes if you want to conserve water. The fastest — and easiest way — to rinse rice is to place it in a strainer under cold running water. After a minute or two, the water will run clear and the rice is ready to cook.

Place the ingredients in the rice cooker for perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe

Now that the excess starch has been rinsed from the rice, it's time to get cooking. Place the rice, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of the rice bran oil, and the water in the bowl of the rice cooker (or, a medium-sized saucepan if you're using the stovetop cooking method). The bay leaf isn't a crucially important ingredient, but it does infuse the rice with an herbal fragrance, so we recommend adding it if you want the rice to turn out as authentic as possible. From here, turn on the rice cooker and let it do its thing, For stovetop cooking, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and cover the pot until the rice has absorbed all the water, about 12 to 15 minutes.

You might be wondering why we didn't add all the oil during this step, and why we didn't add any salt and oil during this step. It is common to add these types of ingredients prior to cooking the rice, but we confirmed on Reddit that Chipotle adds them at the end. Employees have commented that oil is added "in increments, not just all off the top," and the salt is added "afterwards during the mixing process, not just to the water." 

Once cooked, add the oil and let the copycat Chipotle Rice rest for 10 minutes

This is the hardest part of this recipe: Standing by while the rice rests. It doesn't seem like a crucial element, but it really makes all the difference, so conjure up all the patience you can and wait for at least 10 minutes before serving your Chipotle cilantro lime rice. If you skip this step, you may end up with clumps of rice instead of singular grains. That's not a terrible thing, but it certainly won't have the same texture as Chipotle rice.

You see, long-grain white rice is the type of rice that contains the most amylose, a starch in rice that doesn't thicken and gelatinize as it rests. Adding the oil and letting the rice sit, without stirring, gives those starches the opportunity to relax, resulting in fluffy, light grains that have the best possible texture. This rest time also allows the rice molecules to absorb additional moisture as they continue to steam. 

Finish the Chipotle Rice with salt, cilantro, and citrus juice

Now that you've conjured up as much patience as possible to let the rice rest, it's time to finish it off. A Redditor that works at Chipotle recommends mixing in the salt a little at a time. At Chipotle, they cook 30 cups of rice at a time, so they season with a teaspoon at a time. At home, you'll likely need less than one teaspoon total! We recommend adding half the salt, stirring gently, and tasting the rice. If you think it needs a little more salt, add the remaining salt.

This is also the time to mix in the finely chopped cilantro and citrus juice. Be sure to chop the cilantro as finely as possible with a sharp knife. The more finely it's chopped, the better it will integrate into the rice as you stir. When it comes to the citrus juice, Chipotle actually uses a product called "citrus juice," but at home you'll make this by mixing together equal parts lime and lemon juice — a teaspoon of each gives the rice a bright flavor with an appealing tang, but feel free to adjust for your taste. Freshly squeezed juice has the best flavor, so avoid the bottled products if possible. 

Ways to serve perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe

Now that the rice is complete, it's time to enjoy it. Our favorite way to eat Chipotle cilantro lime rice is to wrap it up into a burrito or make a tasty burrito bowl. These dishes are both super easy to put together at home, and for a fraction of the cost of take-out from Chipotle. Start by making your favorite copycat Chipotle recipes, like their grilled chicken, barbacoa shredded beef, or tasty pork carnitas. You can even make non-Chipotle items, like battered fish or grilled shrimp. If you're going for a vegetarian bowl, make a batch of beans (either by opening a store-bought can or soaking and cooking dried beans) and cook up some fajita vegetables.

From there, it's all about the toppings. Cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole are all classic, but feel free to think outside the box. Try topping your rice with vegetables like charred corn or sauteed zucchini, and get playful with the sauces. Infusing a store-bought dressing like ranch with chipotle peppers is an easy way to add an extraordinary amount of flavor to your rice bowl, but you can also make a variety of traditional salsas, from roasted tomatillo, to mango or pineapple. The possibilities are endless!

How close did we get to the original Chipotle cilantro lime rice?

All in all, we were pretty darn close. The texture of the rice was spot-on. Between rinsing the rice and letting it steam for 10 minutes after cooking it, our grains were fluffy, light, and didn't stick together. It worked well when wrapped up in a tortilla to make a burrito, and it was equally effective sans tortilla in a burrito bowl. Nailing the texture was a big win, so we were pretty stoked to see this turned out the way we wanted it to.

When it came to flavor, we were slightly off. Our rice had the right amount of herbaceous flavor from the cilantro, and the rice bran oil added the perfect level of flavor and mouthfeel. Just under a teaspoon of salt seemed to be the right amount to make our rice flavorful but not too salty. Where we faltered was the lemon and lime juice. As we mentioned previously, Chipotle uses a bottled product called "citrus juice," which we believed was equal parts lemon and lime juice. Our rice was a touch tangier than we'd like, so next time we'll either reduce the amount of citrus juice altogether or try playing around with the ratio. We suspect that increasing the lime juice and decreasing the lemon juice might get us there. That said, our rice still tasted absolutely delicious, and we look forward to using this recipe over and over again.

Perfect Chipotle Rice copycat recipe directions

Prep time: 5 minutes 

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed**
  • 2 cups water**
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon rice bran oil (or olive oil)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro 
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice

**If using a rice cooker, use the manufacturer's measuring equipment for both rice and water

Directions:

  1. Place the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse it with cold water for a minute or two, until the water runs clear. Drain the rice well.
  2. If you're using a rice cooker, measure the rice and water using the manufacturer's measuring equipment. Place the rinsed rice, water, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of the rice bran oil in the rice cooker and turn it on. 
  3. If you're using the stovetop, place the rinsed rice, water, and bay leaf in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing it to a simmer. Cover the rice and cook, covered, for 12 to 15 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all the water.
  4. When the rice is finished cooking, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of rice bran oil to the pot without stirring. Replace the cover and let the rice rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the salt, cilantro, lime juice, and lemon juice and stir the rice using a fork. Add additional salt, if desired.