How Long to Marinate Chicken For the Best-Flavored Meat

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Kaye Published: September 24, 2021 Modified: September 29, 2021
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You can do your weekly meal prep easily with marinated grilled chicken! As long as you know when to start preparing the meat, you’re well on your way to making delicious dishes for yourself and your loved ones. And like how to truss a chicken, knowing how long to marinate chicken is a useful piece of culinary knowledge that you should have, regardless of whether or not you’ll be marinating regularly.

So if you’re interested, continue reading and discover everything about how to marinate chicken. In this article, we also discuss the different types of popular chicken marinades to try, as well as the best chicken marinade recipes that you can easily make at home!

What Is a Chicken Marinade and What Does It Do?

Person marinating pieces of raw chicken

A chicken marinade is a type of seasoning or sauce for chicken that is used to tenderize and give more flavor to the meat before cooking. It’s different from brining which is used for more moisture. Marinades are often made by combining brown sugar, salt, acid, and fats (like olive oil or sesame oil). In addition to that, herbs and spices (like garlic powder and red pepper flakes) are also common for grilled chicken marinade recipes.

There are three main types of chicken marinades. The first one is acidic, which consists of marinades with ingredients like lemon juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, or Worcestershire sauce. The next type is enzymatic wherein the main ingredients in the marinades are honey, mango, papaya, or other non-acidic food. These are the best marinades for chicken if you’re aiming to tenderize the meat. Lastly, you have the dairy marinades which are only mildly acidic. This group consists of buttermilk, yogurt, and the like.

How Long to Marinate Chicken?

If you’re marinating chicken, it’s best to let it sit in the fridge for six hours. This period is long enough for the marinade to tenderize and pack the chicken with flavor, but also short enough so that the meat won’t disintegrate into pieces. However, this may also vary depending on the size of the piece you will be using and which part. So for a summary, refer to the guide below.

Infographic on how to marinate chicken according to the cut of meat

Generally speaking, larger cuts like whole chicken could use more time in the mixture. So, you can let the meat sit for up to 12 hours. Meanwhile, you can marinate chicken wings, thighs, and other bone-in cuts following the standard six-hour rule. Although, you may cut it up to just one hour if you’re short on time. And if you’re wondering, is two hours long enough to marinate chicken? Well, it is if you’re using chicken breasts! For a bone-in grilled chicken breast marinade, one to two hours is best. On the other hand, you can make do with at least 30 minutes for skinless and boneless chicken breasts.

More Tips for Marinating Chicken

Marinated chicken wings, best chicken for grilling

An easy chicken marinade can make your cut of meat extremely flavorful, especially if you know how to properly marinate the meat. Here are some tips to help you out:

Score the Meat Before Marinating

Once you’ve prepared the mixture, do this step for roasted or grilled chicken recipes before marinating the meat. Take your chosen pieces of chicken and carefully poke each one with a fork or score it with a knife. This will allow the sauces and seasonings to seep into the meat better for maximum flavor penetration. These lesions also help evenly cooking the meat. 

Choose the Right Method For Cooking Marinated Chicken

While you can use most cooking methods for this, we recommend using the chicken marinade for grilling, roasting, pan-frying, and other high-heat cooking methods. That’s because these will highlight the flavors of the meat best. After all, who could resist a succulent grilled chicken breast with a charred and caramelized exterior? And if you’re worried about not cooking the chicken thoroughly, you can use a meat thermometer to avoid undercooking or overcooking on the grill or pan.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken?

Sure, it’s best to allow the meat to sit in the marinade for a longer time. But can you marinate chicken too long? The short answer is yes. So, you might also want to know how long is too long when it comes to marinating chicken and how long is it safe to marinate chicken in the fridge

The answer to this largely depends on the part you’ll be working with. For one, you shouldn’t leave dark meat chicken (like legs and thighs) in the marinade for more than 12 hours. Otherwise, the marinade might tenderize the meat too much to the point where it falls apart. On the other hand, you can leave white meat chicken (breast and wings) in the marinade for up to two days. Despite this though, we stand behind most good chicken recipes that recommend a marinating time of 30 minutes to two hours only. Also, keep in mind to never marinate chicken at room temperature as bacteria rapidly grow on raw meat in this condition.

READ ALSO: How Long Does Chicken Last in the Fridge Or Freezer? (Raw and Cooked)

Popular Chicken Marinade Flavors

Grilled chicken

In this section, discover some of the most beloved types of marinade for chicken around the world.

Jerk

Allspice seasoning and Scotch bonnet peppers are at the core of this Caribbean blend. Coupled with a dash of garlic and onion powder, black pepper, and cumin, this is the best grilled chicken marinade to go for if you’re craving something with a kick of heat.

Teriyaki

This is a sweet and tart marinade primarily used in Japanese cuisine. A standard teriyaki chicken sauce recipe consists of soy sauce, sugar or honey, ginger, and rice wine (sake or mirin).

Barbecue

A standard American BBQ chicken marinade or sauce is made with garlic, brown sugar, vinegar, and paprika. With this simple marinade for chicken, your BBQ chicken breast on the grill is sure to have the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and tangy flavor.

Mediterranean

Can’t decide between an Italian or Greek chicken marinade? Try this mixture of classic Mediterranean ingredients. This only calls for olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, and dried peppers.

Tandoori

As one of the more popular Indian chicken marinade recipes, the tandoori mixture that consists of yogurt, garam masala, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and chili powder lends an earthy and spicy taste and a reddish color to the meat.

Lemon Pepper

For a no-fuss meal, this tart grilled chicken seasoning made with lemon juice, vegetable or olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper is perfect.

Red Wine

Mix a bottle of red wine with olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, rosemary, and parsley leaves for a complex-tasting marinade fit for a luxurious evening.

Carne Asada

Give your pieces of chicken a rich and juicy Mexican twist with a carne asada marinade. This consists of orange juice, olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, spices, and herbs.

Herbes de Provence

Combine the herb blend, herbes de Provence, with olive oil and lemon juice for a simple yet reliable marinade that lends a tangy and aromatic quality to pieces of meat.

Italian Dressing

Let pieces of meat sit for a few minutes in a standard mixture of Italian chicken dressing, garlic powder, and salt for a jolting tangy taste that works incredibly well in grilled or roasted dishes.

Best Marinade Recipes to Try

Chicken Fajita Marinade Recipe

For marinades, there are lots of blends to explore. To help you out, we’ve handpicked some of the best chicken recipes with marinades to try. Take your pick from this short selection.

  • Sunshine Chicken in Citrus Marinade – With a unique combo of orange juice and soy sauce, this easy chicken marinade lends a bright and refreshing pop of citrus flavor that caramelizes beautifully on each chicken thigh upon broiling or grilling.
  • Chicken Marinade – This recipe could give most grilled chicken breast recipes a run for their money as it has all the best elements that you’d want from a classic marinade. This blend has the perfect balance of salt and tang that’s just right for meat. This is all thanks to the combination of soy sauce, mustard, and a handful of other ingredients.
  • Chicken Fajita Marinade – With a mixture of lime juice, peppers, and a handful of other spices, this chicken fajita marinade is sure to bring a mouthwatering combo of tart hotness to your chicken pieces.
  • Chicken Kabobs with Lemon Marinade –  This is the best grilled chicken recipe to try as its marinade calls for only five ingredients. Marinate the chicken in the tart lemon-spice mixture before skewering the pieces with the other ingredients for a citrusy flavor boost.
  • Triple Citrus Chicken Marinade – With a base of orange, lemon, and lime juice, this citrus on citrus combo packs mouth-puckering sourness that is perfectly balanced by honey, salt, and other spices. This acidic blend is sure to tenderize and give flavor to any chicken piece that you prefer.

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Kaye

Kaye is a writer and a recent oat milk convert. With a background in Language Studies, she has founded a deep appreciation of cultures, traditions, and the power of words. In her spare time, she enjoys testing some of the trendiest and most accessible recipes on the internet.

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