How Long Should You Marinate Chicken?

And how long is too long?

December 09, 2022
Marinated Chicken Legs in a Baking Dish

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Marinated Chicken Legs in a Baking Dish

Photo by: rudisill/Getty Images

rudisill/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Chicken is a go-to protein for home cooks, but since its flavor is mild, it often benefits from soaking in a marinade. For a step-by-step, head over to our story How to Marinate Chicken. In this story, we dive into some questions: how long should you marinate chicken for? And how long is too long? Here are our top tips and recommended times for marinating chicken.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

How Long to Marinate Chicken

You can marinate chicken anywhere from 2 hours up to 24 hours, though marinating chicken for even 15 to 30 minutes can impart flavor and moisture into smaller pieces of meat. Generally, bone-in cuts of chicken, such as wings, drumsticks and breasts, will require a longer marinade time than their boneless counterparts. Smaller pieces of chicken will take less time to marinate.

Uncooked chicken wings and marinade in a ziplock bag

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Uncooked chicken wings and marinade in a ziplock bag

Photo by: Candice Bell/Getty Images

Candice Bell/Getty Images

Can You Freeze Marinated Chicken?

You can also store chicken with marinade in the freezer for up to one month. Place the marinated chicken in a resealable plastic bag, seal tightly and label before freezing. Try prepping Chimichurri Chicken Marinade and Honey Mustard Chicken Marinade (pictured above), freeze, then thaw overnight in the fridge for an easy weeknight supper.

Can I Marinate Chicken for Too Long?

The USDA recommends not keeping poultry in marinade for longer than two days, as it’s possible that the marinade will start breaking down the meat’s fibers and cause it to become mushy. A good rule of thumb is to keep marinating time under 24 hours.

Raw marinated chicken meat with garlic, honey, ginger, pepper, soy sauce or teriyaki sauce on dark slate, stone or concrete background. Top view with copy space.

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Raw marinated chicken meat with garlic, honey, ginger, pepper, soy sauce or teriyaki sauce on dark slate, stone or concrete background. Top view with copy space.

Photo by: kasia2003/Getty Images

kasia2003/Getty Images

Is 30 Minutes Long Enough to Marinate Chicken?

If you’re marinating smaller pieces of chicken or cuts such as boneless, skinless breasts or thighs, 30 minutes is long enough to infuse the meat with flavor. For these Chicken Fajitas, 30 minutes is ample time for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts to soak up the flavorful lime-spiked marinade and to promote browning on the grill. Even 15 to 20 minutes can make a difference to impart extra flavor into your chicken dish, as with these Honey and-Soy Glazed Chicken Thighs with Marinated Cucumbers.

Marinated Chicken Breasts

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Marinated Chicken Breasts

Photo by: Tara Donne

Tara Donne

Can I Reuse Chicken Marinade?

If you’re planning to use the marinade as a sauce or to brush over chicken while it’s grilling, you’ll need to boil the marinade to destroy bacteria. For example, these Marinated Chicken Breasts (pictured above) would benefit from being brushed with the boiled marinade during grilling to impart extra flavor and improve texture. Similarly, the leftover soy-ginger marinade from this Teriyaki Marinated Chicken could be boiled and served as a side sauce. Otherwise, do not save leftover chicken marinade to re-use.

What Is the Safest Way to Marinate Chicken?

The USDA’s safety tips will help ensure that you’re marinating chicken safely.

  • Preparation: Completely immerse the poultry into the marinade. You can use a fork or needle-like injector to make random holes to help infuse the marinade into the meat.
  • Storage: store the poultry in the refrigerator, fully covered, for up to two days in the marinade.
  • Containers: use food grade plastic, stainless steel, glass containers or food-safe plastic bags to store marinated chicken (be sure to seal bags tightly to prevent leaks and discard plastic bags after marinating).
  • Leftovers: Don't use marinade that was used on raw poultry as a sauce unless it is boiled first to destroy bacteria. Don't reuse leftover chicken marinade.

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