How to Marinate Chicken

This easy technique has major payoff.

January 10, 2023
roast chicken legs, decorated with slices of tomato on a white plate, perfect food for  a warm summer evening

155391911

roast chicken legs, decorated with slices of tomato on a white plate, perfect food for a warm summer evening

Photo by: SilviaJansen/Getty Images

SilviaJansen/Getty Images

By Grace Elkus for Food Network Kitchen.

Grace is a contributing writer at Food Network.

While everyone’s entitled to their own chicken preferences (bone-in vs. boneless; shredded vs. sliced), it’s fair to assume that no one likes it dry. Luckily, that’s what marinades are for. The versatile, easy-to-make mixture results in tender, flavorful results every time, no matter the type of chicken you're using or even how you're cooking it. But what's the best way to marinate, and for how long? Read on for our expert advice.

A high angle extreme close up shot of a blue metal tray with several pieces of chicken marinating in a spicy homemade African Harissa paste/sauce, the chicken will marinate for 24 Hours before being baked in the oven. The tray is framed by several ripe tomatoes and spicy chili peppers.

535163013

A high angle extreme close up shot of a blue metal tray with several pieces of chicken marinating in a spicy homemade African Harissa paste/sauce, the chicken will marinate for 24 Hours before being baked in the oven. The tray is framed by several ripe tomatoes and spicy chili peppers.

Photo by: DebbiSmirnoff/Getty Images

DebbiSmirnoff/Getty Images

What Goes In a Marinade?

Most marinades are made up of the same five components: fat, acid, aromatics, seasonings and salt. Sugar, enzymes and alcohol are also sometimes used.

The fat, such as olive or vegetable oil, is a vehicle for flavor and helps the spices and aromatics adhere to the meat.

The acid, often vinegar, citrus juice, buttermilk or yogurt, tenderizes the meat and keeps it moist.

Aromatics, seasonings and salt add flavor and balance, while salt also pulls out water from the meat and assists in tenderizing.

For the best-tasting marinades, choose flavors that complement one another. A BBQ chicken marinade, for example, will taste best with apple cider vinegar as its acid, while a boozy tequila marinade begs for lime or orange juice.

How to Marinate Chicken, Step by Step

Once you've chosen a recipe (here's a great one for beginners), follow these instructions for foolproof results every time:

Step 1: Make the Marinade

Combine the marinade ingredients (the fat, acid, aromatics, seasonings and salt) in a large resealable plastic bag. Close the bag and shake until well-mixed.

Step 2: Add the Chicken

Open the bag, add the chicken pieces, then close the bag and shake until the chicken is evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24. Or, freeze for up to one month.

Step 3: Cook the Chicken

If frozen, thaw the bag in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, thaw under running water or in the microwave at 30 percent power in 1-minute intervals.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, then cook as desired (see below for ideas).

How Long Should You Marinade Chicken?

You can marinate chicken anywhere from 2 hours up to 24 hours. But if you’re short on time, even a 15-minute marinade can still impart flavor, especially on smaller pieces of meat. In general, boneless cuts of chicken will require a shorter marinade time than bone-in pieces.

To avoid mushy chicken, don't let it marinate for longer than 24 hours, as the marinade will start to break down the meat's fibers over time. You can, however, freeze marinated chicken for up to one month.

Half dozen chicken legs cooking on an old fashioned back yard charcoal barbecue grill with red hot coals underneath.  Chicken has been marinated, seasoned and glazed with barbecue sauce and is ready to serve with a final basting of barbecue sauce with a brush.Half dozen chicken legs cooking on an old fashioned back yard charcoal barbecue grill with red hot coals underneath.  Chicken has been marinated, seasoned and glazed with barbecue sauce and is ready to serve.

478780974

Half dozen chicken legs cooking on an old fashioned back yard charcoal barbecue grill with red hot coals underneath. Chicken has been marinated, seasoned and glazed with barbecue sauce and is ready to serve with a final basting of barbecue sauce with a brush.Half dozen chicken legs cooking on an old fashioned back yard charcoal barbecue grill with red hot coals underneath. Chicken has been marinated, seasoned and glazed with barbecue sauce and is ready to serve.

Photo by: grandriver/Getty Images

grandriver/Getty Images

How to Cook Marinated Chicken

There's no wrong way to cook marinated chicken: you can roast it in the oven, cook it under the broiler, or even deep fry it. But perhaps the most common way to cook it is on the grill, since the marinade helps prevent the chicken from drying out under the high heat.

No matter how you cook it, you'll want to discard any extra uncooked marinade. Alternatively, bring the marinade to a full boil to kill any bacteria, then brush it onto the cooked chicken.

Chicken Marinade Recipes

From chimichurri to honey mustard, these easy marinades are guaranteed flavor boosters.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

The food processor makes quick work of this fresh and flavorful marinade, which is packed with both fresh and dried herbs and lots of minced garlic.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

This sweet and tangy marinade will be an instant hit with kids. Make it in advance, pop it in the freezer then defrost on a busy week.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Curry Chicken Marinade

Bring new life to chicken breasts with this warmly-spiced marinade, featuring grated fresh ginger, curry powder and garam masala.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Honey Mustard Chicken Marinade

You can never go wrong with the classic honey mustard combo, and marinades are no exception. Easy and delicious!

Related Links:

Next Up

How Long to Cook Chicken Breast in the Oven

Everything you need to know about cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts as well as bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts.

How to Tenderize Steak

Turn budget cuts into steakhouse-worthy mains.

How to Tenderize Chicken

Bye bye, dry, chewy chicken.

What Is the Best Cut of Steak?

Pro tip: Cuts that run along the back tend to be the most tender and expensive.

Pork Butt vs. Pork Shoulder: What’s the Difference?

Don’t assume you can use them interchangeably.

How to Cook Steak In the Oven

Learn to cook steakhouse-quality steaks in your home oven.

How to Cook Liver

Rich and tasty, this nutritional superstar is a one-pan wonder that cooks in minutes.

What Is Flap Meat? And How to Cook It

This cut of steak is just like skirt steak - only much less expensive.

More from:

Cooking School

What's New