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In the midst of researching new meal prep ideas, you stumble upon recipe after recipe calling for marinated chicken. You hesitate at the idea of doing more work, because you’re busy. When it comes to making dinner, no one needs extra steps in the kitchen.
But marinating your chicken is an essential step in ensuring your dish is tasty and flavorful. If you want the best meal prep chicken, then marinating it is the only way.
Maybe you’re not convinced.
Imagine this: two newlyweds receive a grill as a wedding present. Excitedly, they assemble the grill and decide on chicken as their first dish. The problem? Even after timing everything right, they’re still left with two sad, dry, pale, flavorless chicken breasts.
To keep this meal from becoming your reality, allow me to share their mistake – the meat was missing a marinade.
Done right, marinades add flavor to your meals without adding to your to-do list.
Read on to learn all about marinades, including how long you should marinate your chicken for, the different types of marinades that exist, and a few helpful tips for first timers.
We’ve got two lists of marinades that will help you out. If you’re just looking for some healthy chicken marinades, we’ve got you covered. But if you want the best chicken marinades out there, you may have to add a bit more oil.
Make sure to check out some of our best side dishes for chicken too!
What Is A Marinade and Why Do We Use It?
A marinade is a liquid, dry, or combo-based flavoring that’s added to meat prior to cooking it.
What’s the point of a marinade?
Marinades help impart flavors, can moisturize meat and, depending on the marinade, help balance out competing flavors.
Sometimes chicken gets a bad rap for being boring, but master the art of marinating , and you’ll never think of chicken as a boring dish again. Marinating chicken will make your recipe tender, juicy, and flavor packed.
As an added bonus, marinades are generally affordable, whether they’re store bought or homemade. Even better, most marinades can be pulled together from ingredients that already line your fridge door or linger in your spice cabinet, whether those are oils, vinegars, dairy products, or herbs and spices.
A meal that’s delicious, frugal, and going to help you clean out your kitchen shelves? Sign us up!
How Long to Marinate Chicken?
There are a couple schools of thought when it comes to how long you should marinate chicken; some think it should be done for a long time, while others think it needs just a quick baste.
The truth is, it mostly depends on the size and type of chicken you’ll be serving. The bigger the portion, the longer the chicken will need to marinate.
For example, the USDA recommends marinating chicken for up to two days, but unless you’re marinating an entire bird, just a few hours should do the trick.
Here’s how long you should marinate chicken for, based on the type and portion of chicken being served:
- Whole bird – Marinate between 4 and 12 hours
- Chicken breasts – Marinate between 1 and 4 hours; if preparing skinless, reduce marinating time by 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Chicken thighs – Marinate between 1 and 4 hours; if preparing skinless, reduce marinating time by 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Chicken wings – Marinate between 2 and 6 hours; if preparing skinless, reduce marinating time by 30 minutes to 1 hour
- Chicken legs – Marinate between 2 and 6 hours; if preparing skinless, reduce marinating time by 30 minutes to 1 hour.
While this is a good place to start, you must also take into consideration the type of marinade you want to use, both in flavor profile and base type. This is because marinades don’t just impart a flavor into the meat – they can also change the meat’s texture.
When most people think of marinades, they think of it as a tenderizer – but that’s not always the case. Some marinades, like acid based marinades like wine or vinegar, can actually toughen the chicken if kept in for too long.
You’ll want to choose your marinade correctly to keep your chicken as flavorful and juicy as possible.
Different Flavors of Marinade
We know a marinade is added to meat in order to make it more flavorful, tender, and juicy. And if you’re like most people, you probably assume that a marinade has to be a liquid. Surprisingly, a marinade can actually be liquid, paste, or a dry rub.
These are some of the most common types of marinades, including a sampling of the delicious flavors:
This marinade is based on an acid, such as vinegar, wine, or even citrus juice.
Popular marinades that are more acidic include:
- Red wine
- Lemon pepper
- Beer battered
Acid based marinades can toughen chicken if it’s left in for too long. Always reduce the marinating time if you’re using an acid-based marinade.
Yogurt or even buttermilk are great meat tenderizers, though they’re not often thought of in this way. While it’s true they also have acidic properties, the lactic acid is much milder than those in the marinades listed above.
Some popular dairy-based marinades include:
- Yogurt and lemon
- Yogurt curry
- Southern-style buttermilk
These marinades are sometimes called fat marinades, and are based on oils high in fat. The oil in these marinades pulls double duty, Both as a flavor imparter and to keep the chicken from sticking to the cooking surface.
Common oil-based marinades include:
- Truffle oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sesame oil
Using a dry based rub as a marinade is great because you have a virtually endless amount of flavor combinations. Using your spice cabinet, you can mix and match to your taste buds’ desire.
Whether you’re craving something sweet, savory, or spicy- – if you have a taste for it, you can create it with a dry rub.
Using a dry rub marinade is always recommended, as it actually imparts the most flavor of all marinades. This is because the dry ingredients stick to the chicken better, leaving more flavor on the surface of the chicken.
Popular dry-rub ingredients include:
- Dried herbs and spices, such as oregano, pepper
- Zest from fruits, such as citrus
- Crushed red pepper
Tips for Marinating Chicken
Now that you have read this thorough article, think you know everything about marinating chicken? Think again.
Here are ten tips for marinating chicken that will always make sure your chicken dishes are flavorful and tasty.
- Before cooking, determine how long to marinate chicken based on the type of meat (whole bird, wing, etc.) and the type of marinade (acid-based, oil-based, etc.).
- Never let your meat sit out to marinate. After your whip up the perfect marinade, put the bird back in the fridge to keep bacteria at bay.
- Cover your marinating chicken while it does its thing to avoid cross-contamination (and spills!) in your fridge.
- Flip the chicken halfway through marinating to make sure it really soaks up the flavor.
- Go easy on the salt (and alcohol and acid) otherwise you’ll end up cooking your chicken ceviche style before you grill it. It’ll be as dry as a bone. Balance out the salt. If you’re using a dry rub, make sure that you use a generous amount of other spices and seasonings, but go easy on the salt. Salt can sometimes prevent meat from absorbing other flavors.
- Blend the marinade to better mix the fats and the acids. Use a blender to make it even easier!
- Don’t be afraid to pick up a pre-made marinade or rub. You’ve got a busy life, and there are plenty of ready-made grocery store options.
- Allow excess marinade to drip off. This reduces flare-ups and splatter.
- Get creative. Whether you plan to dress up a store-bought marinade or create your own from your spice cabinet (frugal win!), don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors.
FAQs on How to Marinate Chicken
Still have some questions about marinades?
Here are some of the most common questions and answers cooks have about getting that chicken marinade just right.
Can you marinate chicken too long?
Yes! The USDA says chicken is only safe to marinate for up to two days, but if you ask most cooks, they’ll tell you that is far too long as well. Acidic marinades like wine and vinegar will turn your chicken to leather if it sits too long, while marinades that are enzymatic like dairy products can turn your meat to mush if you overdo it.
How much marinade should you use?
The purpose of a marinade is to add flavor, not overpower. The philosophy “a little is good, so more must be better” definitely does not apply to marinating chicken. Aim to use ½ cup of marinade per pound of chicken.
Should you cut the chicken into pieces before marinating it?
Many cooks recommend chopping your chicken before marinating it, but that will also depend on the type of dish you’re making. In a rush? Use a fork or knife to poke holes in the chicken. That’ll help it soak up the flavor, too.
What containers are good for marinating?
Glass or ceramic dishes work best for marinades, both themselves and for basting. Some people also prefer the convenience of large plastic bags, though this can get a bit messy. Just be sure to avoid using metal containers, unless you want your meat with a side of metallic flavor.
Can I reuse the marinade?
If you intend to reuse the marinade, be sure to do so safely. It feels frugal and eco-friendly to reuse your marinade, but not if you’re going to make yourself sick doing so.
If you want to reuse chicken marinade, it’s recommended you boil it for five minutes to destroy all bacteria. Better yet, consider whipping up a double recipe next time and reserve a portion for future meals.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.