Use this homemade BBQ Chicken Marinade to infuse your chicken with irresistible sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor. Whether you bake it, grill it, or smoke it, it’s guaranteed to be a winner!
Why You’ll Love This Barbecue Chicken Marinade Recipe
- Sweet, Savory, and Tangy. Oh, and did I mention smoky too? (Thanks, smoked paprika!) Basically, it’s everything you want from a BBQ marinade and then some. I love using it to make Baked BBQ Chicken with my Barbecue Sauce for basting, but you can also use it for grilling and smoking.
- You’re in Control. When you buy marinade at the grocery store, you’re at the mercy of the bottler’s recipe—and that might mean corn syrup and other undesirable ingredients. But when you make it yourself, you know what’s in your marinade.
- Ridiculously Easy. Like my Grilled Shrimp Marinade, Flank Steak Marinade, and Chicken Marinade, this marinade is practically effortless to make, with just 5 minutes of prep time. You might even have all of the ingredients in your pantry already!
- Flavorful Chicken, All the Way Through. Marinating your chicken with this BBQ marinade means that tangy and sweet barbecue flavor isn’t just on the outside of the chicken, but the inside too. Every bite is infused with the marinade!
How to Make BBQ Chicken Marinade
- Ketchup. Use your favorite brand—can be organic, naturally sweetened, low-sodium, or just plain old ketchup.
- Pure Maple Syrup. The darker the syrup, the stronger the maple flavor will be. Brown sugar can be substituted if you prefer.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. For that tangy flavor to balance the sweetness. I prefer vinegar to citrus juices like lemon juice and lime juice in a BBQ-style marinade.
- Worcestershire Sauce. This adds some depth to our BBQ chicken marinade.
- Spices. Smoked paprika, ground cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts or Boneless Skinless Thighs. Whichever you like best!
- Combine. Stir together all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
- Prep. Pat the chicken dry and place it in a zip-top bag or dish.
- Marinate. Pour over the chicken, turn to coat, and marinate for 2 hours or up to 1 day.
- Cook. Remove the chicken from the marinade and follow the directions for Grilled Chicken Breast, Grilled Chicken Thighs, Baked BBQ Chicken Breast, or Smoked Chicken Breast to finish. You can also use it to add double the flavor to Crockpot BBQ Chicken.
- To Store. You can refrigerate unused marinade in an airtight container or jar for up to a week.
- To Freeze. Transfer the marinade to an airtight freezer-safe storage container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Mason Jar. If you plan on doubling or tripling the recipe to make marinade for later, these smaller size and larger size jars are great for storage.
- Measuring Spoons. These are double-sided, so they’re great when you’ve got a lot of spices to measure!
- Baking Dish. If you plan on marinating the chicken in a dish.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Don’t Over-Marinate. While marinating for more than 2 hours is great if you have the time, you don’t want to marinate the chicken for more than 24 hours. The marinade will begin to break down the proteins in the chicken, affecting its texture.
- Make Extra. If you want to make marinade to use later on, you can easily scale up this recipe and keep it on hand in the freezer (you might as well, you have all of the ingredients out anyway!). Just don’t reuse marinade and don’t freeze marinade and chicken together. This could perfect to spice up BBQ Chicken Pizza!
- Double Up on Flavor. Pair your BBQ chicken marinade with BBQ sauce for the best BBQ chicken.
BBQ Chicken Marinade
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or boneless skinless thighs
- In a small bowl, stir together the ketchup, maple syrup, vinegar, Worcestershire, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.
- Pat the chicken dry (if using chicken breasts, pound them into an even thickness). Place in a sturdy ziptop bag or a small dish that will hold it snugly. Add the marinade. Seal the bag, squeezing out as much air as possible (if using). Turn to coat the chicken in the marinade.
- Refrigerate the chicken in the BBQ marinade for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day. Cook as desired—see Grilled Chicken Breast, Grilled Chicken Thighs, Baked BBQ Chicken Breast, and Smoked Chicken Breast for cooking methods.
- TO STORE: You can refrigerate unused marinade in an airtight container or jar for up to a week.
- TO FREEZE: Transfer the marinade to an airtight freezer-safe storage container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
- Nutritional information is an estimate only and does not include the chicken.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The chicken marinade ingredients in this recipe are similar to those of barbecue sauce, but the two aren’t the same. A marinade is meant to tenderize meat and infuse it with flavor, while barbecue sauce adds moisture and protects chicken from drying out while you cook it. For best results, use both!
No, BBQ sauce is too thick to work as a marinade. This BBQ chicken has the flavors of a good BBQ sauce, but in a form made for marinating meat.
I recommend at least 2 hours for the maximum flavor, but even 1 hour is better than none!