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Think dry, bland chicken breasts are the way of the world? You’ve been settling! Time for the BEST CHICKEN MARINADE. Use it for grilling, chicken in the oven, and more!

Chicken breasts on a plate with a lemon soy marinade

Why You’ll Love This Simple Chicken Marinade

This quick combination of marinade ingredients not only will make your chicken actually taste like something (that “something” being savory, herby, and downright delicious), it works double-time to tenderize the chicken and make it juicy.

Just 15 minutes of marinating time can work wonders to juicify (<—my new favorite verb) and flavorize (<—my other new favorite verb) your chicken.

What is a Marinade?

  • A marinade is a mixture of ingredients that generally contains an oil, acid, and a variety of spices, and soaks cuts of meat prior to cooking.
  • Marinades flavor the meat, make the meat more tender and moist, and can help prevent the meat from drying out as easily.
  • You can marinate meat for as little as 15 minutes or up to 24 hours, depending on the marinade ingredients.
Chicken breasts with marinade

5 Star Review

“Absolutely phenomenal. Total hit at my house and I have an extremely picky six-year-old!”

— Crystal —

How to Make a Delicious Chicken Marinade

Below, you’ll find the key components of a stellar chicken marinade that you can tweak to suit the recipes you’d like to use it in or what you have on hand.

  • I like to cook a big batch of marinated chicken, then dice it up for salads, wraps, and grain bowls for lunches throughout the week.
  • Chicken cooked with this marinade is also tender and tasty enough to enjoy on its own, a rarity for many chicken recipes.

Tip!

If you’d like to make plain shredded or diced chicken that is a blank canvas, try my easy methods for How to Cook Shredded Chicken, Crock Pot Shredded Chicken, and Instant Pot Chicken.

Delicious chicken marinade for baking chicken

Key Marinade Components

The four key elements to a good marinade are fat, acid, seasoning, and time.

You can play around with these in endless combinations.

  • Fat. Fat plays two roles in a marinade. It transfers flavors that are fat-soluble to the meat (without it, you won’t be able to taste other ingredients as well). Fat also helps to keep the meat moist. 99% of the time, I use olive oil. Vegetable oil is another excellent, neutral option.
  • Acid. You should soak your chicken in acid, as it tenderizes the meat by breaking down its fibers. Citrus juices, vinegar, yogurt, and buttermilk are four excellent options. For today’s recipe, I am using lemon juice. Lemon pairs beautifully with chicken and is easy to have on hand.
  • Seasoning. Here the possibilities are truly endless! Citrus zest, herbs, aromatics (like onion and garlic), and spices can all come into play. The one non-negotiable is SALT. I use either kosher salt or, for even more complexity, soy sauce and a dash of Worcestershire.
  • Time. MARINATING LONGER IS NOT BETTER! The ideal amount of time you should marinate chicken is 5 to 6 hours, but even 15 minutes makes a difference. See below for more.

How Long to Marinate Chicken

  • Marinating chicken for too long can cause it to become tough, negating the original benefits of the marinade.
  • Typically, I find that marinating chicken between 5 to 6 hours is ideal for both texture and taste.
  • I don’t recommend keeping chicken in a marinade with citrus juice or vinegar for more than 6 hours, as its texture declines from there. After 12 hours, the meat may even start to break down.
  • Chicken can rest in a buttermilk/yogurt marinade for up to 24 hours. So, a yogurt chicken marinade is the best choice for those who want an overnight chicken marinade.
Easy chicken marinade with lemon and spices

The Best Chicken Marinade Recipe

Today’s healthy chicken marinade is a simple go-to that works well for a variety of recipes (like Grilled Chicken Thighs, to name just one) and everyday enjoyment.

Marinating chicken is healthy AND delish (as is Grilled Shrimp Marinade).

It’s a perfect way to increase the appetite appeal of your wholesome meals.


The Ingredients

  • Olive Oil. My choice of fat for the marinade. You only need a little bit (this chicken marinade is not unhealthy in the slightest) and olive oil offers healthy fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Lemon Juice and Zest. This tenderizes the chicken and gives it bright citrus notes. I also use the zest to make the most of the lemon.
  • Herbs. You can use almost any dried or fresh herbs for this chicken marinade. I’m a sucker for an Italian chicken marinade, so my most-used herbs are oregano and thyme or simple Italian seasoning.
  • Seasoning. Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce season the meat to help the others flavors shine and they add a more complex umami component compared to kosher salt alone. Fresh garlic is my other must-have chicken marinade seasoning. It’s a dream with the lemon and herbs.

More Marinade Ideas

For inspiration on how to play around with chicken marinades, check out these recipes:

The Directions

  1. Pound the chicken (if using breasts). Thighs and tenders do not need pounding.
Three raw pieces of meat on a cutting board
  1. Poke holes all over the chicken (this helps the marinade absorb more quickly).
Lemon juice, oil, soy sauce, and spices in a bag
  1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large ziptop freezer bag.
Raw meat in a plastic bag
  1. Place the chicken in the bag.
Three chicken breasts in a bag of chicken marinade
  1. Seal the bag and make sure the chicken is coated in the marinade.
  2. Marinate chicken at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes or refrigerate for longer (up to 6 hours). Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Grill the marinaded chicken or bake the marinaded chicken as desired.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a plate, let rest for a few minutes, then ENJOY!

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Refrigerate cooked chicken in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
  • To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F. You can also gently reheat chicken in the microwave.
  • To Freeze. Freeze chicken in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Meal Plan Tip

Stir the marinade ingredients together up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until you’re ready to marinate the chicken.

Chicken marinade on chicken breasts

What to Serve with Marinaded Chicken

Ready to IMMEDIATELY improve your cooking? Marinate your chicken!

With this easy chicken marinade recipe, healthy baked and grilled chicken will become something you look forward to enjoying for a dinner, instead of a bland burden.

As always, if you try this recipe, I’d love to hear what you think! Your comments make my day and are so helpful for others too.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Cuts of Chicken Work with this Marinade?

This is an all-purpose chicken marinade you can use for any cut of bone-in or boneless chicken. Chicken wings, thighs, breasts, legs are all excellent with this simple marinade recipe.

How Do You Cook Marinated Chicken?

This recipe can be used as a simple chicken marinade for oven baking, grilling (like Grilled Chicken Breast), pan frying (like my Pan Fried Chicken Breast), or any other cooking method you typically use. For this recipe, I’ve offered instructions for both the grill and oven.

Do I Need to Baste the Chicken?

As long as you marinade the chicken for at least 15 minutes, basting isn’t necessary. If you like, you can reserve some of the marinade and use it to baste the chicken during cooking (make sure you don’t use any marinade on cooked chicken that has touched raw chicken).

Can You Reuse Chicken Marinade?

If you plan to reuse marinade, either reserve some at the beginning of cooking to sauce the cooked dish, OR if the marinade has already touched raw meat, it will need to be boiled for several minutes to remove harmful bacteria. Note that boiling will likely change the flavor of the marinade (citrus will become less pronounced and it can taste saltier, for example), so be sure to taste it. It is also likely to reduce and thicken during boiling, which can be a good thing if you are using it as a sauce.

What is the Longest I Can Marinade Chicken?

If your marinade contains citrus juices like lemon or lime, 5 to 6 hours is an ideal marinade time; after 12 hours, the meat can start to break down. If using a yogurt or buttermilk-based marinade, you can allow the chicken to marinade overnight. Do not marinade chicken for longer than 24 hours as the meat can deteriorate.

What is the Shortest I Can Marinade Chicken?

Citrus juices like lemon and lime do a great job marinading chicken quickly. Even 30 minutes is enough time to marinade chicken—and if you only have 15 minutes or 20 minutes, marinade your chicken it anyway! Some marinading is always better than none.

Chicken Marinade

4.72 from 203 votes
The absolute BEST chicken marinade. Use this simple, healthy marinade for baking or grilling chicken. Juicy, flavorful chicken every time!

Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 30 minutes

Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 3/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or tenders*
  • 6 garlic cloves minced or grated (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Juice and zest of 1 medium lemon about 1 teaspoon zest and 1/4 cup juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Instructions
 

  • If making chicken breasts, place them on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and with a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound into an even thickness. (If using tenders or thighs, you can skip the pounding).
  • With a fork, poke holes all over the chicken (this will allow the marinade to absorb).
  • In a large ziptop bag, combine the garlic, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  • Add the chicken. Seal the bag, removing as much excess air as possible.
  • “Squish” the bag to coat the chicken, then place the bag on a plate or inside a shallow baking dish to guard against leaks.
  • Marinate the chicken at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes (the longer the better), or refrigerate for up to 12 hours (I find about 5 to 6 hours is ideal—since this is a small amount of lemon juice, you can push to 24 hours if absolutely necessary). Do not let marinade for longer, or the meat will start to break down. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 15 minutes prior to cooking.
  • When ready to cook: Preheat your grill to medium high (425 to 450 degrees F) or preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess.
  • To grill: cook chicken over high heat until charred in spots and the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, flipping halfway through, about 8 to 12 minutes total for breasts or thighs or 4 to 8 minutes for tenders. Do not overcook!
  • To bake: Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a foil- or parchment-lined baking dish large enough to hold it comfortably without the chicken touching. Bake the chicken until it reaches 160 F to 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer inserted at the thickest part. Don't overcook! For breasts you will need about 14 to 16 minutes (for small/medium breasts that are about 6 to 7 ounces), 16 to 20 minutes (for medium/large breasts that are 8 to 10 ounces), or 20 to 25 minutes (for larger breasts). Bake thighs or tenders for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Remove the chicken to a plate and cover. Let rest for at least 5 minutes. Serve!

Video

Notes

  • *You can also use this recipe for bone-in chicken pieces, including drumsticks. For drumsticks, instead of poking the chicken with a fork, cut a few slashes with a knife. Bone-in chicken will need a longer cooking time.
  • TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
  • TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F.
  • TO FREEZE: Freeze chicken in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 305kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 43gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 127mgPotassium: 813mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 82IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 38mgIron: 2mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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111 Comments

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    1. I’m sorry to hear the recipe wasn’t to your taste, Karen. I know it’s disappointing to try a new recipe and not enjoy it. I (and many other readers) have enjoyed it, so I really wish they would’ve been a hit for you too! Did you use kosher salt? All seasonings can definitely be adjusted to your preference.

  1. This is an AMAZING recipe. O love yhe flavors and the tenderizing effects on the chicken breasts. I am about to make again for tonight!! Thanks so much!5 stars

  2. We just made these. So good! We even forgot the lemon juice. This is my new go to recipe for grilled chicken!5 stars

  3. This was the best and most tender chicken ever. I didn’t have all the ingredients so I improvised but it was awesome!5 stars

  4. I’ve never reviewed a recipe in my life. This is the most flavorful marinade I’ve ever tasted. I only marinated for 15 minutes and it was enough. The pounding of the chicken although slight made a difference. Piercing the chicken also was a good tip. Printing this! PS While it was on the salty side it was fine bc I love that. Adjusting the salt to taste should alleviate any picky comments.5 stars

  5. Absolutely delicious!! Quick and simple recipe with amazing flavor. Only change I made was replaced oregano with italian seasoning.5 stars

  6. Great marinade; I thought you had a dry brine recipe for chicken, but I could not find it.
    But this was great. thanks!5 stars

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