Think dry, bland chicken breasts are the way of the world? You’ve been settling! Time for the BEST 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.
- This chicken marinade recipe works for any cut of boneless chicken, be it chicken breasts, chicken thighs, or chicken tenders.
- You can use this simple chicken marinade for grilling (it would be excellent with my Grilled Chicken Sandwich or these Grilled Chicken Tenders), for baking (try it with my Baked Chicken Breast), or for Air Fryer Chicken Breast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s a perfect way to increase the appetite appeal of your wholesome meals.
- 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.
- Pound the chicken (if using breasts). Thighs and tenders do not need pounding.
- Poke holes all over the chicken (this helps the marinade absorb more quickly).
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a large ziptop freezer bag.
- Place the chicken in the bag.
- Seal the bag and make sure the chicken is coated in the marinade.
- 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.
- Grill the marinaded chicken or bake the marinaded chicken as desired.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate, let rest for a few minutes, then ENJOY!
- 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.
What to Serve with Marinaded Chicken
Vegetable Lo Mein
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Non-Slip Cutting Board. A must-have kitchen tool.
- Instant Read Thermometer. The best way to check your chicken for doneness.
- Rolling Pin. An easy way to pound the chicken breasts.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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!
- *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.
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this looks great! Can the chicken be cooked in an air fryer?
Hi Leslie! I haven’t tried it myself, so you’d be experimenting. If you decide to play around with it, I’d love to hear how it goes!
Just wow. This produced the best, most flavorful chicken I’ve ever had. Have already used it twice in the last week!
So happy to hear it Janet, thank you!
Your recipes make menu planning fun. There’s nothing like these two feelings: (1) finding a delicious-sounding recipe that makes me say, “Ooh, I could make that! On a weeknight!” and (2) having the entire family show up and be genuinely excited about dinner. Also appreciate the healthy swaps and the commentary about each dish. Thank you for making my life easier and helping to fill it with good vibes!
This MADE my day, Lauren! Thank you for sharing this kind comment!
Erin, I can always count on you for the BEST recipes! This is a delicious and super easy marinade that I’ll definitely make again. I forgot to poke holes in the chicken, but it was still really flavorful (I did marinade it for 48 hours). Thanks so much for this new staple recipe.
Hi Jess! Thank you so much for your review, I really appreciate it!
This marinade and your instructions made the best baked chicken I’ve ever tasted! I made as exactly per the recipe (the baggie is so smart!) The chicken came out so tender and moist, so juicy, and so flavorful! This is a KEEPER! Many thanks! 🤗❤️
Hi Neva! So glad you enjoyed the marinade! Thank you for this kind review!
really easy and delicious marinade. I have all the ingredients on hand.
Hi Maggie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Love this! So glad to have a go-to marinade for grilled chicken,
Hi Karen! So glad you enjoyed the marinade! Thank you for this kind review!
This is my new favorite!
Well balanced, flavorful and didn’t burn on the fire!
You want to try this marinade!
Hi Sunny! So glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for this kind review!
Very tasty. Grill didn’t fire so needed to bake. Terrific. Can’t wait to try on grill.
Hi Becky! So glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for this kind review!
What is the sodium content?
Hi Patty! I stopped including sodium info because it can vary so much depending upon what products you used, and I found a lot of conflicting info online, so ultimately I didn’t feel comfortable publishing it because sometimes it wasn’t even in the ballpark. If you’d like to calculate it yourself, there are lots of free tools online (myfitnesspal.com is popular). I hope that helps!
Hi Erin, This looks delicious! If I want to marinate for a later cooking date, would I marinate and immediately freeze? Or is it better to cook it, and then freeze the chicken that way? Please let me know, and thank you!
Hi Erica. I would recommend cooking the chicken and then freezing. I have never tried to freeze the uncook chicken while it was marinating. Hope this helps!
I was looking for a marinade without brown sugar since we don’t like sweet tasting meat over here. I found this recipe and it was a hit! I’m 11 weeks pregnant and finding something that tastes not only edible but delicious is a major win. Thank you!
Hi Maren! Congratulations! So glad you enjoyed this! Thank you for this kind review!
I need to make low sodium for my mother , is this a low sodium chicken recipe?
Hi Maria! I stopped including sodium info because it can vary so much depending upon what products you used, and I found a lot of conflicting info online, so ultimately I didn’t feel comfortable publishing it because sometimes it wasn’t even in the ballpark. If you’d like to calculate it yourself, there are lots of free tools online (myfitnesspal.com is popular). I hope that helps!
Great recipe! Definitely adding this to our list of favorites. Tip: mix together ranch and teriyaki sauce for a delicious sauce for the meat! (not necessary as the recipe is already delicious, but definitely adds additional flavor).
Hi Rebecca! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Yummo! I was feeling lazy so I smashed the garlic cloves instead of mincing.
Hi Stephanie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Surprisingly moist! And very tasty. Love this recipe. I will be making it often.
Hi Karolyn! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Absolutely phenomenal. Total hit at my house and I have an extremely picky 6 year old! Only thing I changed was 2 tablespoons of lime juice instead of lemon because I didn’t have a lemon at the time
Hi Crystal! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Sooo good! Glad I tried it! Accidentally marinated it for 24 hours and it was delicious! Definitely a keeper! Give it a try.
Hi KG! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I have used this recipe twice, both times it was really good, very tender and love the seasoning. I will never cook chicken without marinating.
Hi Pattie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
De-licious. I love this marinade. My family devoured the chicken breasts. I will definitely try the marinade on my weekly chicken wings.
Hi Karen! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Love how easy your recipes are to follow and your commentary helps so much.
Hi Glenda! Thank you I really appreciate that, you wouldn’t believe how many complaints I get for trying to answer all of the questions people may have before they begin a recipe.
This was very easy and delicious. I added 1 teaspoon of ground coriander just for kicks because I love this spice. I’ll now put it into a rotation of loved recipes.
Hi Georgia! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I am planning to make this for a party this weekend and so I needed to triple it. The lemon juice/zest does not increase when you triple the recipe using the feature for that even though the other ingredients do increase. Is this right? The recipe says 1/4 cup of lemon juice when you’re making it for three and the same when it’s for 12. Is this right? I would so greatly appreciate an answer. Would love to try this recipe! Thanks!
Hi Evelyn, sometimes the times and ingredients in the recipe don’t change when trying to increase the sizes. Unfortunately that is not something I can fix because it’s a plugin issue. If making the recipe 3X, then you would use 3x the ingredients. Hope you enjoy it!
The chicken came out tender, juicy and delicious! Love the lemon flavor!!
Hi Linda! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I made this for dinner, it was fantastic.
I’m so happy that you enjoyed it, Lisa! Thank you for sharing this kind review!
My family absolutely loved it! I used fresh chicken thighs w/bone in and the skin on. I took about 55 minutes on 425, but they were perfect and beautiful.
Hi Skippy! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This truly was a quick marinade that was flavourful and delicious. A must save recipe!
Hi Cindy! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I tried this marinade last night on chicken thighs that I brined first. Delicious!!! I was a little skeptical about the soy sauce and Worcestershire, but the chicken was crispy brown and juicy!! Thanks!!
Hi Renee! So glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for this kind review!
This was delicious and easy. It will definitely be a staple in my recipe box.
Hi Vickie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I have made this several times, as written, everyone loves this recipe. It has become a favorite for our family and friends!
Hi Teresa! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This was delicious. Thank you so much for the recipe!
Hi Stephanie! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
why are there no amounts listed for the marinade?
im new to cooking and have no idea how much of anything goes into this
Hi Douglas, I’m so confused. The recipe card with directions and ingredients is listed right above the area where you commented. There is even a “jump to recipe” button at the top of the screen to help you get there faster. Could you please check again?
This was a great find!! Quick and very tasty! I had everything on hand thankfully!!
Hi Terry! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
No measurements without a lenghty “X” marks the spot that is too frustrating to express. I will grill elsewhere.
Hi Len! I’m sorry you had trouble navigating the website! There is a “jump to recipe” button at the top of every post that takes you straight to the recipe.
Super easy and taste amazing. Thank you so much for your recipes and the knowledge you share. Nobody ever taught me to tenderize chicken and poke holes and especially never taught me anything about marinading. So again, thank you. If I can make good food using your recipes then anyone can.
Hi Nicholas! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I made this last week to put raw chicken in and freeze. I pulled it out of freezer and put in fridge yesterday and cooked for dinner tonight. I liked it. My husband really liked it. Our son wasn’t crazy for it. He thought it was a little too lemony. Overall, I would definitely make it again, but I might make some adjustments to the measurements. Thank you so much for sharing your recipes with all of us!!
Hi Ryan! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
Absolutely! I’ll definitely be back for more great recipes!
I love this marinade! This has been a weekly chicken recipe for me and my husband. After cooking I slice the chicken and place it on a simple salad with avocado oil and salt dressing. This is a very filling and healthy dinner!
Hi Shelly! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
The marinade is not a recipe. You need to include the quantity of each ingredient. What a waste of time!
Hi Fabrizio! I’m so confused, because I see it on my end! The recipe is in the recipe card with the quantities of all of the ingredients, right above the area where you commented. You can also click the “jump to recipe” button at the top of the screen to get you there faster. Could you please check again!
Loved this marinade! I have been looking for a new way to make my chicken and this was the perfect, easy way to do that and I already had all of the ingredients in my pantry/fridge 😊 I definitely recommend!
Hi Porter! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!