When it comes to easy, inexpensive, and healthy meals, chicken thighs are your BFF. This Chicken Thigh Marinade gives you juicy, fully flavored chicken that’s a little sweet and a little spicy (if you so choose), with a bright touch of citrus.
Chicken thighs are one of the simplest, most satisfying proteins to cook.
- They are forgiving and relatively foolproof. Since they have a slightly higher fat content, it is harder to overcook chicken thighs than it is Baked Chicken Breast or Grilled Chicken Breast.
- Chicken thighs are healthy. They do not deserve the negative reputation as being “less healthy” than chicken breasts. Chicken thighs are an excellent source of lean protein and iron. Plus, thighs contain more calcium, potassium, vitamin B, and vitamin E than chicken breasts.
- They take well to a wide range of seasonings. Chicken thigh meat is inherently richer in taste than chicken breasts, making it ideal for playing around with different flavor profiles. From Asian-inspired recipes (Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken; Sweet and Sour Chicken), to Crockpot Mexican Chicken, to Indian (Slow Cooker Chicken Curry), there’s variation available so you’ll never get bored.
- They are budget-friendly. At the grocery store, chicken thighs cost less per pound than chicken breasts.
- They cook fast. At medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F), boneless, skinless chicken thighs cook in about 8 to 12 minutes. Now that’s speedy!
Simplest, Best Chicken Thigh Marinade
Marinating chicken isn’t mandatory from a health and safety standpoint, but for the best-tasting results, it is best to marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.
After 12 hours, the meat will start to break down, especially if you use citrus juice in the marinade.
A good marinade needs a combination of 5 key elements: salt, spice, sweet, acid, and umami.
Herbs are also a nice addition, but not strictly necessary.
This recipe is a go-to simple chicken thighs marinade when you want to serve chicken thighs as a main dish and want something more spice-forward.
(For those who are afraid of heat, fear not: it’s spiced, but not super spicy; for a less spiced chicken thigh marinade with lemon, check out my classic Chicken Marinade.)
- It hits all the key marinade elements.
- I usually have everything I need to make it on hand.
- The combination of sweet, spicy, and tangy ingredients gives the thighs impressive complexity.
To prepare chicken thighs, simply mix the marinade ingredients together, let the chicken rest in the marinade for 30 minutes or up to 12 hours, then follow my Grilled Chicken Thighs recipe or bake as you please. It’s that simple!
- Chicken Thighs. The chicken thighs soak up the marinade beautifully, creating flavorful, tender, and mouthwateringly-juicy results.
- Garlic. I used a hefty amount of garlic to really give the chicken a punch of delicious garlic flavor.
- Honey. Naturally sweetens the marinade. The honey will also caramelize during cooking, resulting in a luscious, glaze-like finish.
- Soy Sauce. For that scrumptious umami goodness.
- Dijon. Adds a little tang to the marinade.
- Worcestershire. The perfect blend of sweet, savory, and tangy.
- Spices. I used a mix of cumin, salt, and cayenne (optional). The combination is rich, earthy, and a little spicy.
- Lime. Both the zest and juice are used in the marinade. It adds freshness, zip, and citrus flavor.
- Combine the marinade ingredients.
- Add the chicken, tossing to coat. Marinate chicken for 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
- Cook the chicken on the grill, or bake it in the oven. Let rest for a few minutes. DIG IN!
- To Store. Refrigerate thighs in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or 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 Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, stir the marinade ingredients together. Refrigerate until you’re ready to add the chicken thighs.
More Ways to Use Cooked Marinated Chicken Thighs
- Pasta. Use this chicken thigh marinade for pasta dishes. It would be delicious paired with Cajun Shrimp Pasta or Avocado Pesto.
- Salad. Asian Cabbage Salad and Grilled Corn Salad are perfect with these chicken thighs.
- Pad Thai. Dice the cooked thighs and add them to Healthy Shrimp Pad Thai.
- Sandwich. Use this marinade and grill the thighs. Then, swap the grilled thighs for the grilled chicken in this Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Citrus Juicer. The easiest way to juice a lime.
- Baking Dish. This is ideal if you want to bake the chicken thighs.
- Grill Pan. Perfect for grilling the thighs on the stovetop.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can marinate chicken for 30 minutes at room temperature or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. It is OK to marinate chicken thighs overnight using this marinade. I don’t recommend marinating the thighs any longer than 24 hours, as the meat will start to break down.
To make this a spicy chicken thigh marinade, use an additional 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne or add 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek.
Sure! You can swap coconut aminos, tamari, or replace the soy sauce with a little more Worcestershire and kosher salt.
Chicken Thigh Marinade
- 6 garlic cloves roughly chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
- Juice and zest of 2 small limes about 3 tablespoons juice and 1 teaspoon zest
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- In a large bowl or large ziptop bag, combine the garlic, oil, honey, soy sauce, Worcestershire, Dijon, cumin, salt, and cayenne, lime juice and zest.
- Add the chicken thighs and toss with the marinade to evenly coat. Marinate the chicken at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 12 hours (I find about 4 to 6 hours is ideal—since this is a small amount of lime juice, you can push to 24 hours if absolutely necessary). Do not let marinate for longer, or the meat will start to break down. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for 15 minutes prior to cooking.
- TO GRILL: When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the a gas, charcoal, or indoor grill to medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F). Scrub the grill grates clean. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess. Oil the grates, then place the chicken smooth-side down. Grill the chicken thighs for 8 to 12 minutes, flipping once halfway through, or until the chicken registers 155 degrees to 160 degrees F at the thickest part when tested with an instant read thermometer (chicken is considered fully cooked through at 165 degrees F, but its temperature will rise as it rests). Transfer to a plate or cutting board, cover, and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy warm.
- TO BAKE: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place 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 155 to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer inserted at the thickest part, about 15 to 18 minutes. Don't overcook! Cover and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate thighs in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or 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.
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