There’s nothing like freshly cooked marinated chicken breast to lead the main meal. From grilling to baking, it’s a top choice for any meal because it is so easily prepared. Chicken goes well with so many types of dishes, and when it’s marinated, the result is a juicy, tender, and flavorful meat that can’t be rivaled.
Many people choose to marinate chicken before cooking it to tenderize the meat, enhance its flavor and add extra moisture so that it doesn’t dry out in the cooking process.
While marinating chicken is fairly straightforward, there are some safety precautions you should be aware of and cooking suggestions that will ensure that your chicken turns out well each time you make it.
Today, we are going to answer all of your questions about how long you can marinate chicken and some best safety practices to know before making your next chicken breast marinade recipe.
What Is a Marinade, And Why Do We Use It?
First, let’s start with the basics: What exactly is a marinade?
A marinade is a combination of liquids in which you soak foods, particularly meats, before cooking. There are 3 main types of marinades: Enzymatic, Acidic, and Oil-based. (See below for a greater description of each)
When you soak the meat in a marinade, it not only infuses flavor into the meat but also helps to break it down and tenderize it.
So, what’s the difference between types of marinades?
Acidic marinades use vinegar, citrus juices, or tomatoes as the base. The acids in these marinades help to break down the meat’s tissues, thereby tenderizing it. They also add flavor during this process.
When using an acidic or enzymatic marinade, it’s important to know that the meat should not be left to soak too long because the meat will break down too much and end up mealy.
These are the most popular marinades, especially for grilling. Oil-based marinades can stay on meat longer and help to coat the meat to seal in its moisture. Italian dressing, olive oil, and other types of oils are examples of types of marinades you can use.
It’s important to know that just because a marinade is oil-based doesn’t mean it isn’t acidic. Oils are often combined with acidic juices like lemon juice for marinades and will have some acidic activity. Just follow marinating recommendations times and your chicken will turn out great!
Like an acidic marinade, enzymatic marinades make use of the natural enzymes in fruits like kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, and more to break down collagen and meat tissue to tenderize and flavor it.
This unique category utilizes marinades with a base of creams like yogurt or buttermilk. While these marinades do have lactic acid, they aren’t likely to affect your meat like a true acidic marinade, but being aware of the marinades’ action qualities is always helpful.
Again, if you are unsure of how long to soak your meat, follow the suggested marinating times within your recipe.
Why would you want to use a marinade?
There are several reasons:
- Easy to prepare. Marinated chicken breast, as well as other meats that have been marinated, are a favorite of others because they are usually easy to prepare ahead of time. Often you simply make the marinade, pour it over the meat, and wait the recommended time before cooking.
- They don’t require as much attention during the cooking process. Because the meat is pre-seasoned with the marinade, there is usually no fussing with seasonings and such because it’s already done.
- Great Make-Ahead Option Marinades make it easy to prepare meat ahead of time for the oven or grill. In fact, a lot of meats can be marinated and frozen to make quick meals straight out of the freezer.
- Many marinades tenderize the meat while they flavor it. Depending on the type of marinades for chicken that you use, it will also tenderize the meat ahead of cooking.
- Finally, marinating meat helps to retain moisture. When the meat is coated in a marinate, it helps to seal in moisture and prevent moisture loss during cooking.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken?
You may be wondering, “How long can I marinate chicken?” The answer to how long to marinate chicken depends on what cut of meat you have. The following chart shows the recommended times for marinating different cuts of chicken.
|Chicken Parts||Time to Marinate|
|Tenderloins||30 minutes – 4 hours|
|Breast||30 minutes – 6 hours|
|Wings||2 hours – 24 hours|
|Drumsticks||30 minutes – 6 hours|
|Thighs||15 minutes – 6 hours|
How long you should marinate chicken also depends on the type of marinade you are using. Acidic and Enzymatic marinades don’t need as much time because they break down the meat tissues rather quickly and the flavors soak in faster.
Oil-based marinades take longer but are recommended for most grilling recipes because they help provide a protective coating to the meat. Refer to your recipe for proper recommendations, or see the chart below for general suggestions.
|Sauce Ingredient||Recommended Time to Marinate|
|Acidic – (Lemon or Lime Juice)||30 minutes – 2 hours|
|Lactic Acid (Yogurt)||Up to 24 hours|
|Lactic Acid (Buttermilk)||12-48 hours|
|Oil-Based (Italian Dressing)||2-12 hours|
|Acidic (Vinegar)||Up to 12 hours|
|Enzymatic (fruit juices- pineapple, ginger, etc)||30 minutes – 2 hours|
How To Marinate Chicken:
Now that you know what to marinate chicken in, you might be wondering how to properly marinate chicken for the best results.
- Begin with the cut of chicken of your choice. If the chicken has been thawing, drain off any excess liquid and gently pat it with a paper towel.
- Poke a few holes throughout the chicken. This allows for the flavors of the marinade to penetrate the meat better.
- Make the marinade. Combine the ingredients of your marinade and set aside.
- Place the chicken in a non-reactive shallow container. It’s usually recommended to place meat in glass containers, food-safe plastic containers, or plastic Ziploc bags to marinate. Metal is reactive to acids and not suggested.
- Add your marinade to the container with the chicken. Pour the marinade over the meat and seal the bag or cover the container with plastic wrap
- Place the container in the fridge to marinate. NEVER leave the meat to marinate at room temperature. Always put the meat in the fridge to continue marinating for safety reasons.
- Allow the meat to marinate for the recommended marinating time. Depending on the type of marinade you use, these times will vary. Always follow the times your recipe calls for.
- When it’s time to cook the meat, remove it from the marinade and discard the remaining marinade. If you plan to baste your meat with marinade during the cooking process, you can either reserve a portion of it in the fridge before marinating your meat or you can make a fresh marinade for basting at the time of cooking, but don’t use the marinade your meat has been soaking in. It could contain harmful bacteria and should not be used in the cooking process.
- Cook your meat according to the recipe you are using and enjoy!
Safety Tips for Marinating:
- Always put meats that are soaking in marinades into the fridge to complete the marinating process. Meats need to be kept in the refrigerator to avoid developing harmful bacteria that induce food-borne illnesses.
- Always discard used marinade! It is not safe to reuse due to bacteria from uncooked meat. As meat soaks in a marinade, the bacteria from the meat transfers to the marinade. It is not considered safe to use in any capacity other than its intended purpose: to marinate.
- Use non-reactive containers to marinate meat in. Certain acids and enzymes can react with metal, so only use containers that are either glass or food-safe plastic to marinate your meat in.
- Distribute the marinade evenly. It’s best to use tongs to flip the meat over a couple of times to make sure the marinade coats the chicken evenly before placing it in the fridge. If you are using a plastic bag, simply flip it a few times to evenly coat the meat.
How Long Can Chicken Marinate in The Fridge
So, “How long can chicken marinate in the fridge?” The answer really depends on two factors: The type of marinade you use and the cut of meat you have. Boneless chicken tenderloins marinate a lot faster than a bone-in chicken thigh.
Some acidic marinades only require 20-30 minutes to be effective, whereas others allow the meat to be soaked for up to a full 24 hours.
Your recipe will have the best suggestions for you and should be followed. If you are not using a specific recipe, then see the above charts for general marinating time recommendations.
How To Cook Marinated Chicken?
How to cook marinated chicken depends on your recipe. Marinated chicken can be cooked in just about any way.
- Grilled: Marinated chicken grills nicely and is a popular way to cook meat. People often combine marinades with a grilling method for a smoky delicious meat.
- Broiled: Using the broiler method is a nice way to get a good crust on top of your marinated chicken.
- Skillet: Cooking marinated meat on the stovetop in a hot heavy pan is a quick way to make a weeknight dinner.
- Bake: Finally, marinated chicken can be baked in the oven like normal chicken.
Best Way to Marinate Chicken:
The best way to marinate chicken is subject to opinion. Personal preferences as to cuts of meat and taste will determine the best way to marinate your chicken. Have fun experimenting with recipes until you find one you like best!
As to the logistics of actual marinating, the best way to marinate chicken is to follow safety guidelines and store the chicken in the fridge until you are ready to cook it.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Thighs?
Chicken thighs can be marinated in as little time as 15 minutes and as long as 6 hours. If you are unsure how long to leave the meat in a marinade, check the charts above for recommendations.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Drumsticks (legs)?
30 minutes to 6 hours is a sufficient marinating time for drumsticks. Depending on the type of marinade you are using, times will vary.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Breasts?
You can marinate chicken breasts for up to 6 hours in the fridge. Again, check your recipe and be aware of the type of marinade you are using for the best results.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Tenderloins?
Tenderloins are a thinner cut and can be marinated rather quickly- in as little as 30 minutes! If you are using an acidic or enzymatic marinade, the shorter the soaking time, the better!
The Difference Between a Marinade and A Brine
Brine is a salt-based solution that proteins soak in like a marinade. The primary difference between a marinade and a brine is that brining takes a lot longer.
Meats are often soaked in brine for days in order to penetrate, flavor, and tenderize them. They also don’t combine as many flavors as a marinade, but brines are excellent for helping to retain moisture in meats.
Marinades, while they do all of the above, they are quicker and there are more flavor options to choose from.
Using marinades with chicken and other meats is a great way to flavor, tenderize and retain moisture. From tropical to BBQ, Italian, and Asian, there’s a marinade for every taste preference out there!
Once you get used to using marinades, it’s fun to branch out and come up with your own combinations. Just remember: follow safety guidelines and time suggestions and your chicken will turn out perfect every time!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Marinate Frozen Chicken?
Yes! You can marinate frozen chicken directly from the freezer. Just be sure to follow the recommended marinating times for the type of marinade you use and the specific cut of meat you have.
Also, be sure to let the meat thaw while marinating in the fridge to avoid the development of any harmful bacteria.
How Do You Marinate Chicken Faster?
If you’re short on time and need to marinate chicken faster, the best way to do so is by making small punctures or cuts into the meat before applying the marinade. This allows the marinade to penetrate the chicken more quickly.
How Can You Tell If Marinated Chicken Is Bad?
If your chicken is slimy, has changed color to any degree, or has an unpleasant smell, it has probably gone bad and should be discarded.
If the chicken has been left in marinade in the fridge for beyond 2 days or more, it should be discarded. The USDA only recommends cooking and consuming poultry that has been thawed for 2 days or less.
Is It Ok to Marinate Overnight?
So you’ve found a good marinade for chicken that you love and you’d like to prepare it the day before to cook the next day.
An overnight chicken marinade is fine as long as it complements the cut of meat you are using and the type of marinade works well with that particular cut of meat.
A buttermilk marinade on chicken breasts is fine for up to 48 hours, whereas an Italian marinade on chicken tenderloins should be used within 12 hours. Always check the recommended times for different types of marinades to avoid your meat being broken down too much!
How Long Can I Keep Marinated Chicken Outside?
Marinated meat should be cooked immediately or within a few minutes of being taken out of the fridge. If you are grilling, wait until you are ready to put the meat on the grill to remove it from the fridge or cooler.
How Long Can I Store Marinated Chicken in The Refrigerator?
Raw marinated meat should not be stored longer than 2 days before cooking. The risk of developing harmful bacteria increases after 2 days’ time.
Chicken that is fully cooked can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you need to store it longer, freezing it is a great way to extend its shelf life.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Vinegar?
Vinegar is considered acidic and will break down the tissues of chicken quickly. It is recommended to marinate chicken in vinegar for no more than 12 hours before cooking it.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Oil?
Chicken can be left in oil-based marinades without acidic ingredients for up to 24 hours. Experts say that 5-6 hours seems to be best for oil marinades and that 24 hours is rarely necessary for maximum flavor.
The only benefit to marinating longer is to prepare a recipe ahead of time for convenience.