How to Marinate Chicken | The JUICY Secret to More Flavor

Chicken can be bland or dry. When grilling, it is a lesser expensive protein and also a more forgiving meat. It is not hard to dry it out. However, in my test kitchen (AKA my own house) I learned AND MASTERED the secret to marinating this budget-friendly lean protein.

Most chicken has a reputation for being a dry, boring "diet food". Yet once you master the two techniques of how to marinate chicken, you will learn that this affordable and versatile lean protein can be just as juicy and succulent as its richer counter parts, like steak.

The two best options for marinating chicken are a Dry Marinade and a Wet Marinade (according to my test/home kitchen). This article is going to be a how to guide for marinating chicken and when to choose one or the other. I am also going to throw in some essential food safety tips, because we want to keep our family safe. Here is the first pro tip from your favorite grillionaire™: STOP WASHING RAW CHICKEN!

How to Marinate Chicken with a Wet Marinade

Wet marinades generally consist of three parts:

  • Cooking oil to moisten and add flavor.
  • Acidity. Something to help break down the dense protein and tenderize it. For example: vinegar, wine, yogurt, tomato, or some kind of citrus juice.
  • A rub or variety of seasonings to amp up the flavor.

A wet marinade should have a thin consistency. This will help penetrate the meat so that it can be infused with more flavor. Usually, the marinade will penetrate 1/4 inch into the surface of the meat. It will not reach the interior. Due to this surface penetration, the surface of the meat will have AMAZING flavor.

Credit: Courtesy of Delish

To Marinate Chicken in a Wet Marinade:

  • Place the protein in a shallow dish or gallon sized zip lock bag (see above picture for reference). Add your homemade marinade on top. If you decide to use a bag, it helps to put the bag in a shallow dish or over a plate to help catch any drippings. Seal the bag or cover the dish and place it in the refrigerator.
  • If using a bag, every couple of hours, rotate the bag over to make sure there is even distribution of the marinade. If you chose a shallow dish, use tongs to flip the protein over.
  • When you are finished, use tongs to remove the protein from the bag or dish. Discard the remaining marinade as it will have bacteria and will be unsafe to use.

Grillionaire Pro Tip: Don't use a metal container to marinade in, as the acidic mixture can rect with the metal.


How to Marinate Chicken with a Dry Rub

This one is simple. It is a wet marinade minus the wet. You will want to choose a mixture of herbs and spices that will help create a crust on the chicken or protein. This will help SEAL IN the moisture and creates a juicy, flavorful protein that is amplified to the next level. Some common stars for a dry rub marinade can consist of:

  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Red Chilie Flakes
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Cumin
  • Paprika (or Smoked Paprika is MY favorite)
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Brown Sugar 


To Marinate Chicken in a Dry Marinade:

  • In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
  • Use a paper towel to dry the surface of the chicken well. Then coat the exterior of the chicken with the dry rub.
  • Use your fingers massage the rub into the protein. 

Grillionaire Pro Tip: Make sure to wash your hands after doing this. You do NOT want cross contamination in your kitchen.

The next question people ask when using either a wet or dry marinade is, "How long do I marinate the meat for?" DON'T WORRY! I GOT YOU!


How Long to Marinate Chicken

For a dry rub marinade, thirty minutes to two hours should be plenty of time to allow the flavors the herbs and spices (sounds like KFC) to penetrate the chicken and take it to a WHOLE NOTHA' LEVEL! 

For a wet marinate, you would think that the longer you let it swim in the delicious flavors you concocted, the better it would be. Pump the brakes, because this is NOT always the case. You CAN over-do a marinade. If you let boneless chicken marinate for more than two hours, or bone in for more than twelve hours will leave the protein mushy. The acid ingredients can actually begin to "COOK" the chicken and make it tough, too.

Grillionaire Pro Tip: Follow these timelines as you perfect your skills on marinade:

  • Boneless Chicken: Marinade for thirty minutes to two hours.
  • Bone-in Chicken: Marinade for one to twelve hours.

The protein should be cooked almost immediately after marinating. Marinating a protein does NOT extend the shelf life of the meat.

Grillionaire Pro Tip: Sometimes life happens (I have two out of three special needs kids and a full time job) and we forget to marinade the protein before we start to prepare a chicken dinner! I GOT YOU! Consider a "reverse marinade". After cooking the chicken normally, soak them in a marinate for about five minutes righted after the meat has come to an internal temperature of 165ºF. 


Now, after ALL THIS READING, you might be wondering what a good marinade recipe is. Google can always help, but let me save you some time. In my house, this is my go to recipe for a wet chicken marinade. You can substitute ingredients to your liking and flavor profile; but trust me on this, it will change your flavor profile and make YOU the grillionaire™ in your house! 

Grillionaire Pro Tip: This wet marinade recipe works best when you grill the chicken!

Chicken Marinade Ingredients

While the list looks long, most if not all of these ingredients will likely be in your pantry. What we’re doing here is just building layers of flavor in this easy marinade. Let’s take a quick look at what you’ll need:

  • extra virgin olive oil – This is the base of the marinade and keeps the chicken so juicy and moist.
  • balsamic vinegar – A balsamic chicken marinade is my very favorite. It is definitely one of the key ingredients in this recipe and adds loads of flavor.
  • soy sauce – I like to use low sodium.
  • Worcestershire sauce – So much flavor in this ingredient, it’s a must for this marinade.
  • lemon juice – Fresh is best for flavor but you can use bottled if you need to.
  • brown sugar – I have lots of readers that reduce or even eliminate the brown sugar but I personally love it in this recipe.
  • dried rosemary – A little herbaceous flavor is always nice to round out a marinade.
  • Dijon mustard – or Spicy Brown mustard or even plain yellow mustard will work in a pinch.
  • salt and ground black pepper – For seasoning.
  • garlic powder – I prefer garlic powder instead of fresh garlic because the fresh garlic will burn on the grill.
This is about the consistency that you want. From there, let them marinate based on the timeline given above. After the marination process is done, throw them on the hot grill and let the flavors lock in for some AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL chicken! 
Eat well. Do well.

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