Winner Winner Chicken...MARINADE?

Are you tired of wondering how long you should marinate chicken? Instead of guessing, I have the PERFECT amount of time for you to marinate chicken! 

You have some chicken in your freezer that you need to use. You want to turn something bland into a flavor wake-up everyone at the table will appreciate. You decide on a marinade, but you aren't sure how long the marinade should go; so you find yourself hesitating.

Has this imaginary scenario happened to you (I sound like a infomercial)? Don't worry, I GOT YOU! I am going to give you all the details on how long to marinate chicken! 

The great thing about marinade is it can be as simple as a store bought marinade or a complex chemical make up that is closely guarded to your chest. Regardless, it will almost certainly guarantee a flavor payoff.

What Makes a Marinade? 

I am glad you (in your head voice) asked! Typically, marinades are made up of three different components: 

  • Fat or Oil- Canola, Olive, Avacado
  • An Acid- Vinegar, Wine, Yogurt, Buttermilk, Citrus Juices
  • Seasoning- BBQ Rubs, Herbs, Spices

The oil in a marinade is a great conductor of flavor. This can set the whole tone of the marinade and will also keep the chicken from drying out. I will also act as a buffer of the acid, which breaks down the proteins and helps tenderize the chicken. 

Now, lets talk seasonings. Technically there is no limit on what you can use. You DO want to be mindful, not to use your whole spice cabinet because you could overwhelm the end result. Instead, be thoughtful in your spice selection. I like to use certain bbq rubs with my marinades, but you can also use regular spices; such as smoked paprika, thyme, ground black pepper and garlic cloves. Things like this will offer a full body flavor and not muddle it down.

Of course, you never want to forget salt. This is an undeniable ingredient in a marinade. However, leaving your chicken in a salt bath for hours could draw the moisture out. Remember, we are trying to make a marinade, not a brine. So, if you ARE marinating for longer than an hour, add the salt or salty ingredient right before you cook the protein.

Ok, Ok! I Have a Marinade Recipe, But How Long Do I Let The Chicken Marinate?

Again, great imaginary question in your head! The length of the marinating process can vary. Many variables could be from the cut or the type of marinade. But the ONE cardinal rule for marinating chicken stands, no matter the marinate or cut: DO NOT EXCEED MORE THAN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS! 

IN MOST CASES, you won't need to marinade it that long anyway. Exceeding a full day can use the chicken to be stringy and mushy at the end; and who wants that?

Leaner cuts of chicken (the boneless, skinless kind) need as little as thirty minutes. This will infuse the protein with flavor. Dark meats, can go longer.

Enough Chatter, Show Me a Chart!


  • Whole Chicken- Minimum 4 to 12 Hours
  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast- 30 Mins to 2 Hours
  • Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thigh- 1 to 6 Hours
  • Skin-On, Bone-In Chicken Breasts- 1 to 2 Hours
  • Skin-On, Bone-In Chicken Thighs and Wings- 1 to 6 Hours


Now, anytime you work with raw meat there are going to be some safety precautions and concerns. First, make sure to completely immerse the protein you are using in the marinade in a food safe plastic bag or glass container. You can use metal containers but they can be reactive and may interfere with any flavor profile you are trying to accomplish.

Final Question Mark, Can I Re-use The Marinade?

Great question and the answer might shock you. YES! Don't cringe just yet, let me explain.

In most marinade recipes, the end result is you throwing out the marinade because the book told you to do so. NOT SO FAST! The USDA confirms that you CAN reuse it by taking the remaining mixture, boiling it for five to seven minutes and that will destroy any remaining bacteria. 

Boiling the marinade will effectively reduce it to a glaze which can be brushed on the chicken during the last few minutes of the cook. This will give it that last hit of flavor!

 Until next time, make sure you eat well, do well, and serve good food! 

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