5 Easy Chicken Marinades for Grilling

5 Easy Chicken Marinades for Grilling

Barbecues are an occasion for everyone to come together and forget the stresses of everyday life in exchange for food, fun, and laughter. Having attended many cookouts over the years, I’ve always enjoyed something new and tasty thrown on the grill. 

What I didn’t want was bland chicken fillets that gave the same flavor repeatedly. I found that with a quick and easy chicken marinade, you can really make your dish pop.

Let’s dive into some tips on marinating and a few delicious marinades that you can use for your next family, friend, or work barbecue, whether you’re the host or a guest!

Helpful Tips For Marinating Chicken

It’s easy to run to the store and pick-up a pre-made marinade, but I highly suggest you try making a homemade recipe instead. Not only is it easy and uses simple ingredients, but it’s a lot healthier too.

Unfortunately, many marinades in the market tend to have lots of processed ingredients such as artificial coloring and high fructose corn syrup. Stay away! Plus, you’ll save more money by just making it a DIY (do-it-yourself) project. 

Here are a few helpful tips on how to marinate chicken successfully. 

Tip #1: Use a Large Bowl or Bag

It would be best to use a large bowl with plastic wrap over the top or a plastic bag that you can seal. This ensures that you’re dealing in all of the flavors and juices as much as is possible. In general, less than one pound of chicken only requires a 1qt sized bag. 

This process is also what distinguishes a chicken marinade from a dry rub. The dry rub flavors the outside of the chicken, but a marinade penetrates and flavors the entire cut of meat. Many grill chefs will often use a combination of both.

Tip #2: Marinate in Refrigerator

You always want to marinate your chicken in the refrigerator as opposed to room temperature. Doing so will help to keep food borne illnesses at bay. Additionally, do not keep your marinating chicken near other foods in the refrigerator. 

This will avoid raw meat contamination and should be a rule of thumb for any meat that you marinate in general. 

Tip #3: Create a Base

As a base for the chicken marinade, use a combination of oil, spices, and acid for your recipe. Also, be sure to throw away any marinade that you don’t use once you begin cooking. You can’t attempt to make a sauce without cooking it first because it’ll contain raw chicken juices, which is unsafe for consumption. 

Tip #4: Freeze It

In the instance that you can’t cook it within 48 hours, you should freeze it so that you can use it later. This is where using a plastic Ziploc bag would be really handy as you can just toss it in the freezer without finding a separate container. Just thaw it and cook when you’re ready.

How Long To Marinate Chicken

Chicken is a pretty light protein that doesn’t necessarily require a long marination period to become tender. It’s already relatively tender, but you can significantly enhance the flavor and juiciness with a delicious chicken marinade. This is different from other meats like beef or pork that are more dense and fibrous, requiring much more time for the flavor to penetrate. 

Therefore, marinating your chicken for precisely 4-6 hours is ideal; however, it can depend on the cut and size as well. For example, you should marinate a whole chicken for at least four hours and no more than 12 hours. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can marinate as little as one hour or as many as four hours. It all depends on the size and quantity of pieces you have. 

Can You Marinate Chicken Too Long?

It is possible to over-marinate your chicken, mainly if your marinade contains an acidic agent such as vinegar or lemon juice. It’s important to remember that certain acidic marinades can make your chicken tougher and chewier over time, so you should be careful not to overdo it. Again, chicken is a light protein, so the flavor will be there with the recommended amount of time. 

As mentioned above, don’t keep your chicken marinating for longer than two days without freezing it. If you stay within the ideal time frame, you can avoid leaving your chicken for too long and compromising its texture. 

How Long Are You Supposed To Cook Chicken Breast?

A standard serving size for chicken is three ounces. This is about the same size as a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. One chicken breast can yield two servings, but that depends on the size of the chicken breast itself. The chicken marinade recipes in this article are suitable for two chicken breasts, roughly a half-pound. 

If you’re interested in marinating a full pound of chicken, you can simply double up on the ingredients. 

How long you cook the chicken will vary with the size of the chicken breast. However, here are some simple rules to follow in order to make it easier on yourself if you’re a beginner. The most important factor when cooking chicken is making sure that it reaches 165°F internally; any lower, and not only is that considered raw, but it’s unsafe to eat. 

person checking internal temperature of cooked chicken

If you go much higher than this temperature, it may become dry and chewy, and you definitely don’t want that! Try to remember that you want to cook the chicken until you notice that the juices have become clear when you cut the meat’s thickest part. 

When you’re grilling your chicken, you cook it for approximately 4-6 minutes on each side over the flames. You’ll need to cook the chicken for 10-12 minutes on each side if you’re cooking over indirect heat, such as a griddle pan atop the grill.

How To Freeze Marinated Chicken

So you’ve already read that you can freeze your chicken if you’re not able to cook it after it’s been marinating for a while. I recommend using those quart-sized bags I mentioned earlier for less than a pound of chicken, and for anything larger, the one-gallon bags will do. 

It is interesting to note that you can actually freeze your marinated chicken as soon as you make the marinade. When you’re ready to cook it, allow it 24hrs to thaw in the refrigerator, and it’ll marinate in the process. 

Each recipe presented in this article works well with freezing ahead of time or after, if necessary. These marinades will last for up to three months in the freezer. You can also add the chicken marinade to frozen chicken and let it freeze with the chicken because once you thaw it out, the process will be the same; it’ll marinate and thaw simultaneously.

5 Easy Chicken Marinade Recipes

Now that you know the magic behind marinating, here are five tasty chicken marinades that are guaranteed to deliver flavorful, moist, superb chicken time and time again. We’ve also included a few delicious sides that’ll really bring everything together. 

These are our top picks for easy chicken marinades:

  • Lemon Pepper Zesty Marinade
  • Jerk Caribbean Marinade
  • Chicken Fajita Marinade
  • Garlic Honey Marinade
  • Smoky Chipotle Marinade

Lemon Pepper Zesty Chicken Marinade

You really can’t have a list of chicken marinades without lemon pepper coming into the picture, right? We recommend adding Lemon Snap Peas to this marinated chicken dish.

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 2 

Calories: 69 

Ingredients:

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-2 minced garlic cloves

-1 tablespoon of lemon zest

-1 tablespoon of crushed black peppercorns

-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

– ½ teaspoon of sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
  2. Place your chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, and pour in the lemon pepper chicken marinade. Be sure to press the liquid into the chicken and shake the bag to coat well. 
  3. Put the bag into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 6 hours. 

Jerk Caribbean Chicken Marinade

This Caribbean-inspired Jerk Chicken marinade is packed full of intense flavors and spices. An excellent side for this chicken would be Baked Zucchini Wedges. 

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings:

Calories: 85 

Ingredients:

-½ teaspoon of sea salt

-1 teaspoon of dried thyme

-1 ½ tablespoons of coconut sugar

-½ teaspoon of ground allspice

-½ teaspoon of ground black pepper

-2 tablespoons of lime juice

-¼ teaspoon of cayenne

-1 ½ teaspoon of garlic powder

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. 
  2. Place your chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, and pour in the jerk chicken marinade. Be sure to press the liquid into the chicken and shake the bag to coat well. 
  3. Put the bag into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 6 hours.

Chicken Fajita Marinade 

Making fajita chicken is a great idea on any day of the week, and this marinade is a must-have if you want robust flavor and moist chicken. Adding Cilantro Lime Rice would be the perfect side for this marinade. 

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 2 chicken breasts

Calories: 84 kcal

Ingredients:

-1 teaspoon of paprika

-1 minced garlic clove

-2 tablespoons of soy sauce (low sodium)

-⅓ cup of lime juice (about 2-3 limes)

-1 teaspoon of ground cumin

– ¼ cup of pineapple juice

-¼ cup of chopped cilantro

-½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

-½ teaspoon of ground black pepper

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-1 teaspoon of sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to combine. 
  2. Place your chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, and pour in the chicken fajita marinade. Be sure to press the liquid into the chicken and shake the bag to coat well. 
  3. Put the bag into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to 6 hours.

Garlic and Honey Chicken Marinade

This is the most effortless marinade on the list, including only four ingredients, but the flavor won’t disappoint! Pair this fantastic garlic and Honey flavored chicken with a simple side such as Roasted Broccoli for an easy and healthy meal idea. 

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings:

Calories: 98 

Ingredients:

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-¼ cup of raw honey

-2 minced garlic cloves

– 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (low sodium)

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
  2. Place your chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, and pour in the garlic and honey chicken marinade. Be sure to press the liquid into the chicken and shake the bag to coat well. 
  3. Put the bag into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to 6 hours.

Smoky Chipotle Chicken Marinade

This Smoky Chipotle Chicken Marinade is very flavorful and spicy. Feel free to add less of the spicier ingredients if you want a little less punch. This chicken marinade is good when paired with Sweet Potato Fries.

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings:

Calories: 65 

Ingredients:

-½ teaspoon of ground cumin 

-½ teaspoon of sea salt

-2 teaspoons of adobo sauce 

-½ teaspoon of onion powder

-1 tablespoon of fresh-squeezed lime juice

-¼ teaspoon of black pepper

-2 tablespoons of olive oil

-½ teaspoon of garlic powder

Instructions:

  1. Add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well to combine.
  2. Place your chicken into a freezer-safe Ziploc bag, and pour in the smoky chipotle chicken marinade. Be sure to press the liquid into the chicken and shake the bag to coat well. 
  3. Put the bag into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to 6 hours.

Finals Thoughts

Hopefully, our suggestions for easy chicken marinades have given you some ideas for your next gathering. Barbecuing should be a fun and enjoyable experience for anyone, whether they’re a vet or a newcomer to the grill. 

Keep in mind the best methods for marinating, conserving, and cooking your chicken. Enjoy throwing together different meals with these exquisite marinades that require little effort but offer big flavor!

Happy Grilling!

D.D. Boyd

Hello, I'm D.D. Boyd, one of the contributors to this site.

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