How long to marinate chicken

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If you’re looking for a surefire antidote to chicken boredom — and we’ve all known that one — dip this bird in a marinade for a wake-up taste everyone at the table will appreciate. And if you hesitate, we have all the details for you how long to marinate chicken!

A marinade can be as simple (hello, store-bought friend in a bottle!) or as complex and homemade as you want it to be. Regardless of what you use, you’re almost always guaranteed to enjoy a flavor payoff.

Related: 7 easy marinades for chicken

What makes a marinade?

Typically, marinades consist of three components: a fat or oil such as canola, avocado, or olive oil; an acid – think vinegar, wine, yogurt, buttermilk, wine, or citrus juices; and Spices – Your essential spices and herbs, as well as other goodies like garlic and onions.

The oil in a marinade is a great channel for flavor as it keeps the chicken from drying out and can help neutralize or buffer the effects of the acid, which breaks down the proteins in the meat and tenderizes the chicken .

And when it comes to spices, technology knows no bounds—just remember that using your entire spice rack could overwhelm the end result. Instead, be thoughtful about your choices. Try smoked paprika, thyme, freshly ground black pepper, and crushed garlic cloves for full-bodied—not muddled—flavored chicken.

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And we haven’t forgotten the salt – an undeniably important ingredient in a good marinade. Here’s the thing, though: leaving your chicken hanging in a salty marinade for hours can ultimately dehydrate the chicken. So if you’re marinating chicken for more than an hour, add the salt or salty component (like soy sauce) right before you cook the meat.

OK, so how long should I marinate chicken?

The length of marinating time for chicken can vary depending on the cut and the type of marinade used, but there is one basic rule for marinating that applies regardless of these factors: Don’t exceed 24 hours! And in most cases, you don’t need to marinate chicken nearly that long. Exceeding a full day of marinating time can end up with a soggy, stringy chicken dish, especially if the marinade contains citrus. Who wants that? Not us.

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Leaner cuts of chicken, like boneless, skinless chicken breasts, only take 30 minutes to ramp up with flavor, while dark meat chickens can last longer

Markus Jenner, Grilling expert and founder of Food Fire Friends recommends these marinating times for best results:

  • Whole Chicken: At least 4 to 12 hours
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts: 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs: 1 to 6 hours
  • Skin and bone-in chicken breasts: 1 to 2 hours
  • Chicken quarters, drumsticks and bone-in wings: 1 to 6 hours

Any safety considerations for marinades?

Any time you work with raw meat, there are safety concerns to consider. To safely marinate whole chickens or chicken pieces, the USDA suggests completely submerging the chicken in the marinade in a food-safe plastic bag (cheers for easy cleanup!) or a glass or plastic container. Metal containers are safe to use, but depending on the ingredients in the marinade, they can have a reactive quality that can affect the flavor of the chicken.

Poultry can be technically safely stored in a marinade, sealed or covered and refrigerated for up to two days; but after that time, as mentioned above, you will see diminishing returns in texture and flavor. Bottom Line: There is never a compelling reason to marinate chicken for more than a day.

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Can I reuse marinade?

Actually yes! Keep. Don’t flinch. Here’s the catch:

In most cases, recipes will tell you to discard used marinade. And while you’re welcome to throw it out if you wish, the USDA confirms that you can boil the remaining mixture for five minutes to destroy any remaining bacteria. Boiling the marinade effectively reduces it and creates a glaze that can be brushed onto the chicken in the final minutes of cooking for an extra hit of flavor.

next up: 40 affordable and delicious chicken recipes

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