It’s grilling season, and everyone loves some fresh juicy chicken on the grill. Nothing is better than a flavorful marinade with a little char.
This simple marinade hands down makes the best chicken I have ever had on the grill. And versatile enough to be used on both vegetables and other meats.
Best Chicken Marinade Recipe
Regardless of the season, we grill a lot. Chicken is the #1 go-to item to have in the freezer and also to throw on the flames. But grilling chicken often leaves it dry and bland which is where this simple chicken marinade comes into play.
And the beauty of it, the marinade can be used on your whole meal and beyond. Vegetables, chicken, seafood and even meats. You can even use it as a salad dressing. Make a new batch or set some aside. Do not use leftover chicken marinade on anything, please discard.
Fresh herbs, olive oil and citrus are the key elements and complement a whole host of flavors. So, here are some important things you need to know if you are using a marinade for chicken, seafood, meat, or vegetables.
Why Marinate Chicken?
A marinade is a liquid solution that you use to soak foods before you cook them. A marinade begins the breakdown process for cooking making the food more tender and adding flavor.
This action can be done when you use ingredients that are acidic such as vinegar, wine, fruit juice, or enzymatic components such as pineapple, papaya, ginger, or guava. Marinades can be store bought or you can make them from scratch at home.
Why Marinate Before You Grill? Not only does it infuse with flavor, but grilling uses intensely high heat that has the potential to dry foods out. Marianting is basically a flavored brine that will ensure your meats stay juicy.
How Long Should You Marinade Your Food?
When you marinate any type of food, it is important to know how long. The optimal amount of time will give juiciness and flavor while too long can produce a rubbery, dense effect.
- How long do I marinate chicken? Chicken is fairly dense and needs about 12 hours if not prepped. You can achieve great results in a short amount of time, about 30 minutes, if you pierce the chicken all over with a fork or give it a few whacks with a meat tenderizer.
- What if I marinate too long? If chicken is left too long in the marinade it will actually becomes tough and rubbery. I max chicken out at 24 hours.
- Do you marinate in the fridge? Always marinate meat in the refrigerator. Foodborne illness develops swiftly at temperatures lower than 37°F.
- Do I need it to come to room temperature before cooking? No. My husband used to tell me to “not shock the meat” meaning to take it out of the fridge to take the chill off before cooking. It would takes hours for this process to actually happen and also increases the chance of your meat not cooking properly all the way through.
Marinating Times for Other Foods:
- Fish and Seafood: You will want a milder marinade for a shorter time for fish and seafood. You will want to marinade them for 15-30 minutes.
- Beef and Pork: Beef and pork are naturally tougher meats, so you can marinade them much longer. Depending on how tender you like it, you should marinade beef and pork 1 to 12 hours. A skirt steak only needs a few hours, but something like a NY strip might need longer.
- Vegetables: Dense vegetables should be marinated for 30-minutes to 2 hours. Softer vegetables will only need to be marinated for 30-minutes at the most. Some vegetables won’t be penetrated at all and will benefit from being cooked and then tossed in a small amount of the liquid.
How to Make (Step-By-Step)
- Add the lemon juice, olive oil, and minced garlic into a medium bowl, whisk.
- Add the fresh herbs and other seasonings, whisk again.
- Pour over your chicken or other meats and marinate for desired amount of time.
Easy swaps: you can use a vegetable or canola oil instead of olive oil. Fresh herbs will always pack more flavor than dried, although dried will pack more punch than nothing. To swap those out use 1 teaspoon of a dried herb for every 1 tablespoon of fresh. Fresh lemon juice also carries more citrus goodness than bottled. Lime juice can be used instead of lemon.
Can I add in other flavors? Sure! This simple marinade is an excellent base for additional flavors. These are some of my favorites:
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Brown Sugar
- Honey Mustard
- Dijon Mustard
What Type of Chicken Should I Use?
People tend to want to use boneless skinless chicken breasts for grilling, but they are actually quick tricky because of the shape. Tenderize them well or butterfly them to try and get a uniform thickness across the whole piece.
Chicken thighs, either boneless or fileted are my favorite. Dark meat is naturally more flavorful and they are smaller, so they marinate and grill quicker.
This recipe also works on chicken legs, a spatchcocked chicken or even smaller pieces like grilled chicken tenders. Or buy a whole roaster chicken and break it down yourself to have a variety and save a few dollars.
Tips for Juicy Chicken
Chicken on the grill has the tendency to dry out. Here are some tips to prevent that from happening:
- If using breast, tenderize or piece the meat.
- Try to use uniform sizes of meat.
- Cook over indirect heat, low and slow.
- Use a meat thermometer. Chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Let it rest. Take it off about 5°before it reaches your desired temp. Because of carry over cooking, the temp will rise.
- ACTUALLY LET IT REST! I can not stress this enough. Allowing meat to rest is the difference between losing all those precious juices to your plate or having them reabsorb back into the meat fibers. Chicken needs about 10 minutes to let that happen. If you are worried it won’t be piping hot, loosely over it with a piece of aluminum foi.
Freezing & Storage
Can I freeze this chicken? This is a freezer friendly chicken recipe. Simply freeze uncooked chicken or meat with marinade in freezer bag. Thaw overnight in refrigerator, then grill or cook in skillet. Make sure to check out my tips and tricks for freezing food.
More flavorful chicken on the grill:
Tools for making chicken on the grill:
Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil– A good olive oil will taste like, well, olives, while a poorly made one will taste like vegetable oil. Gross. While people tend to favor Italian and Greek olive oils, I prefer to buy mine domestically.
There are some great ones out there from all over the world, but the reporting of ingredients isn’t always the same and you could find that your super expensive olive oil was actually cut with vegetable oil.
Plastic Bag Stand– If you are into meal prep, freezer meals or just marinate a lot, this little handy dandy tool is great for helping ziploc bags stand upright while you are working and avoiding spills.
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Best Grilled Chicken Marinade
- Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, Kosher salt, black pepper, parsley, basil and oregano in a bowl.
- Mix well.
- Combine with the chicken in a large mixing bowl or an airtight plastic bag. Massage into the chicken.
- Refrigerate at least 2 hours, but up to 24 hours.
- Remove chicken from marinade, discarding remaining marinade mixture.
- If grilling, heat to medium-high heat.
- Cook on indirect heat for 30 minutes, turning, occasionally, or until internal temperture of chicken reaches 165 degrees.
- Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or ratings.