How Long to Marinate Chicken

When it comes to knowing how long to marinate chicken, not all cuts are created equal.

Garlic-Yogurt Marinated Chicken Thighs
Photo: Hector Sanchez

Chicken marinades are one of the easiest ways to impart loads of flavor into an everyday protein. But if you're not well-versed in working with meat and marinades, some steps of the process may be intimidating.

How long should chicken be left to marinate? Is there a minimum time in which you'll see results? Or is there such a thing as over-marinating?

We'll answer these questions and more below in this guide to marinade timing.

How Long Should I Marinate Chicken?

Beef, pork, and other meats tend to require a bit more time to marinate, but chicken can be marinated relatively quickly. Most recipes call for chicken to marinate for at least 2 to 6 hours, if not overnight. This means that marinated chicken is one of the easiest same-day or overnight proteins you could prepare, which may make it a more attractive option for home chefs who are looking to impart a lot of flavor without expending much effort.

If you're unable to marinate your chicken for at least 2 hours, a marinade can still impart flavor to the outside of the chicken. Even 30 minutes in a marinade can make a difference in the taste of the final dish; the flavors just won't be as present as they would be if the chicken had been allowed to marinate for a bit longer.

Important: If your marinade is full of fresh citrus or vinegar, like the one in this chicken skewers recipe, keep the marinating time below an hour for optimal results. Poultry marinated in citrus, like lemon or lime juices, or vinegars can turn mushy and stringy if left to soak for too long.

chicken breasts in marinade
Will Dickey

Can I Marinate Chicken for Too Long?

For the most part, you shouldn't plan on marinating your chicken for longer than 24 hours. However, the USDA's website indicates that you can safely marinate chicken for up to 48 hours.

Past that, however, you're going to risk turning your chicken into a mushy mess. Just remember, the longer the chicken is left in the marinade, the more the fibers in the meat break down.

Overall, meat tenderization is a positive, but there's a limit to all things. In fact, marinades with high acidity may actually end up toughening chicken that has been left too long. For that reason, it's arguable that a quick soak is the best way to marinate chicken, especially if you're using a cut like chicken breasts, which contain less fat.

Can I Reuse a Chicken Marinade?

It's never safe to reuse a marinade that raw meat has been bathing in due to potential bacteria growth; however, there is one method to safely repurpose the flavor-filled sauce.

Simply bring the marinade to a boil for 5 minutes on the stovetop to reduce it to a glaze. The goal here is to kill any pesky pathogens that may have transferred from the raw chicken, like Salmonella and E. coli. As your chicken nears the end of its cooking time, use a clean basting brush to coat it with the repurposed marinade glaze for an extra punch of flavor.

Key West Chicken
Will Dickey

Get the Recipe: Key West Chicken

Timing Guide to Marinating Chicken

Decide on a chicken marinade recipe and gather your ingredients. Find a sealing dish that will fit the cuts of chicken, and make sure you have prepped enough marinade to completely cover the meat.

Start leaner cuts closer to mealtime

Consider the cut of chicken you've decided to use in your dish, as well as the type of marinade. If you're using a leaner cut of chicken, start marinating your chicken closer to when you intend to cook it. Some cuts do best when marinated for as little as 2 hours, especially when a more acidic marinade is being used.

Marinate fatty cuts a bit longer

If you're using a cut like chicken thighs or drumsticks—which have a bit more fat—you can marinate your chicken longer. Still, it's probably best to err on the side of marinating your chicken for less than 24 hours.

Avoid over-marinating

While you can cook and eat chicken that has been marinating for more than 24 hours, you're risking exposing yourself to some strange textures. Chicken can get both mushy and tough when it's been left to marinate too long. If it's been more than 48 hours, the USDA recommends throwing it out.

Chicken Marinade Recipes to Try

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