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How Long Can You Marinate Chicken?

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Chicken is a dish that many of us work with regularly in our homes, as it is typically inexpensive, healthy, and versatile.

Out of all the great ways to prepare chicken, there’s nothing like marinating and grilling. There is something about personalizing your marinade and grilling that chicken up that makes your mouth water just thinking about it. 

And many of us have had the thought, at one point or another, that maybe the flavors would be even more robust if we just left our chicken in a little longer.

But how long can you marinate chicken? You can marinate raw chicken for up to two days if properly stored in the refrigerator. However, marinating for a long period is not always ideal, as different marinades call for different durations and acidic ingredients can cause your chicken to break down or become tough.

Maybe you set some chicken aside to marinate and then life happened, so you ended up ordering pizza. Maybe you’re just trying to prep some meals ahead for your busy schedule.

In this guide, we will discuss all of the different factors that affect how long you might be able to marinate chicken. Different types of chicken marinate differently and different types of sauces and ingredients can also make a difference. 

A Complete Guide to Marinating Chicken

Many people would tell you to marinate chicken overnight. They say this is the best way to really get those flavors soaked in. The truth is, you can get a good marinade soak in just about 2 hours of marinade time. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t marinate it longer. It just means that if you forgot to marinade it sooner, a couple of hours will work just fine. What you have to be careful about is how the marinade will affect your chicken. 

While you can marinade most options for up to two days, there are some exceptions. For example, if you use anything acidic (lime juice, vinegar, etc.) in your marinade, that can actually cause your chicken to become tougher the longer it marinates

As we progress through this guide, we have several tips like this to consider.

We will cover different types of chicken (legs, wings, thighs, etc.) and different types of marinades and how they might affect your timeframe. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Wings?

Before we get started, here is a quick reference chart that breaks down the different types of chicken parts and how long they should be marinated. The timeline provided in the chart is the maximum recommended time for marinating.

Chicken Maximum Time
Wings 24 hours
Thighs 24 hours
Drumsticks (Legs) 12 hours
Breasts 2 days
Tenderloins 12 hours

The different times vary because of the size of the items and the types of sauces that they are typically marinated with. Now, let’s talk about these individually. 

Chicken wings are typically marinated in sauces that tend to be acidic. While this is not always the case, this is pretty common. Chicken wings are fairly small as well.

It is recommended that you marinate chicken wings for less than 24 hours. Over time, the sauces can actually break down the tender meat on the wings. This will result in you losing good meat or even possibly ruining your wings altogether. 

There are many different types of marinades. Below are just a few options that you might try or see on a local menu:

  • Honey BBQ
  • Buffalo
  • Honey mustard
  • Honey Garlic
  • Spicy
  • Garlic parmesan
  • Sweet Chile sauce
  • Honey garlic
  • Chipotle

These are just a few examples. There are tons of different marinade recipes out there and you really can’t go wrong with any of them, no matter what your preferred flavors are.

Most marinades can be effective within 30 minutes to 2 hours. When it comes to chicken wings, the less time they marinade, the better

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Thighs?

Chicken thighs are another fairly small piece of meat. Thighs can be purchase with bones or without bones, but this aspect really does not make a significant difference as far as the recommended marinating timeframe is concerned. 

Chicken thighs tend to be a fairly tender piece of meat, far more tender than chicken breasts. It is for this reason that you shouldn’t marinate chicken thighs for extended periods of time.

We recommend that you marinate chicken thighs for 24 hours or less, in the fridge

Did you know that you could probably marinade your chicken thigs for just 15 minutes and it will work just fine? We typically recommend 30 minutes to 2 hours, but you could certainly reduce the time if you’re in a hurry. 

Much like wings, chicken thighs will deteriorate over time if they are marinated in an acidic sauce, so you will want to be mindful not to marinate them too long to avoid them just being a mushy mess. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Drumsticks (Legs)?

Chicken drumsticks are perhaps one of the most sensitive chicken parts when it comes to marinating. You will notice that you don’t very often find marinated drumsticks.

You’ll hear far more about them being breaded or seasoned, rather than marinated. 

Don’t let this deter you. You can absolutely marinate drumsticks, just be aware that you shouldn’t marinate them for very long. We recommend 30 minutes to 2 hours for the best results. 

When you marinate chicken drumsticks, you should never marinate them for more than 12 hours. Chicken drumsticks are all dark meat. The longer they marinate, the more that meat will degrade and potentially just fall apart. 

We recommend not doing a prep-ahead marinade for your drumsticks. Instead, marinate them a few hours or even a few minutes before you’re ready to start cooking them. This will offer you the best results in the end. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Breasts?

Chicken breasts are perhaps one of the easiest parts of the chicken to work with when it comes to marinades. You don’t have a bone to work with and the meat is not as tender as several other parts of the chicken, so it is less likely to fall apart under a marinade. 

The thing you really want to watch out for when it comes to marinating chicken breasts is that some marinades actually make the chicken tough, while other marinades are designed to tenderize the chicken, in a sense. 

You will want to be mindful of the ingredients in your marinade and how they can affect the chicken. We will get into some specific marinade ingredients a bit later in this guide. Just keep that concept in your mind as you plan your marinating process. 

Overall, chicken breasts can typically be marinated for up to 2 days, in the fridge. For chicken breasts, we do recommend marinating for at least 2 hours.

Marinating will help the breasts be more tender, but letting them marinate too long can also be detrimental. 

The marinade that you need to be most aware of is anything that has an acidic base. These are the types of marinades that could potentially cause your chicken to get tough if it is used for an extended period of time. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Tenderloins?

Chicken tenderloins are typically pretty small and thin. They are the same type of meat as chicken breasts, but they have many differences, especially in size and shape.

Chicken tenderloins should be treated similarly to drumsticks as far as marinating timeframes. 

It is common to marinate or bread tenderloins, but the timeframes for which you should marinate them are pretty reduced. We do recommend that you allow them to marinate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors soak in. 

However, we recommend that you don’t exceed 12 hours in the marinating process when it comes to chicken tenderloins. Really, for the best quality, we recommend that you try to keep it under 8 hours

Letting the marinade settle for a couple of hours will help tenderize the tenderloins and will also make them juicy and flavorful.

If you let them marinate for too long, you could run into issues with the meat becoming tough in some areas. 

Again, because this is a fairly thin form of chicken meat, you don’t want the quality of the meat to deteriorate or fall apart. The key is to have flavorful chicken without any adverse effects from the process. 

Now, let’s move on and talk about some specific marinade ingredients. 

Marinating With Different Ingredients

We’ve talked about the most common parts of the chicken that you are likely to try to sauce or marinate.

Now, let’s talk about some of the most common types of ingredients that you might add to your marinade and break it down to see how long you should use each one. 

Before we get started, here is a quick reference chart that shares the most common sauce ingredients and the recommended timeframe for marinating chicken with them to see the best results. 

Sauce Ingredient Recommended Time
Lemon or Lime Juice 2 hours
Yogurt Up to 24 hours
Buttermilk 12-48 hours
Italian Dressing 2-12 hours
Vinegar Up to 12 hours

This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather a list of some of the most common things that might be included in a marinade. Working with additions like sauces, herbs, and oils really don’t affect your time that much.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Lemon or Lime Juice?

Lemon and lime juice is perhaps one of the most acidic ingredients when it comes to marinades.

The effect is a bold and robust flavor when mixed with other parts of a marinade, but it can be quite tough on your chicken if it marinates for too long.

We also want to point out that if you use lemon or lime juice, you should never use metal for your holding container. You can use plastic, but metal can cause a negative reaction with the acid that is in lemon juice. 

When you marinate with lemon juice, we recommend marinating for no longer than 2 hours. That is really your sweet spot with this one, but you could work with 30 minutes to 2 hours and have good results. 

After 2 hours, you will find that the lemon juice will affect the texture of the meat. It can break down the chicken and also cause it to become tough in some places as well.

Lemon juice can have a really flavorful effect, but it’s important not to marinate too long when you use it. 

Remember that this is perhaps one of the touchiest ingredients to marinate with. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Yogurt?

Yogurt is an interesting ingredient that you may or may not have heard of for marinating purposes. It’s very delicious and it makes your chicken creamy and juicy all in one go.

Yogurt does contain lactic acid, so many people worry about the acid content negatively affecting their chicken. 

The good news is that lactic acid is less likely to cause an acidic reaction to your chicken. It is not going to make it either mushy or tough, but it will make it tender and juicy.

You can marinate using yogurt in a quick-marinade for as little as 15 minutes

Alternatively, you can marinade in yogurt for up to 24 hours without your chicken suffering from adverse effects. Yogurt is one of the easiest ingredients to work with as a marinade. 

You can mix your yogurt with some spices, and your chicken will be totally infused with creamy, juicy flavors. Don’t worry, it won’t taste milky when it is done either.

We recommend using Greek yogurt, but you can really use any type you wish. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk?

Buttermilk is another marinade ingredient that can fool you. Buttermilk does have some acid in it, which is what makes it buttermilk. The thing with buttermilk is that you actually want to marinate your chicken longer.

Obviously, you don’t want to over-marinate your chicken, but at the same time, you want to give the buttermilk time to really do its work. Buttermilk is used a lot for breaded and fried chicken, but it can be used in other marinade options as well and is just fine for grilled chicken. 

With buttermilk, your chicken will be tender and flavorful, and oh-so-juicy. Buttermilk can be used in combination with other ingredients and spices, and it really works to draw and hold those flavors in. 

With buttermilk, you will not have a milky flavor, but it does give your chicken a robust flavor and perfectly tender texture. 

We recommend that you let your chicken marinate in buttermilk for at least 12 hours. You marinate in buttermilk for up to 48 hours without having to worry about any negative results on your chicken. 

The very best timeframe to work with is 12-24 hours with a buttermilk marinade. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Italian Dressing?

Italian dressing is a common marinade choice because it is simple and convenient. You don’t have to mix up a marinade or worry about a bunch of seasonings, and you get it right there in the bottle.

You simply pour on the dressing and your chicken is already marinating. 

Italian dressing tends to be acidic, so you will want to be careful of how long you marinate. We always recommend marinating for at least 2 hours, although you can do a quick marinade if you need to. 

Italian dressing is a somewhat touchy marinade because the acid in it could cause your chicken to either turn mushy or hard. In this case, it’s more likely to make your chicken too tough in some places if you let it marinate for too long

We recommend marinating in Italian dressing for anywhere between 2-12 hours. We do not recommend exceeding 12 hours, as that is when you might start seeing some negative effects on your chicken that will not be nearly as delicious. 

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Vinegar?

Vinegar is called for in a number of marinade recipes. You might not think of vinegar as having a good flavor, but when it is used to make a marinade, it does delightful things to your chicken.

The flavor will be outstanding and your chicken will be nice and tender. 

With vinegar, you can mix almost any other sauce, spice, or herb to get your chicken flavored exactly how you want it. Vinegar is used as a base to mix up your own marinade.

Vinegar is also considered to be acidic, so you will need to be careful not to let your chicken marinate for too long.

When you marinate with vinegar, we recommend a minimum of 1 hour. Keep in mind that you can do a quick marinade and it will work just fine, but the best results come with at least an hour sitting in your marinade. 

Since vinegar is fairly acidic, we recommend that you don’t marinate your chicken in the mixture for more than 12 hours.

You should toss and coat your chicken with your mixture and then refrigerate it in the marinade for up to 12 hours before cooking it. 

Much like with other acidic ingredients, if you let it marinate for too long, the quality of your chicken will begin to diminish. With vinegar, your chicken might become too tough to really be enjoyable. 

You can start your marinade in the morning and make your chicken for dinner, but remember not to let it sit too long if you can help it.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in the Fridge?

We always recommend marinating your chicken in the fridge. Chicken will marinate faster and better in the fridge and it’s far safer.

You never want your chicken to turn warm or even reach room temperature while it is marinating. This can create the perfect breeding environment for bad bacteria.

If you marinate at room temperature, it should only be for 30 minutes or less. We prefer the fridge because it actually has a better effect overall for the chicken and the marinade.

Depending on the chicken and the marinade itself, you can marinate in the fridge for up to 2 hours

Related Questions:

We hope that you found this extensive guide to marinating your chicken to be informative and helpful. We invite you to review the following question and answer section for some additional information. 

Can You Marinate Frozen Chicken?

If you’re more interested in saving marinating time than extending it, you might be wondering whether you can take your chicken straight out of the freezer and plop it right into your marinade.

In that case, we have written a separate guide for whether or not you should marinate your frozen chicken here.

How Do You Marinate Chicken Faster?

You will notice that many of these sauces and marinades that we discussed here recommend a minimum of 1-2 hours for marinating time. The good news is that most marinades will actually work in as little as 15 minutes

The best types of marinade for shorter time frames use vinegar, lemon juice, or Italian dressing as the marinade base.

This is because these ingredients can tend to soak in much quicker and give you a flavorful and tender chicken in a shorter amount of time.

We typically recommend marinating for 30 minutes for a quick marinade, but remember that you can marinate for 15 minutes if you really have a time crunch.

How Can You Tell If Marinated Chicken Is Bad?

Underneath your marinade, you should still be able to distinguish the color of your chicken. Bad chicken starts to turn a dull gray color.

This is one of the best indicators. You might also check for any sliminess or bad smells

Is It Ok to Marinate Overnight?

You can marinate chicken overnight and potentially up to 2 days. Remember to refer to the recommended timeframes to know what to expect and how long you should marinate chicken according to the recipe or ingredients used.

Up Next: Can You Fry Frozen Chicken? – How To Do It Safely

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