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How To Marinate A Whole Chicken

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Chicken is one of the most popular types of meats and the most consumed type of poultry. It is affordable, easy to make, versatile in its uses, and flexible when it comes to flavor pairings.

However, its biggest downside is that it often comes out dry! So, a way to prevent this is by using a marinade. But with so many different recipes and opinions out there, who knows where to start?

So, how do you properly marinate a whole chicken? The best way to marinate a whole chicken is to coat the entire chicken in a marinade. If you don’t have enough to cover the entire chicken, turn it every 1-2 hours. Also, the ideal marinating time is 6 hours. And finally, don’t rinse off the marinade before cooking the chicken.

In today’s jam-packed article, we will be discussing everything you need to know about marinating whole chicken.

We will look at different types of marinades and how they work, how to marinate chicken correctly, and a ton of handy tips and tricks. So, are you ready to make the perfect flavor-packed whole chicken?

Benefits Of Marinating A Whole Chicken

A marinade is made of a mixture of oils, wines, spices, and herbs, in which meat is soaked before it is cooked. This soaking process has numerous functions that ultimately elevate the quality of the meat. Marinating meat has 3 main functions.

Tenderizes The Meat

When you use a marinade, regardless of the type used, it will have a tenderizing effect. What this essentially means is that the tough protein bonds are broken down to make the meat much more tender and soft

Doing so also allows the meat to absorb more flavor and moisture.

Adds More Flavor To Bland Cuts

A marinade is always flavored—that’s what makes it so delicious! You will never just use an acid, dairy ingredient, or oil to flavor meat.

And as we have just mentioned, the flavor is added once the meat becomes tenderized (thanks to the acids).

Flavor can be added by using ground or whole spices, fresh herbs, and aromatics.

You can also add condiments such as mustard (Dijon or whole grain), ketchup, or salad dressings. Furthermore, ingredients like garlic, chili, ginger, and onions add a ton of flavor!

This is really where your creativity is your only limit. We are frequently asked how to make marinades, but it is surprisingly easy.

You can start with a basic flavor profile and make minor changes. As you change something, make a note of it, how it affected the flavor after cooking, and how you liked it.

After a while, you will easily be able to create new and interesting flavors without much thought!

Adds Juiciness To Dry Cuts

Last but not least, using a marinade will also help add moisture. As you may know, chicken can become dry when cooked.

Think back to when you last roasted a chicken (without any sauces or marinades). While it isn’t impossible to get it juicy, it sure does take a lot of work!

But, when you use a marinade (of any kind), as it tenderizes, it will simultaneously absorb the juices in the marinade. This will make it lose less moisture when it cooks and leave you with soft juicy meat.

Types Of Marinades You Can Use

There is a wide range of marinades you can use for chicken and other meats. Now, while they are all meant to be incredibly flavorful, some fulfill specific functions better than others.

But, at the end of the day, they will all help tenderize and flavor your meat.

So, let’s have a look at some of the best types of marinades that will work for a whole chicken. And, we will look at what exactly makes them unique and special. 

Acidic Marinades

These marinades are meant to make the meat extremely tender by breaking down the protein bonds. Once the bonds are broken, the rest of the flavors are much more easily absorbed.

Unfortunately, when made and used in the incorrect ratios, they can toughen the meat. So, the perfect ratio for acidic marinades would be 2 parts acid, 1 part oil, herbs, spices, and other aromatics.

You can use any type of acid like citrus juices, a variety of vinegar, and acidic wines. For the oil part, we recommend either olive oil or neutrally-flavored oil. However, you can play around with pairings if you feel comfortable enough.

And finally, the spices, herbs, and aromatics will ultimately create a large part of the flavor profile. Luckily, chicken is fairly easy to pair and you will have no problem getting new ideas online.

Oil-Based Marinades

This type of marinade won’t necessarily tenderize the meat as much as an acidic option will. This is because oil doesn’t break down protein bonds as easily and well as acid does.

So, the best way to use an oil-based marinade is to allow the whole chicken to sit inside it for a long time.

This way it will eventually infuse the meat with the flavors in the marinade recipe. You can leave it for up to 24 hours in the fridge. But, if you place it inside a vacuum-sealed bag, you can store it for 2-3 days.

An oil-based marinade is made using oil, spices, and herbs. As before, if you feel comfortable enough with flavor pairings, you can experiment with using different kinds of oil.

Dairy-Based Marinades

Dairy marinades are also unique because of the type of dairy you use. Essentially, this marinade isn’t removed before you cook the whole chicken. It is cooked alongside it and eventually becomes a basting sauce.

The dairy you use for this category of marinades includes tangy and slightly acidic dairy products. This can include yogurt, buttermilk, and sour cream.

This means that they will have a tenderizing effect on the chicken meat while adding a creamy flavor.

These marinades are also made with some herbs, spices, and other aromatics like onion, ginger, and garlic.

Best Way To Marinate A Whole Chicken

There aren’t a ton of different ways to marinate a chicken. However, there are many different types of marinades you can use, preparation techniques, marinating times, and even cooking methods.

All of these will ultimately affect how well your chicken marinates and the final texture and flavor. So, let’s have a look at the best way to marinate a whole chicken.


  1. Start by cleaning and preparing the chicken.
  2. Next, you can make your marinade. Due to their nature, a marinade can also be made a couple of days in advance, However, if you want to marinate your chicken for long, rather make it fresh.
  3. Then, place the prepared chicken inside a glass container. Pour the marinade directly over the chicken. It is best if the entire surface area is covered with the marinade.
  4. Once you have coated the entire surface of your chicken, wrap the glass container or place an airtight lid on the top. Store your chicken inside the fridge for 5-6 hours. Remember to turn any chicken that isn’t fully covered in marinade.
  5. Once you have removed the chicken from the marinade, place it inside a lined roasting tray and roast for the appropriate amount of time. Or, you can use another type of cooking method you like.

Tips For Marinating Chicken

  • If necessary, clean your chicken and make sure that any dirt and feathers are completely removed.
  • Remember to remove the bag inside of the raw chicken before marinating or cooking it. This little plastic bag contains the giblets of the chicken. This often includes the gizzard (stomach), heart, and liver. You can look for chickens that aren’t sold with these, or utilize them in other dishes.
  • Do not truss the chicken before marinating it. Only after your whole chicken has marinated for the appropriate amount of time should you truss it (if you want to).
  • Using butterflied whole chicken will allow a larger surface area to absorb the marinade and become juicier and tender. They also cook a little bit quicker as compared to a whole chicken.
  • Do not allow your chicken to marinate for more than 12 hours. If it is an acidic marinade, it shouldn’t marinate for longer than 6-8 hours depending on the size of the chicken. The longer you leave it, the tougher the outer skin will become. But, if you don’t leave it for long enough, the meat won’t tenderize and be flavored.
  • Never rinse off any marinade. If you don’t cook the chicken with the marinade, you can simply remove the meat and gently brush it off using a pastry brush. But, never wipe it off or rinse it off. It will remove too much flavor. And, the marinade also helps give the chicken a caramelized and browned texture.
  • When cooking your whole chicken (or chicken pieces), remember to take care to not overcook it. A good rule of thumb is to calculate the exact cooking time according to the size of your chicken. Every pound needs to be cooked for roughly 20 minutes at 350ºF.

How Long To Marinate Chicken

Ideally, a whole chicken should marinate for 5-6 hours. This is enough time to tenderize the chicken meat without causing the surface area to become dry and tough.

As we have mentioned before, while acidic marinades do make your meat tender, leaving the chicken in for too long will cause it to become tough.

So, to prevent this, never marinate a whole chicken for longer than 12 hours.

Also, keep in mind that the larger your chicken is, the less thoroughly it will be marinated. And unfortunately, you cannot simply leave it in for longer because the surface area will still become tough after about 8 hours.

So, using smaller chickens (even if that means you need to make two or three) is highly recommended.

Chicken thighs or drumsticks (any smaller chicken cut) require only about 2 hours of marinating. If you are marinating quarter chickens, they can be left inside the marinade for 4 hours.

How To Cook Marinated Chicken

Marinated chicken is usually roasted, however, there are other cooking techniques you can use.

Just remember, if you are cooking a whole chicken, your cooking options are more limited. But, if you are first portioning them, it will allow you freedom of using techniques like grilling, pan-frying, and even sauteing.

And most importantly, especially when it comes to preventing overcooking, only cook the chicken until it reached an internal temperature of 165ºF.


Roasting a whole marinated chicken is effortless. Simply place the chicken in a foil-lined roasting tray. Cook it at 350ºF for 20 minutes per pound.

If the chickens’ surface starts browning far too much (even burning), you can cover it with some foil.

Also, to make clean-up easy, line your roasting tray with foil. This way the tray won’t be damaged by burnt-on sauces and you can simply remove it and throw it away.


Rotisserie chicken essentially works in the same way roast chicken does. But what makes it unique is the type of heat used (in our version at least). We love making rotisserie chicken over an open flame or inside an outdoor grill.

It adds a ton of smokiness to the meat which makes the flavors a lot more complex. And, it is a fun way to spend a day with the family outside!

What To Do With Leftover Marinade

If you have made way too much marinade (as we all often do), fear not, as there are many ways you can use it. Even the leftover marinade from your chicken can be re-purposed.

Clean marinade (which hasn’t come into contact with raw chicken) can be stored for later use. You can even freeze it for a couple of months to prolong its shelf life!

You can also use it to make a delicious sauce. This technique also works with used marinade. You can reduce it over low heat until it becomes thick. And, you can even add some ingredients to alter the flavor slightly and make it more palatable.

Related Questions

Now that we’ve looked at some of the best ways to marinate a whole chicken, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subjects!

Does leaving the chicken in the marinade longer make it more flavorful?

If you don’t leave your chicken inside the marinade for long enough, it won’t absorb any of the flavors.

However, leaving it in for longer than 6 hours won’t make it more flavorful. It can however make the surface tough and dry. So, always stick to the marinating times the recipe has indicated.

Does marinated chicken cook more quickly than plain chicken?

Both types of chicken will take equally long to cook. Marinated chicken isn’t pre-cooked or cured in any way.

It still needs to reach an internal cooking temperature of 165ºF before being safe to consume.

How long can you keep marinated chicken inside the fridge?

We recommended keeping marinated chicken (without the marinade) inside the fridge for only a day. However, it will be good for up to 2 days.

But, make sure to store it in an airtight container or vacuum-sealed bag. Also, ensure your fridge has stable temperatures to prevent bacterial growth on the chicken.

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