21 healthy & easy chicken marinade recipes using 4 ingredients or less! Basics like lemon, soy sauce, honey & Worcestershire make dinner spicy & easy!
Do you ever grill chicken and get excited for that hot off the grill, charcoal flavor?
Except when you take a bite, you’re met with dry and bland chicken?
This has happened to me more often than I care to admit. And I’m disappointed when I know that if I made Instant Pot honey garlic chicken or an oven-roasted whole chicken, dinner would have been delicious.
There are two secrets to amazing chicken: 1) marinade ahead of time, and 2) choosing the RIGHT marinade.
Thankfully, you can make a delicious chicken marinade using what you already have in the pantry!
I think I’ve only ever bought a chicken marinade once when my family and I were doing the Whole30. Halfway into the challenge, we felt like the same thing every night. We were desperate for a different flavor to add to our meals!
(Note: I bought this Primal Kitchen marinade and it was good, but pricey. I bought one because Kroger sent me a coupon, and again, we were desperate to try something different! Thrive Market has compliant marinades for about the same price, which is great if you don’t have a health food store locally.)
Growing up, my dad used to marinade chicken in whatever we happened to have in the kitchen at the time. That’s still my goal, since using what we already have will save us a trip to the store AND save us money. We’ll use what we already paid for and we’re not spending money on more ingredients!
The Best Chicken Marinade
The key is knowing how to create a good chicken marinade recipe based on what you have.
Lucky for you, I found a “formula” that seems to do the trick every time:
- Fat. Most flavors dissolve well in oil, but not so much when dissolved in water. When we use fat in a marinade, it permeates the meat better. It gets the flavor deep into the crevices so that every bite is tender, juicy, and flavorful.
- Acid. Acid plays a dual role of tenderizing the meat by breaking down the proteins, but it also balances out the fat a bit and adds flavor.
- Salt allows the fat and acid to more easily permeate the meat than only using oil and/or acid alone. Remember that SALT CAN BE FLAVOR (when it’s the end of the month and there’s no room for special ingredients).
- Flavor. Here’s a chance to add other spices or flavors to your marinade. Remember that sometimes FLAVOR IS SALT (I’m looking at you, soy sauce).
What makes this chicken marinade formula even better is that you only have to remember number one (1).
My Favorite Grilled Chicken Marinade
For every ONE POUND, you need:
- ONE ½ cup fat
- ONE ½ cup acid
- ONE ½ cups salt (OR one teaspoon/tablespoon, depending on the type of salt you use – more on that below)
- ONE teaspoon/tablespoon flavor (depending on the flavor you choose – more on that below)
For example, one of my favorite chicken marinades is simply olive oil, honey, soy sauce (and maybe some garlic). If I were going to marinade ONE POUND of chicken breast, I would put the chicken into a bag or container and add:
- ONE ½ cup of olive oil (fat)
- ONE ½ cup of honey (acid)
- ONE ½ cup of soy sauce (salt)
- ONE Tbsp granulated garlic (flavor)
Pretty simple, right?
Here’s another example. Let’s say I have some pineapple juice in the fridge, leftover from making healthy Hawaiian roll copycat dinner rolls, that needs to get used up. Here’s how we can turn that into a chicken marinade:
- ONE ½ cup olive oil (fat)
- ONE ½ cup pineapple juice (acid)
- ONE teaspoon salt (salt)
- ONE teaspoon pepper (flavor)
The Use of Salt in a Chicken Breast Marinade (and the Other Cuts Too)
It’s important to consider how much salt you’re using in a chicken marinade recipe. We want to use some salt in order to tenderize and flavor the meat. However, we don’t want to use so much salt that the meat itself tastes salty.
Here are the general rules of thumb I follow:
- If you’re using salt, use one teaspoon of salt for one pound of chicken breast.
- If you’re using salty liquid (like soy sauce), ½ cup for one pound of chicken and skip additional salt.
- If you’re using a spice blend that contains salt (like homemade taco seasoning), use 1 tablespoon and skip the additional salt.
These “rules” may seem tricky, but you’ll get the hang of it once you make a few chicken marinades. Once you make one, you’ll quickly realize that you can double or triple any chicken marinade to fit whatever amount of meat you’re making!
Grilled Chicken Marinade Using Pantry Ingredients
Once I learned this formula and opened my pantry, I thought of MANY chicken marinade recipes using ingredients I already have!
Here are a few flavor combinations that I came up with:
Chicken Fajita Marinade using Citrus
- Olive Oil + Lime Juice + Taco Seasoning
- Olive Oil + Lemon Juice + Soy Sauce
- Olive Oil + Pineapple Juice + Salt & Pepper
- Olive Oil + Lime Juice + Honey & Fresh Cilantro
- Olive Oil + Orange Juice + Soy Sauce & Granulated Garlic
- Olive Oil + Orange Juice + Dijon Mustard & Hot Sauce
Delicious Chicken Marinade Homemade Spice Blends
- Olive Oil + Buttermilk + Dry Ranch Salad Dressing Mix
- Olive Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Dry Italian Salad Dressing Mix
- Olive Oil + Red Wine Vinegar + Dry Greek Salad Dressing Mix
- Olive Oil + Rice Vinegar + Dry Poultry Seasoning Mix
- Olive Oil + Rice Vinegar + Chinese 5 Spice
Chicken Marinade Recipe Using Condiments
- Olive Oil + Honey + Soy Sauce & Garlic Powder
- Olive Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Worcestershire Sauce
- Olive Oil + Apple Cider Vinegar + Honey & Mustard
- Olive Oil + Pesto
- Olive Oil + BBQ Sauce
- Olive Oil + Balsamic Vinegar + Soy Sauce & Worcestershire Sauce
- Olive Oil + Maple Syrup + Soy Sauce
Good Chicken Marinade Recipes that Don’t Use Olive Oil
- Coconut Milk + Lemon Juice + Salt
- Coconut Milk + Lime + Curry
- Coconut Milk + Pineapple Juice + Fish sauce
Tip: Everything ends up in the same Ziploc bag or mixing bowl when you make marinades, so save yourself time and dishes by not rinsing out the measuring spoons!
Do you really need so much liquid in a chicken marinade recipe?
Yes, you do. It’s important that you pour marinade to thoroughly cover the chicken with liquid in order for the marinade to impart flavor to the meat.
Can I reuse chicken marinade? I’d hate to throw it away!
According to the FDA, you CAN reuse marinade if you boil it first. However, it’s probably best that you reserve some marinade to use as a sauce instead.
How long should I marinade chicken?
You want to marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes to one hour, but I like to marinade closer to 4-6 hours.
Can you marinade chicken overnight?
Yes! Store the chicken covered in the fridge. If you choose this method, you might want to use a weaker acid, like rice wine vinegar or honey, rather than a strong acid.
Will this chicken marinade work for a whole chicken, chicken thighs, chicken legs, and/or chicken wings?
Yes! I specifically mention chicken breasts because those are the hardest to grill properly, but these chicken marinade recipes will work for any cuts of chicken.
How do I marinade chicken specifically for grilling, for the bbq, for the rotisserie, for the oven, and for frying?
Regardless of how you cook the chicken, the marinades all work the same way! Simply mix the marinade and chicken in a large bag and let it sit before you cook the meat.
Should I add brown sugar to the chicken marinade?
No. If you want a sweeter flavor in your meat, choose a marinade that has honey or maple syrup. Remember that these natural sweeteners will cook and create a glaze on your chicken!
How long do I cook the marinaded chicken?
Whether you use high heat or low heat, the chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.