The best balsamic chicken marinade for juicy, flavorful, versatile chicken every time!
This balsamic chicken marinade elevates chicken to a whole new level of YUM! It’s seeping with complex savory, tangy, slightly sweet, herbilicious notes. The marinade is made with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, Italian herbs and seasonings that inject the chicken with loads of effortless flavor. And the best part of this balsamic chicken marinade? It does ALL THE work! Come dinner time, just cook the chicken (grill, oven and stove methods included) and serve with your favorite sides like mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus or in salads, wraps, pasta, or sandwiches.
We love chicken marinades! They are the easiest way to infuse chicken with flavor and make dinner time a breeze. Some of our most popular chicken marinades include: cilantro lime chicken, chili lime chicken, chipotle chicken, Hawaiian chicken, teriyaki chicken, Korean chicken, buffalo chicken, and honey sriracha chicken and now you can add this balsamic chicken marinade to the list!
Balsamic is one of my favorite ingredients to use in chicken marinades! I’ve used it in my Greek chicken and Bruschetta chicken for its fruity tang, mellow tartness and rich, complex sweetness. Today, however, I’m excited to bring you this balsamic chicken marinade dedicated ALL to glorious balsamic. It creates chicken dripping with so much intoxicating flavor you will be obsessed. It’s savory, fruity, juicy, tender and goes with practically everything!
This marinated balsamic chicken is delicious in its simplicity alongside your favorite sides or you can keep the Italian theme and serve it in caprese salad, caprese sheet pan chicken, caprese chicken pasta and caprese chicken wraps.
No matter how you choose to serve your balsamic chicken, the best part is, it’s EASY and pantry friendly! The marinade takes all but 5 minutes to whisk together with ingredients I can almost guarantee you have on hand – which means you can enjoy a delicious, succulent chicken dinner with hardly any effort any night of the week. To me, my friends, that is winning at life. Enjoy!
BALSAMIC CHICKEN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
The balsamic chicken marinade is made with a balance of tangy, bright ingredients, but what truly elevates it above the rest are the seasonings. The unique blend adds complex flavor without overpowering the subtleties of the balsamic. You will need:
- Chicken: boneless chicken breasts pounded to an even thickness or chicken thighs.
- Olive oil: use quality extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor.
- Balsamic vinegar: use quality balsamic vinegar for the best flavor. More details on how to choose balsamic vinegar to follow.
- Lemon juice: freshly squeezed is best but you can use bottled.
- Honey: mild clover honey to balance the tangy balsamic and lemon juice.
- Dijon mustard: I promise it won’t make your balsamic chicken taste like mustard! It adds a depth of tanginess.
- Seasonings: dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes inject the marinade with a rainbow of flavor.
- Swap citrus. Swap the lemon juice for lime juice or orange juice.
- Swap seasonings. Mix up the flavor profile and swap the Italian seasonings for Cajun seasonings, Fajita seasonings, or Asian inspired seasonings such as Chinese 5 Spice, ginger and garlic.
- Make it spicy. Add additional red pepper flakes or swap the red pepper flakes for some cayenne or chipotle chili powder.
CAN I USE OTHER CUTS OF CHICKEN?
Absolutely! This balsamic chicken marinade will work with any cut of chicken including chicken thighs, chicken tenderloins, chicken drumsticks, chicken legs or chicken wings. You will just need to adjust the cooking times if you swap out the cut of chicken, so keep that meat thermometer handy!
HOW MUCH CHICKEN WILL THIS MAKE?
This recipe will marinate 1 pound (16 oz.) of chicken, however, it is easy to scale up or down to suite your needs. 4 oz. of chicken is the recommended single serving portion of chicken, but this varies depending on the individual and what sides are being served. I would say 6-8 ounces is closer to realistic.
HOW DOES THIS BALSAMIC CHICKEN MARINADE WORK?
This balsamic chicken marinade tenderizes and flavors the chicken so all you have to do is marinate and cook! In order for a marinade to be effective, it must contain acid, fat, salt, sweetener and flavor enhancers. The combination of these elements ensures that the protein is juicy, succulent and flavorful from the inside out. Here’s how it works:
- FAT: The olive oil dissolves fat-soluble flavor compounds from the seasonings and other flavorings and injects them into the chicken. Fat also adds moisture and helps produce tender, juicy chicken.
- ACID: Balsamic vinegar and lemon juice help tenderize the chicken by breaking down lean muscle fibers. They also boast layers of rich and tangy flavor.
- SALT: creates a brine, which increases the moisture capacity of the chicken, helping it become juicer and more flavorful. First, the salt hydrates the muscle tissues via osmosis; second, it changes the cells’ structure so that they can no longer contract when cooking. This means less water will be squeezed out and lost, resulting in juicier protein. Finally, the brine draws the aromatic flavor further down below the surface into the protein and enhances all of the flavors. You can pile on herbs and seasonings but if a marinade is missing salt – it will taste bland.
- SWEETENER: Honey balances both the salt and the acid. It also promotes caramelization, quicker browning and beautiful grill marks.
- FLAVOR ENHANCERS: ingredients can vary, but this balsamic chicken marinade includes Dijon, onion powder, garlic powder, dried herbs, red pepper and black pepper. These seasonings add the oomph and make it the “best” balsamic chicken marinade!
How to select AND USE DIFFERENT balsamic vinegars
Not all balsamic vinegar is created equal. Some bottles sell for a few dollars, others demand as much as $200 a bottle. So, what’s the difference? How can you select the best balsamic vinegar without breaking the bank? Should you use the same type of balsamic for everything?
There are 5 types of balsamic vinegar:
- Traditional balsamic: the most expensive, not necessary for marinades
- Condimento balsamico: second most expensive, also not necessary for marinades
- Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P.: less expensive, perfect for marinades
- Non I.G.P balsamic: can be close to I.G.P. quality but not guaranteed
- Imitation balsamic: the least expensive, to be avoided
In short, the highest quality vinegars are not necessary for marinades and should be reserved for finishing dishes. Less expensive but still quality Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. is what you want to use in marinades and salad dressings. Read on if you’re interested in more about the different types of vinegar or skip to the next section (I find it fascinating!).
When I took a food tour in Bologna, Italy last year, we were served super pricey traditional balsamic vinegar in a tiny jar to drizzle on our Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It was exquisite – because it is the best! Traditional balsamic vinegar is the purest, highest quality of vinegar. It is only made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy, where the first balsamic vinegar was produced hundreds of years ago.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is made with grape must (whole pressed grapes complete with juice, skin, seeds and stems) from locally grown grapes. The must is cooked until reduced down to about half and then fermented for up to three weeks, and further matured in barrels for a minimum of 12 years! The barrels are made of different types of wood such as cherry, chestnut, and juniper which inject the balsamic with complex notes.
Identification: The production of traditional balsamic vinegars is overseen from beginning to end by a special certification agency. It is always labelled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and carries a D.O.P. (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta”) stamp — a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin. The color of the cap will let you know how long it has aged:
In Reggio Emilia:
- affinato (fine), with a red cap, roughly corresponds to a 12-year vintage
- vecchio (old), with a silver cap, roughly corresponds to a 15-20 year vintage
- extra vecchio (extra old), with a gold cap, roughly corresponds to a 20-25 year vintage.
In Modena, there is no vecchio, just affinato, with a white cap and extra vecchio, with a gold cap.
Usage: Traditional balsamic should not be used for cooking as heating it will kill the complex flavors and it would be wasted in a marinade. Instead, it should be used as a garnish on meats or a drizzling on cheeses and desserts.
“Condimento” is a term used for balsamic vinegars made with quality, traditional techniques, but fall short of the “traditional” designation because their production wasn’t overseen by the appropriate authority (AKA not located in Modena and Reggio Emilia) OR they aren’t aged at least 12 years. Many of these vinegars are only aged for three to seven years. Condimento balsamico are generally much less expensive than traditional balsamic vinegar but still excellent quality and therefore a great purchase.
Identification: The problem with condimento balsamico comes in the identification. The word “condimento” is not a protected designation and therefore can be used by any balsamic – even much lower grades or even balsamic imitation products. To make sure you’re not being duped, look for:
- price: it should be relatively expensive — around $40 for a good size bottle.
- I.G.P. stamp: “indicazione geografica protetta,” or protected geographical indication.
- or the seal of the Consorzio di Balsamico Condimento: a body set up to monitor condimento grade balsamic vinegars.
- the ingredients: if grape must is the only ingredient, that’s a win. If grape is the first ingredient followed by wine vinegar to balance the acidity, that’s a good sign. If wine vinegar is the first ingredient, you’re looking at an imposter – a generic vinegar sweetened with balsamic must, not balsamic must balanced with a little vinegar.
- Family name and address on the label: suggests a small-scale operation OR that the vinegar is produced by traditional balsamic producers and aimed at a lower price point – both are a win.
Usage: Should be used as a finishing touch like traditional balsamic but you don’t have to feel quite as guilty because it’s less expensive. Of course, you can still use traditional balsamic and balsamic condimento in dressings and marinades, but it’s probably not the best use of money when balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. will suffice.
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P.
Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena I.G.P. is the answer to quality vinegar for the masses. It is regulated, processed in Modena from select grape varieties (Albana, Ancellotta, Fortana. Lambrusco, Montuni, Sangiovese, and Trebbiano) but only aged for a minimum of two months; it skips the fermentation stage entirely.
Because Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. is not fermented, it must contain wine vinegar to enhance its acidity. It can contain vinegar as low as 6% and up to 50%, but balsamic is always the first and main ingredient. The lower the acidity, the higher the quality. It may also contain thickening agents and/or caramel to make it taste like and have the viscosity of traditional balsamic. Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. can range in price from anywhere from $5 to $50 due to the wide range of aging time and wine vinegar added.
Identification: I.G.P. should clearly be labeled and marked with the yellow-and-blue I.G.P. stamp (it shows two hillsides in a ring of stars). The vinegar can be designated “aged” if it has fermented for more than three years – a great sign. Some reputable brands include Colavita, Due Vittorie Oro Gold, Oliviers & Co, EMILIA FOOD LOVE and QO Organic.
Usage: This balsamic vinegar is also known as salad balsamic (balsamic insalata) because it’s the go- to balsamic for salad dressing as well as marinades, and cooking. It is the balsamic you would want use specifically for balsamic glaze/reduction because, unlike traditional balsamic, it will reduce down.
NON IGP BALSAMIC
There are some quality balsamic vinegars that are made in Spain, Greece, France, U.S., Canada. made primarily with grape must. Still, they are not awarded the IGP because they are not made in Italy.
Identification: Look at the ingredients and if the first ingredient is cooked must, it’s closer to I.G.P. quality. Still, you are not guaranteed any aging time.
Many “balsamic vinegars” are not balsamic vinegar at all but made with vinegar (wine vinegar, white vinegar, or cider vinegar), sweetener and coloring.
Identification: they will not boast the I.G.P. stamp/identification but they can claim to have been made in Italy – so be careful! The first line of defense is to check the ingredients. If grape must is not the first ingredient, move on.
HOW TO MAKE BALSAMIC CHICKEN MARINADE
This balsamic chicken marinade is easy to whip up! Here’s how:
- Pound chicken to an even thickness. Place chicken breasts in-between two pieces of plastic wrap or I like to place my chicken in a large freezer size bag. Pound the chicken to an even thickness using the flat side of a meat mallet, rolling pin or side of a can.
- Make marinade. Whisk the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and seasonings together in a large plastic bag. Add chicken, push out excess air and turn to coat.
- Marinate chicken. Marinate chicken at room temperature for 30 minutes if you’re short on time or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
WHAT IF I’M SHORT ON TIME?
This balsamic chicken marinade is best if allowed to do its thing for at least four hours so the chicken can reap the benefits of the tenderizing properties. If you can only marinate for 30-60 minutes, then reserve some of the marinade and store it separately from the marinating chicken. Brush or drizzle the reserved marinade on the cooked chicken to add extra flavor.
HOW LONG DO I MARINATE THE CHICKEN?
For maximum benefit, marinate the chicken for 12 hours, but don’t push it too much longer than that otherwise the acid in the marinade can break down the muscle fibers too much and make your chicken mushy.
SHOULD YOU POKE HOLES IN CHICKEN BEFORE MARINATING?
No, you should NOT poke holes in the chicken before marinating. This actually drains out the valuable juices and will result in less juicy chicken. You can cut slits in thick pieces of chicken like chicken legs to reach deeper into the protein, but never holes.
CAN YOU FREEZE CHICKEN IN THE MARINADE?
Yes! If you can’t get to cooking your marinating balsamic chicken within 12 hours, just pop it in the freezer – another perk of using sealable plastic bags. When it’s time to cook, just thaw and cook!
How to cook balsamic chicken breasts
This balsamic chicken recipe is so tasty and versatile, you’re going to want to serve it year-round! Here’s a few different cooking methods to meet your year-round needs:
TO GRILL CHICKEN BREASTS
- When ready to grill, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let rest 15-30 minutes ahead of time. Meanwhile, preheat grill to 400 degrees, clean and grease grates.
- Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. (An inserted thermometer should read 165 degrees F.)
TO COOK CHICKEN BREASTS ON THE STOVE
- When ready to cook, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let rest 15-30 minutes ahead of time.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 3-4 minutes, or until deeply golden on one side.
- Flip chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook for approximately 5-7 more minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until chicken is cooked to 165 degrees F.
TO BAKE CHICKEN IN THE OVEN
- When ready to cook, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let rest 15-30 minutes ahead of time.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees F and lightly grease a baking dish with cooking spray.
- Drain chicken from marinade and add to prepared baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 16-18 minutes (depending on thickness), or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY CHICKEN IS DONE?
Chicken breasts are done via any cooking method when they register 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. I highly recommend investing in a meat thermometer otherwise there is no accurate way to check and see when your chicken is cooked without slicing and loosing valuable juices.
MARINADE FOOD SAFETY TIPS
When it comes to marinating chicken or any protein, there are some safety rules to follow to avoid cross contamination. Follow these simple rules to maintain sanitary conditions and food safety:
- Use food safe containers. I prefer food-safe sealable plastic bags such as freezer Ziploc bags. They really allow the marinade to envelop the chicken vs. a dish in which the marinade might not cover all of it. Sealable bags are also great for easy cleanup – just toss them! You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers and cover with plastic wrap if they don’t have a lid.
- Squeeze out excess air. When using a plastic bag, make sure to squeeze out excess air before sealing then roll up the bag so the chicken is nice and snug.
- Flip chicken occasionally. If you marinate the chicken in a shallow dish, make sure to flip it over occasionally so it marinates evenly.
- Marinate in the refrigerator. Always marinate chicken for a prolonged period of time covered in the refrigerator and not at room temperature to avoid food-born illness. Only remove it from the fridge to the counter 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill to help bring it to room temperature so it cooks evenly.
- Don’t reuse marinade. Never reuse a marinade even for basting unless you boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. If you want to use the marinade for basting, drizzling or dipping, it is best to reserve a portion before you add the chicken.
- PRO TIP: You can also reserve a couple tablespoons of marinade (not contaminated) to drizzle on veggies before grilling or cooking like I do in my chicken fajita recipe and many kabob recipes to make them uber flavorful without any extra work!
TIPS FOR BALSAMIC CHICKEN MARINADE
This balsamic chicken is very simple to make but here are some helpful tips:
- Pound chicken to an even thickness. Pound the thickest part of the chicken so it’s even with the thinnest part to ensure the chicken cooks evenly. You don’t want one side to be cooked perfectly and the other side to be raw or overcooked/dry.
- Tenderize chicken. Pounding the chicken also tenderizes it as well. If you don’t have a meat mallet, you can use the side of a can or rolling pin.
- Marinate Chicken. You can get away with marinating the balsamic chicken for as little as 60 minutes if it is pounded thin, but the longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become. I recommend at least 4 hours but closer to 12 hours is ideal.
- Reserve marinade. If you only have 60 minutes to marinate your chicken, reserve 1/4 cup of marinade before adding the chicken and store separately. Brush the reserved marinade over the cooked chicken to make the flavor pop.
- Don’t over-marinate chicken. On the other hand, you don’t want to marinate the chicken longer than 12 hours because the acid (balsamic vinegar and lemon juice) can actually constrict the protein fibers and make your balsamic chicken tough and chewy.
- Bring chicken to room temperature before cooking. Transfer the marinating chicken to your kitchen counter 30 minutes before grilling. Room temperature chicken cooks more evenly and quickly which translates into juicier chicken because there is less time for moisture to be released while cooking.
- Clean grill. You should clean your grill grates before and after grilling with a wire grill brush to remove any residue. This will help create beautiful grill marks and help prevent the chicken from sticking.
- Use a hot grill. Heat up the grill with the lid closed cranked to the maximum temperature so it can achieve temperature more quickly; plan on 10-15 minutes. Once the grill is hot, you can adjust the temperature. Don’t add the chicken until the grill reaches temperature or you won’t get those beautiful grill marks.
- Flip only once using tongs. After you add the chicken breasts to the grill, don’t touch them for a full 5 minutes. You need enough time for the chicken to sear and then they will naturally release from the grill. Once you can easily move the chicken, then you can flip it over using tongs.
- Don’t overcook! Cook chicken breasts just to 165 degrees F. Chicken breasts are a lean protein and therefore can dry out if overcooked. Use a meat thermometer to eliminate all of the guess work to achieve succulent, juicy chicken every time.
- Let chicken rest. Let the cooked balsamic chicken rest for 5 minutes before slicing. This gives the juices that have pushed to the outside of the meat time to redistribute throughout the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT LEFTOVERS
- Storage: store cooked balsamic chicken in airtight containers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- Microwave: chop up or slice the chicken so it reheats more evenly then transfer a small portion to a microwave safe dish. Heat for one minute then at 30 second intervals as needed.
- Oven: transfer chicken to an oven-proof dish. Cover with foil and reheat at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or just until warmed through.
HOW TO FREEZE
You can freeze the uncooked balsamic chicken in the marinade or after it’s cooked.
- Freeze chicken in marinade: add the chicken to the marinade ingredients in a freezer safe bag, squeeze out excess air and freeze for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator.
- Freeze chicken: after you have cooked the chicken, let it cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
CAN I MAKE AHEAD OF TIME?
- Marinade: whisk the marinade together in an airtight container up to 5 days ahead of time and store in the refrigerator WITHOUT the chicken.
- Chicken: cooked balsamic chicken makes fantastic meal prep or leftovers if not initially overcooked. If you are making the chicken specifically to reheat later then consider slightly under-cooking it because it will cook a little more when reheated.
WAYS TO SERVE MARINATED BALSAMIC CHICKEN
This marinated balsamic chicken recipe is fabulous on its own or it can be added to salads, wraps, sandwiches, etc. Here are just a few ideas for freshly cooked balsamic chicken or to reimagine leftovers:
- Balsamic chicken salad: slice up the chicken and add it to your favorite greens and veggies with a drizzle of balsamic dressing. You can also use it in this caprese salad recipe with tomatoes, mozzarella, avocados, asparagus and bacon.
- Balsamic chicken pasta salad: chop up the chicken and add it to cooked medium pasta dressed with pesto mixed with a little olive oil. Add any of your favorite fixings such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers mozzarella pearls, fresh basil, pine nuts, etc.
- Balsamic chicken sandwiches: make a caprese chicken sandwich by smothering bread with pesto and layering with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and balsamic chicken. Add any additional toppings your belly desires such as avocado, bacon, sprouts, etc., etc.
- Balsamic chicken panini: is constructed the same as the aforementioned chicken sandwich but the outsides of the bread are brushed with olive oil then pressed in a panini press. If you don’t have a panini press, you can cook it like a grilled cheese in a skillet with melted butter instead.
- Balsamic chicken wraps: slather a tortilla or flatbread with pesto then pile with lettuce/mixed greens, sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella, and chicken. You can also get creative and add cucumbers, avocado, basil and bacon.
- Balsamic chicken pasta: thinly slice chicken and add to your favorite meatless pastas such as Cacio e Pepe, healthy Alfredo, margherita pasta, roasted red pepper pasta, mushroom spaghetti or mushroom orzo. You can also create your own pasta by tossing freshly cooked pasta with tomatoes (or any of your favorite veggies) cooked with plenty of garlic in butter and olive oil along with freshly grated Parmesan.
WHAT GOES WITH MARINATED BALSASMIC CHICKEN?
This marinated balsamic chicken pairs well with pretty much everything from salad to pasta salad, to potatoes rice to fruit. In the summer months, we keep it as simple as balsamic chicken with grilled corn, watermelon and green salad. In the winter, I love it with garlic butter mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. Here are a few of our favorite accompanying sides:
- Potatoes: Mashed Potatoes, Smashed Potatoes, Roasted Red Potatoes, Pesto Mashed Potatoes, Twice Baked Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes or Hashbrown Casserole.
- Salad. Wedge Salad, Strawberry Broccoli Salad, Strawberry Salad, Spinach Berry Salad, Cucumber Tomato Salad and Green Bean Salad.
- Fruit. Grilled Pineapple, Creamy Grape Salad, Summer Fruit Salad, Perfect Fruit Salad, Tropical Fruit Salad or Berry Salad in Honey Mascarpone.
- Bread. Corn Bread, Garlic Bread, Breadsticks, Dinner Rolls or Hawaiian Rolls.
- Veggies: Roasted Carrots, Roasted Broccoli, Roasted Butternut Squash or Sautéed Brussels sprouts,
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