The best grilled chicken marinade for crazy juicy, flavor exploding, versatile chicken every time!
This grilled chicken marinade will make dry, bland and boring chicken a memory of the past and is destined to become your favorite go-to marinade! It’s savory, tangy, slightly sweet, with layers of complex flavor due to a few key seasonings. It’s stand-alone scrumptious or fabulous in salads, sandwiches or wraps. Best of all, this grilled chicken marinade is made with pantry friendly ingredients of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, and seasonings so you can create effortlessly flavorful chicken in minutes. Come dinner time, just cook the chicken (grill, oven and stove methods included) and serve with your favorite sides like roasted potatoes, fruit salad.
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: Greek chicken, cilantro chicken, chili lime chicken, Hawaiian chicken ,buffalo chicken and now you can add this grilled chicken marinade to the list!
GRILLED CHICKEN MARINADE
Can you believer summer is over? I’m sad to see the days of marinades and salads fade but I also love comfort food and have so many yummy dishes coming your way. Truth be told; however, we adore marinated chicken year-round because the marinade does all the work to create tender, juicy chicken, dripping with flavor from the inside out. All you have to do is whisk a few ingredients together, marinate and grill – my kind of easy dinner!
In the spirit of saying goodbye to summer recipes and hello to easy back-to school recipes, I wanted to share this spectacular grilled chicken marinade (and just in time for Labor Day!). It’s so outrageously delicious, however, I’ve also included instructions for baking and cooking on the stove so you can make it year-round – because you are going to want to eat it year-round. And the best part? I can almost guarantee you have all the ingredients on hand – which means you can enjoy a delicious, succulent chicken dinner with hardly any effort any night of the week.
Now, you may be wondering why you need another grilled chicken marinade recipe – didn’t I just share a balsamic chicken marinade? The answer is there are never too many chicken marinade recipes! Each marinade boasts a different flavor profile which equates to a completely different palate pleasing experience. While my balsamic marinade was more fruity, this all-purpose grilled chicken marinade is grounded by soy sauce so it’s a little savory, a little tart, a little sweet and a whole lot of unabashedly scrumptious. It’s healthy, easy and the answer to no more boring chicken!
MORE REASONS TO LOVE THIS GRILLED CHICKEN MARINADE:
- Flavor. This best grilled chicken marinade boasts dynamic punches of flavor that make every juicy bite exhilarating. It’s slightly savory from the soy sauce, slightly tangy from the lemon juice and Dijon, slightly fruity from the balsamic, slightly sweet from the brown sugar, slightly spicy (just a mild kick) from the red pepper and punched up with flavor from the rainbow of seasonings.
- Easy. Marinate the chicken and grill – couldn’t be any easier!
- Pantry friendly. This easy grilled chicken marinade uses pantry friendly ingredients so you can make it any day of the week!
- Healthy. This recipe makes dinner guilt free delicious! Just add some roasted or grilled veggies for a satisfying dinner.
- Versatile. This grilled chicken marinade can easily be adapted to your personal palate (sweeter, tangier, etc.), and can also transform into a new exciting meal depending on how you serve it: plain with potatoes/rice and veggies, in wraps, grain bowls, salads, sandwiches, etc. I love making a big batch of this recipe to serve in countless ways throughout the week.
- Meal prep. You can cook the chicken ahead of time then divide it between containers for meal prep along with whatever sides you wish.
- Easy to double. You can double or triple this easy recipe for entertaining, for purposeful leftovers or to freeze.
- Freezer friendly. This marinated grilled chicken is freezer friendly for an easy make ahead lunch or dinner.
- Great for entertaining. This recipe makes YOUR life easier and is always a crowd pleaser! Just slap your chicken on the grill when guests arrive and in minutes, you’ll have tender, juicy, intoxicatingly delicious chicken.
Chicken Marinade Recipes
This particular grilled chicken marinade is the best all-purpose marinade that goes with practically everything. If you want to get a little more flavor specific, here are some superb options:
- Greek chicken marinade: bright, vibrant with a delightful lemon/oregano flavor.
- Cilantro lime chicken marinade: tangy, zesty, garlicky, citrusy spiked with cilantro, lime and fiestalicious seasonings.
- Chili lime chicken marinade: earthy and robust brightened by fresh lime juice and zest
- Chipotle chicken marinade: smoky, robust and as spicy as you want it.
- Chicken fajita marinade: the perfect balance of smokey, citrusy, earthy, and robust with a kick of heat.
- Hawaiian chicken marinade: sweet, tangy, fruity, slightly spicy laced with pineapple juice, garlic and ginger.
- Teriyaki chicken marinade: savory, salty, sweet and tangy with my secret ingredient Asian sweet chili sauce to amp up the flavor.
- Korean chicken marinade: spicy, sweet, and savory with garlic, ginger, and kicking gochujang.
- Lemon basil chicken marinade: vibrant, fresh lemony with plenty of fresh basil.
- Cajun honey mustard chicken marinade: tangy, sweet and spicy with a to-live-for creamy honey mustard sauce.
- Lemongrass chicken marinade: tangy, with sweet and sour hints of lemon and herbs infused with red curry paste, garlic, ginger, and basil.
- Buffalo chicken marinade: spicy, dynamically delicious made with buffalo hot sauce and spiked with honey and lime.
- Balsamic chicken marinade: savory, fruity, herbalicious with rich, complex sweetness.
- Honey sriracha chicken marinade: savory, sweet, tangy and as spicy as you want it.
EASY GRILLED CHICKEN MARINADE INGREDIENTS
This easy grilled chicken marinade is made with a balance of savory, tangy ingredients and a unique spice blend for an oomph of effortless complex flavor. 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.
- Soy sauce: grounds the marinade – it will not give the chicken an Asian vibe. Use reduced sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt.
- Balsamic vinegar: adds a subtle, complex fruity, sweet tanginess. Use Balsamic Vinegar of Modena I.G.P. for the best flavor like this one. Grape must should always be the first ingredient followed only by vinegar.
- Lemon juice: brightens the flavor profile. Freshly squeezed is best but you can get away with bottled because it’s just a splash.
- Brown sugar: balances the soy, balsamic and lemon juice and helps caramelize the chicken as it cooks. Use light brown sugar for rich sweetness.
- Dijon mustard: adds a depth of tanginess. I promise it won’t make your grilled chicken taste like mustard!
- Seasonings: dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes inject the grilled chicken marinade with a rainbow of flavor.
- Swap citrus. Swap the lemon juice for lime juice, orange juice or pineapple 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.
- Add herbs. Swap the dried herbs for fresh herbs. You will need 3X the amount of dried. You can also add herbs such as rosemary and chives.
- 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 grilled 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 RECIPE MAKE?
This recipe will marinate 1 1/2 pounds (24 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 GRILLED CHICKEN MARINADE WORK?
This grilled 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: the soy sauce 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: brown sugar balances both the salt and the acid. It also promotes caramelization, quicker browning and beautiful grill marks.
- FLAVOR ENHANCERS: ingredients can vary, but this grilled 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” grilled chicken marinade!
HOW TO MAKE GRILLED CHICKEN MARINADE
This grilled 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, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, 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.
HOW LONG DO YOU MARINATE CHICKEN?
This grilled 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, but I would aim for 12 hours for maximum benefit.
What if I’m short on time?
If you can only marinate the chicken for 30 minutes, then marinate at room temperature to expedite the marinating process, however, don’t marinate longer than 30 minutes at room temperature otherwise dangerous bacteria can grow and lead to foodborne illnesses. Brushing the reserved marinade (that’s never come in contact with the chicken) on the cooked chicken will also help amplify the flavor if you’re short on time.
Can I marinate chicken too long?
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 grilled 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 immediately. You don’t want the chicken to marinate again or it can become mushy.
How to cook marinated chicken
This grilled 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
- 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 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.
WHAT TEMPERATURE SHOULD CHICKEN BE COOKED TO?
Chicken breasts and chicken tenders (light meat) are done via any cooking method when they register 165 degrees F on an instant read thermometer.
Chicken thighs and legs (dark meat) are safe to eat when their internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F but they are juicier and more tender when cooked to 170-175 degrees. F. Chicken thighs contain more connective tissue than chicken breasts which takes longer to break down. Cooking them to a higher temperature will ensure that the dark meat becomes even more tender and juicy verses chewy and rubbery.
How to check temperature accurately
I highly recommend investing in a meat thermometer otherwise there is no accurate way to check when your chicken is cooked without slicing and loosing valuable juices.
- Chicken breasts: insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken – although hopefully you don’t have one because your chicken has been pounded to an even thickness ;).
- Chicken thighs: insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken without hitting any bones. Bones are a heat conductor and will register higher than the actual meat.
Chicken Marinating and Grilling Tips
This easy grilled 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.
- Slice breasts in half before marinating. When you pound the chicken to an even thickness, you’re aiming for ½-inch thickness. If your chicken is super thick, then cut in half through the equator to create cutlets before marinating.
- 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.
- 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.
- Reserved marinade for veggies. You can 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!
- Marinate chicken for four hours. You can get away with marinating the grilled 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.
- 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 grilled 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 grilled 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 grilled 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.
Can you freeze chicken in the marinade?
You can freeze the uncooked grilled 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; cook immediately so it doesn’t marinate for too long and become mushy.
- 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. If you want access to individual pieces of chicken without having to thaw all of the chicken, then wrap each chicken breast in plastic wrap before adding to the freezer bag. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
HOW TO MAKE AHEAD
- 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 grilled 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 GRILLED CHICKEN
This marinated grilled chicken recipe is tasty on its own or it can be added to salads, wraps, sandwiches, etc. Here are just a few ideas for freshly grilled chicken or to reimagine leftovers:
- Grilled chicken salad: slice up the chicken and add it to your favorite greens and veggies with a drizzle of your favorite dressing such as balsamic or Italian. For added YUM, add a cheese (feta, mozzarella, Parmesan, gorgonzola, blue cheese, etc.), a nut (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, etc.), a seed (sunflower seeds or pepitas), and a fruit (apples, pears, mangos, oranges, craisins, etc.). You can also substitute this grilled chicken in any of your favorite salad recipes.
- Grilled chicken pasta salad: chop up the chicken and add it to cooked medium pasta dressed with Italian dressing or pesto mixed with a little olive oil and lemon juice. Add any of your favorite fixings such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers mozzarella pearls, fresh basil, pine nuts, etc.
- Grilled chicken sandwiches: sandwich marinated grilled chicken in between bread and pile with toppings such as tomatoes, bacon, avocado, lettuce, sprouts, etc., etc. You can also use it to make any of your favorite sandwich recipes such as pesto, BLT, caprese, buffalo, sun-dried tomato, avocado, etc.
- Grilled chicken lettuce wraps: transform the chicken into chicken salad by chopping and stirring in mayo/yogurt, grapes, celery, green onions etc. and serving in a lettuce wrap.
- Grilled chicken panini: brush the outsides of the bread with olive oil, smother the insides with pesto then load with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and grilled chicken. Add any additional toppings such as avocado, bacon, sprouts, etc., etc. 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.
- Grilled chicken wraps: slather a tortilla or flatbread with yogurt, mayo or pesto then pile with lettuce/mixed greens, sliced tomato, chicken and desired toppings such as cucumbers, carrots, avocado, bacon, etc.
- Grilled chicken loaded baked potatoes: load a baked potato with chopped chicken, cheese and your favorite toppings such as steamed broccoli or peas.
- Grilled 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.
WHAT GOES WITH MARINATED GRILLED CHICKEN?
This marinated grilled chicken pairs well with pretty much everything from salad to pasta salad, potatoes, rice and fruit. In the summer months, we keep it as simple as grilled chicken with grilled corn, watermelon and green salad. In the winter, I love it with garlic butter mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. 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 Cauliflower, Roasted Butternut Squash or Sautéed Brussels sprouts,
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