Italian Chicken Marinade

Italian Chicken Marinade for zippy, herbaceous ultra-juicy, versatile Italian Chicken every time – with just minutes of hand’s-on prep!

This Italian Chicken Marinade is a pantry friendly, low effort, high reward recipe for zesty, herbaceous, unabashedly flavorful, juicy chicken every time. The marinade is a balanced tangy, savory blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, pantry Italian herbs and spices – and the secret ingredient – PESTO – that inject the chicken with loads of effortless flavor.  And the best part of this recipe?  The marinade does ALL THE work!  Come dinner time, just cook the Italian Chicken on the grill, oven or stovetop.  The Italian Marinated Chicken is stand-alone scrumptious with roasted asparagus and risotto, pasta, or mashed potatoes or in salads, wraps, or sandwiches. Any way you serve this Italian Chicken will be a fresh, vibrant win!

These hot summer nights are perfect for juicy grilled chicken – all the flavor without turning on the oven! If you love grilling, you’ll love these favorites: all-purpose grilled chicken, balsamic chickencilantro lime chicken, lemon basil chicken, and Greek chicken.

HOW TO MAKE Italian Chicken VIDEo

showing how juicy Italian Marinated chicken is by slicing it on a cutting board
showing how to serve Italian Chicken marinated in lemon juice, red wine vinegar and seasonings by adding to a salad

Ingredients for Italian Chicken Marinade 

This is an incredibly versatile recipe for Italian Chicken Marinade that can be used on any cut of chicken, cooked using whatever method you prefer. To make the marinade and chicken, you’ll need the following easy-to-find ingredients (recipe measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post): 

  • Chicken: I used boneless skinless chicken breasts, but drumsticks, thighs, etc. will also work. Just adjust the cook time accordingly. 
  • Basil pesto: You may use homemade pesto or store-bought, whichever is easiest for you. You will love the nutty, salty herbaceous notes it adds.
  • Olive oil: Use a good quality olive oil with a flavor that you love. 
  • Vinegars: I’ve used a combination of red wine vinegar and balsamic, but you may use all red wine if you prefer. The red wine adds the sharp tanginess that really makes the chicken come alive and the balsamic adds a complex subtle fruity depth. I don’t recommend substituting with white vinegar.
  • Lemon juice: Brightens up the marinade without making it taste lemony. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is best, but bottled also works. 
  • Seasonings: This marinade is PACKED with flavor thanks to a combination of dried basil, oregano, and rosemary plus garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes. The red pepper flakes don’t make the Italian marinade spicy; they just add flavor.  If you have all the ingredients except for rosemary, it is okay to skip.

How to Make Italian Chicken Marinade 

The Italian Chicken Marinade comes together quickly, but you need to let the chicken rest in the marinade for at least 30 minutes to infuse it with flavor. I’ll go into detail about how to cook Italian Chicken in the section below, but here’s how to make the actual marinade: 

  • Step 1: Whisk the Italian chicken marinade ingredients together in a freezer bag or glass bowl. 
  • Step 2: Add the chicken and turn to coat. 
  • Step 3: Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 12 hours (see tips below for marinating chicken). 
  • Step 4: When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it rest 20-30 minutes before cooking.
showing how to make Italian Chicken marinade by combining chicken with olive oil, pesto, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic and Italian seasonings

FAQs About Marinating Chicken

HOW LONG SHOULD CHICKEN BE MARINATED? 

Italian Chicken is best if the marinade is allowed to work its magic for at least 4-6 hours. However, the chicken can be refrigerated in the marinated for as much as 12 hours! 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO MARINATE CHICKEN FOR TOO LONG?

Yep! You can marinate the chicken for up to 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 THE CHICKEN BEFORE MARINATING IT? 

No, you should NOT poke holes in the chicken before marinating. This actually drains out the valuable juices and will result in less juicy Italian Chicken. You can cut slits in thick pieces of chicken like chicken legs to reach deeper into the protein, but never poke holes.

WHAT ARE THE BEST CONTAINERS FOR MARINATING CHICKEN? 

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.  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. 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. If you marinate the chicken in a shallow dish, make sure to flip the chicken over occasionally so it marinates evenly.

SHOULD I MARINATE CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE? 

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 the chicken from the fridge to the counter 30 minutes before you’re ready to grill to help bring it to room temperature so it cooks more evenly. 

CAN CHICKEN BE FROZEN IN A 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.

three chicken breasts marinated in Italian Chicken Marinade garnished with basil on a white plate

How to Cook Italian Chicken (3 Ways!)

Once the chicken breasts have had time to soak up all the flavors of the Italian Marinade, it’s time to get cooking! You can either grill, bake or pan-sear the Italian Chicken – all methods result in ultra-juicy, flavorful chicken so pick whichever cooking method is best for you. 

top view of Marinated Italian chicken on a cutting board brushed with pesto
top view of Italian chicken marinated in lemon, red wine vinegar, and Italian seasonings on a cutting board showing how juicy it is
  • Italian Chicken Pasta: Stir chopped Italian Chicken into any of your favorite pasta recipes such as cacio e pepe, fettuccine Alfredo or healthy Alfredo, margherita pasta, roasted red pepper pastamushroom spaghetti or mushroom orzo.  You can also create your own pasta by tossing warm pasta with garlic infused tomatoes (or any other veggies) sautéed in plenty of olive oil.  Add some reserved pasta water to thin out the pasta or make it creamy with heavy cream or tangy with some balsamic. Add desired amount of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Italian Chicken Pasta Salad:  Add chopped up chicken to your favorite Italian Pasta Salad, Caesar Pasta Salad, or Pesto Pasta Salad.  To make an easy pesto version, make a dressing of pesto mixed with a little olive oil and toss it with medium cooked pasta. Add any of your favorite fixings such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers mozzarella pearls, fresh basil, pine nuts, etc.
  • Bruschetta Chicken: Top the cooked Italian Chicken with slices of mozzarella, allow to melt, then pile on the bruschetta.
  • Chicken Caprese: Top the cooked Italian Chicken with slices of mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil and drizzle with balsamic reduction.
  • Italian Chicken Risotto: Stir chopped chicken into Parmesan Risotto, Spinach Risotto, Mushroom Risotto or Butternut Squash Risotto.
  • Italian Chicken Soup: Add chicken to any of your favorite soups such as Creamy Italian Soup, Minestrone Soup, Chicken Tortellini Soup, Lemon Soup, Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup etc.  You may need to adjust the seasonings in the original soup recipe because the chicken is so wonderfully flavorful. 
  • Italian Chicken Bowls: Top your favorite grains (rice, couscous, quinoa etc.) with chopped chicken, roasted veggies, and your favorite toppings: shredded lettuce, artichokes, tomatoes, olives, pickled red onions, white beans, almonds, etc.
  • Italian Chicken French Bread: Cut a loaf of French Bread in half. Spread with a layer of pesto or pesto combined with Alfredo sauce.  Top with chopped chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and any other desired toppings.  Bake at 350 degrees F until the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. 
  • Italian Chicken Pizza: Top store-bought or my homemade pizza dough with Alfredo sauce, mozzarella cheese, chopped up leftover chicken and favorite toppings such as sun-dried tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, roasted butternut squash, etc.  Bake according to pizza directions.  
  • Italian Chicken Flatbread: Follow the same toppings as for pizza but use your favorite flatbread.  
  • Italian Chicken Salad: My recipe coming this week! In the meantime, slice the chicken and serve it in a big green salad with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, etc. and some fun fixings:  mozzarella pears, sliced almonds, garlic croutons, etc. You can add additional oil and a splash of lemon juice to some pesto to make a pesto vinaigrette.
  • Italian Chicken sandwiches:  Go Caprese style by smothering bread with pesto and layering with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and Italian Chicken, then drizzling with some balsamic, or better yet, balsamic reduction.  Add any additional toppings your belly desires such as avocado, bacon, sprouts, etc.
  • Italian Chicken Panini: Mix pesto and mayo or Greek yogurt together and spread on each side of sliced ciabatta bread then layer with mozzarella cheese, arugula, tomatoes, basil and sliced chicken. Top chicken with bread and grill in a greased grill pan, placing a heavy pan on top of the sandwich. Grill panini for 3 minutes per side or until cheese is melted. 
  • Italian Chicken Wraps: Spread a light layer of pesto down the middle of a tortilla or make it creamy by mixing pesto with mayo or Greek yogurt.  Add chopped up Italian chicken and desired filling ingredients such as tomatoes, mozzarella, bell peppers, olives, red onion, lettuce, cucumber, bacon, etc.  You can also swap the tortillas for low carb bib lettuce.
  • Italian Chicken Potatoes: Stir chopped chicken into roasted potatoes like my pesto bacon roasted potatoes recipe.  
up close of sliced Italian Chicken on a cutting board showing how juicy it is

showing how to serve Italian Chicken Marinade recipe by adding to an Italian Salad

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up close of sliced Italian Chicken on a cutting board showing how juicy it is

Italian Chicken Marinade

This Italian Chicken Marinade is a pantry friendly, low effort, high reward recipe for zesty, herbaceous, unabashedly flavorful, juicy chicken every time. The marinade is a balanced tangy, savory blend of olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, pantry Italian herbs and spices – and the secret ingredient – PESTO – that inject the chicken with loads of effortless flavor.  And the best part of this recipe?  The marinade does ALL THE work!  Come dinner time, just cook the Italian Chicken on the grill, oven or stovetop.  The Italian Marinated Chicken is stand-alone scrumptious with roasted asparagus and risotto, pasta or mashed potatoes or in salads, wraps, or sandwiches. Any way you serve this Italian Chicken will be a fresh, vibrant win!
Servings: 3 -4 servings
Total Time: 4 hrs 10 mins
Prep Time: 10 mins

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Ingredients

  • 3 medium chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (may sub red wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tsp EACH dried basil, onion, powder, garlic powder, salt, dried oregano, dried rosemary (crushed)
  • 1/2 tsp EACH paprika, pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions

MARINADE

  • Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a freezer bag or glass bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 12 hours (the longer the better).
  • When ready to cook, remove chicken from the refrigerator and let rest 20-30 minutes before cooking.

TO GRILL CHICKEN:

  • Preheat grill to 400 degrees F with the lid closed, clean and grease grates.
  • Grill chicken undisturbed with the lid closed for 5-7 minutes per side, until chicken is cooked through. (Cook to 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F.) Brush with additional pesto if desired.

TO COOK CHICKEN ON THE STOVE:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet or indoor grill pan 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 160 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, then allowed to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F. Brush with additional pesto if desired.

TO BAKE CHICKEN IN THE OVEN:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Add chicken in a single layer to a l;ightly greased baking dish.
  • Bake the chicken for 14 to 16 minutes (for small/medium breasts that are about 5-6 ounces), 16 to 20 minutes (for medium/large breasts that are 7 to 9 ounces), or 20 to 25 minutes (for larger breasts). As always, I recommend using an instant read meat thermometer for the most accurate/juiciest chicken. Cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F, then allow to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F. Brush with additional pesto if desired.

Video

Notes

Serving Ideas:

See the post for tons of ways to serve this Italian Chicken like in pasta, salad, soup, sandwiches, paninis, pizza, bruschetta chicken, chicken Caprese, etc.

How to Store, Reheat and Freeze:

  • To Store and Reheat: Once cooked, the Italian chicken can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, warm in the microwave at 30-second intervals or reheat in a 350ºF oven until warm, 5 to 8 minutes. 
  • To freeze chicken in marinade: Add the chicken to the marinade 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.
  • To freeze cooked chicken:  Let the cooked chicken 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. 

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