Marinating meat has the simple purpose of flavor penetration. We don’t want a bland dish, we want maximum impact! Many people have come to equate aromatic flavor with marinating time. While this may be true to some extent, we’ll wager that you’re probably doing it for too long.
You can marinate most meats and most cuts of meat, but the secret lies in the time (or how much time). Before a BBQ party, you may have heard people brag that they’ve been treating the meat for however many days and the steaks have been marinating in juices for 3 days, etc.
Can you marinate chicken too long? Yes, you absolutely can! The ideal period will depend on what part of the chicken you’re marinating, or even the whole bird itself, but it shouldn’t be more than 1 day.
Are you curious about just how long chicken marinating should be? Find out below!
Marinating Chicken – How Long is Too Long?
As we said, do not marinate chicken for over a day. While the flavor will definitely be there, the difference won’t really be noticeable between a chicken that’s been marinating for 12 hours and one that’s been sitting in juices in the fridge for 2 days.
Now you’re probably wondering why there is a time limit at all if the flavors don’t really change? I mean, what’s the harm, right?
Over-Marinated Chicken? This is What Happens
The purpose of marinating chicken is not only for flavor infusion, but it’s for tenderization as well. If you’ve read our beef brisket cooking or marinating ground beef articles, then you’ll know this. Marinades also work to keep the meat moist until cooking.
Here we’re gonna get a little food science-nerdy on you. There are infinite marinades out there, but they can be broken down into two distinct categories – acidic and enzymatic.
Acidic marinades have, well, acidic properties with ingredients such as vinegar or wine. Acidic marinades are excellent for moisture retention.
We then have the enzymatic marinades that include ginger and garlic. These are the types of marinades that do the tenderization.
If you marinate your chicken for over a day, the properties will start to react to the meat in a problematic way. Your chicken will soften, and sometimes until the point where it’s just a mushy mess.
Another reason not to marinate meat for too long is for food safety. Defrosted chicken that’s uncooked can only last about 2 to 3 days in your fridge, and that goes for marinated pieces too.
As far as we know, every chef, cook, house-husband, housewife, or whoever happens to be cooking at the time will want to avoid food poisoning at all costs, so storing chicken in your fridge for over 3 days after marinating is a hard no.
How to Marinate Chicken for the Maximum Effect
Alright, we know what NOT to do and why, and now we finally get down to what you should do. Is there a marination sweet pot you should be aiming for? As said, it depends on the part of the chicken and the amount you’re using.
It’s that time of the year when we give thanks and show appreciation for all that we have, or it’s when you see snowflakes starting to fall and you’re gathering around the dinner table for a feast at the end of the year! We often see whole birds on the table during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but they’re great for meals all year round.
When it’s a whole bird, there is a minimum as well as a maximum time. You’re dealing with a lot of meat, so we’d say let the bird sit in the marinade for at least 4 hours (we find 6 to be a good number for most sizes) all the way up to 12 at the maximum.
If you’re planning on dinner, we’d suggest starting the marinade in the morning. If you’re prepping for lunch, then do it the night before.
Chicken Thighs, Wings, and Quarters
Chicken wings, thighs, and drumsticks are our guilty pleasure. Really, we haven’t found a recipe or a way of cooking these parts of a chicken that we haven’t loved. This is also why we found it necessary to make sure we time the marinade precisely.
For chicken, drumsticks, thighs, wings, and quarters, you really have to look at the amount. If you don’t have a lot, 1 hour should do it. If you have a large amount or are meal prepping, then we’d suggest 4 hours, but realistically 6 is the max.
Bone-in breasts tend to be juicier than boneless breasts, but there are more of a pain to eat. We have some good news for those who like to work with bone-in breasts – the marination is very short.
You’re looking at 1-2 hours only for bone-in breasts, so they are a great option if you’re in a hurry.
And then we have the boneless breasts, which are one of the most-used parts of a chicken as we see them on BBQs, in salads, and in various international dishes such as tacos and stir-fries. One thing is for sure, it’s also the part of the chicken that can dry out the easiest. So, how long should we marinate boneless chicken breasts for the ideal balance for flavor, moisture retention, and texture?
It’s the shortest marinating time of all – 30 min! Yes, all you have to do is let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on the amount), for an impactful taste.
What did we learn today? There were a few things. Number 1, you can very much over marinate meat, more specifically chicken, and the results are not pleasant. Number 2, enzymatic and acidic marinades are good for different things. Number 3, the part of the chicken you’re working with will affect marination time.
Now your neighbor’s humble brag about marinating the chicken for 5 days will not impress you anymore. You may even just give him a polite smile and offer a few words of praise, but deep down, you know better. Of course, you can also choose to share your knowledge with everyone!