Easy chicken marinade that uses a mix of pantry staples and fresh ingredients. A combination of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, parsley, and garlic makes each bite burst with of flavor.
Chicken is almost always on the menu at our house. Although I admit, it can get a little repetitive and boring eating the same thing on a regular basis. Applying a chicken marinade is a tasty solution! Not only does the protein infuse and deliver more flavor, but the right marinade also makes it more tender and juicy. A win, win!
Whisking together a combination of savory, aromatic, and tangy ingredients is a game-changer for chicken. This marinade recipe is a light honey mustard base, a classic pairing for poultry. All you need is under 60 minutes of marination time for the flavors to transfer before it gets cooked.
How to make your own chicken marinade
Chicken marinades are incredibly versatile and go well with breast, legs, thicken, half pieces, and wings. When building a marinade, make sure that you have ingredients in each of these categories:
This mixture ensures that the chicken is brined to make it juicier and tender. A harmonious blend of flavors is delivered to the surface. You can also use alcohol to provide stronger flavors because it acts as a solvent and can move to the interior of more efficiently. An excellent example of how I apply this is in my tequila lime chicken recipe.
How much marinade to use
Here’s a good rule of thumb: 1 pound chicken = 1/2 cup (120ml) marinade
It’s no secret; chicken often falls victim to becoming dry and overcooked. This is especially true with grilled chicken due to the high direct heat. It also can be bland and uninteresting. However, a chicken marinade can save the day!
Benefits of using a chicken marinade
- The oil dissolves fat-soluble flavor compounds like the oil in lemon zest, mustard, and capsaicin in black pepper to evenly disperse on the surface.
- Salt acts like a brine, helping the chicken hold more water and become juicier, easier to eat and become more savory in flavor.
- Garlic and soy sauce are high in glutamates, which gives an umami flavor. Garlic also has unique flavor compounds that can infuse into and coat the exterior of the chicken.
- A little bit of honey balances the lemon juice but also encourages quicker browning through the Maillard reaction and caramelization. This process encourages more color and flavor development.
- The lemon juice brightens the flavor and can provide some tenderization properties, but only at small amounts for relatively a short amount of time.
For this chicken marinade recipe which contains lemon juice (an acid), marinate for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 1 hour. Too much acid makes the surface mushy and dry. It can also turn the chicken white and give a cooked appearance.
Cooking the protein with acid is something you want in ceviche, but not chicken. Another alternative is to marinate for 24 hours max, not adding in the lemon juice until the last 30 to 60 minutes of marination before cooking. This process can prevent the undesirable texture development mentioned above.
All chicken cuts work well
For this chicken marinade recipe, I used chicken breasts. They seem to benefit the most because the meat is so lean and neutral. The marinade helps it stay juicy once cooked and add a layer of extra flavor to each serving.
Any cut like thigh, drumsticks and even wings can benefit from this honey mustard marinade. Experiment with different ingredients to create exciting flavor combinations! Just make sure to keep the essential ingredients categories in mind.
More chicken marinade ideas
Balance the acid in the marinade
Acids like vinegar, lemon juice, and buttermilk are commonly used in marinades. Note that too much can cause the marinade to be overly acidic, reducing the chicken’s natural pH. The muscle proteins over time will pack together, squeezing out the moisture. To prevent this, use a small amount of the acidic ingredient, no more than 25% of the marinade recipe. Also marinate for a shorter period, 30 to 60 minutes.
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) olive oil
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) water
- 2 tablespoons (15 ml) lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (9 g) minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon (1 g) chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk together olive oil, water, lemon juice, mustard, soy sauce, honey, salt, garlic, parsley, black pepper, and lemon zest.
- Add chicken to a baking dish or large resealable plastic bag.
- Pour marinade over the chicken, cover and refrigerate. Press out the excess air if using a Ziploc bag.
- Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to 60 minutes maximum time.
- Flip over every 15 minutes for even marination.
- Remove chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture from the surface.
- Discard marinade.
- Cook chicken using the desired cooking method, such as grill, bake or saute.
- Transfer chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Serve with lemon wedges.
- Chicken can be marinated overnight by wait to add the lemon juice until the last 30 minutes to 1 hour of marination time.
- Recipe Yield: 1 cup of marinade which is good for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
- Chicken Pieces: You can use breasts, thighs, quarters, wings, legs and bone-in pieces.
- Grill: Preheat grill over high heat, about 400-450ºF (204-232ºC). Carefully grease the cooking grates with the oil. Keep one burner off for indirect heat cooking. Place the chicken on the direct heat side of the grill and close the lid. Cook each side for about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness and type. Move to the indirect heat side of the grill and finish cooking covered until the recommended internal temperature is reached and it's fully cooked.
- Saute: Heat a large cast iron or stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of oil and allow to heat. Saute one side for 4 to 5 minutes. Turn heat to medium and flip over. Cook about 4 to 6 minutes more.
- Bake: Preheat oven to 450°F. Add chicken to a greased foil-lined sheet pan or baking dish. Bake until fully cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness and type of chicken.
- Doneness Temperature: Cook chicken to an internal temperature of 160-165ºF (71-74ºC). Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes to account for an increase in temperature due to carryover cooking.
- MAKE IT PALEO: Use maple syrup instead of honey.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Use gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.