How Long You Should Be Marinating Chicken

Why marinate a chicken? There are several benefits to soaking your poultry in some sort of juicy concoction before introducing it to heat, and not all of them have to do with flavor alone. Take Samin Nosrat's virally popular buttermilk-marinated roast chicken recipe, which employs a tried-and-true "Southern grandma method" to "[tenderize] the meat on multiple levels to yield an unbelievably juicy chicken" (per The New York Times).

Sasha Marx espouses the virtues of dry-brining (also known as pre-salting) in a breakdown for Serious Eats, writing, "Dry-brining achieves the goals of traditional brining — deeply seasoned, juicy food — without the flavor dilution problem that affects proteins brined in salt solutions." While dry-brining on its own will certainly produce a great-tasting chicken, we'd argue that the back-to-back process of dry-brining and marinating (not to be confused with wet-brining, which is another name for that inferior method Marx mentions) can result in a bird that's even more delectable in both texture and flavor. Read on to learn how long to marinate your chicken, plus some other tips and tricks, before dinnertime rolls around. 

30 minutes should do the trick

Unlike a dry brine, which should hang out your chicken "at least overnight in the fridge" (per Serious Eats), most marinades, buttermilk mixtures notwithstanding, will do their best work in 30 minutes or less, according to an Eat This, Not That! interview with NYC chef Bogdan Danila and other chicken pros. While an acidic marinade can help tenderize your chicken, Danila says it's possible to overdo it. "Anything acidic could essentially cook the meat and break down the proteins within the meat," he says. "This makes it mushy-tasting, and it would ruin the meat before you make it!" The chef says 15 to 30 minutes is plenty of time for your chicken to soak up its marinade, adding that dark leg meat generally takes longer to marinade than breast meat. 

Before you plop it in the liquid and set your timer, Danila suggests air drying your chicken "by hanging it in the fridge" five to six days in advance. For a final pre-marinating step, Danila also brines the chicken "for at least six hours" with a mixture of salt and lemon juice, "which helps the marinade and spices to penetrate the meat." As for what to put in your marinade, he says bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and leeks are essential.