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How To Choose A Chicken Breast Marinade

A marinade is a fun way to experiment with new flavors in grilling. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are the ideal partner for marinades because they take on flavors so well and are fast and easy to cook.

What Is a Chicken Marinade?

A chicken marinade is a flavored liquid or sauce that you submerge chicken in before cooking. Marinades add flavor to chicken, sometimes contain acidic elements to help make the chicken tender, and sometimes contain elements that make the chicken look more attractive once it is cooked.

Why Should You Marinate Your Chicken?

Marinate chicken if you want it to have more flavor, tenderness, and an attractive appearance.

How Long Should You Marinate Your Chicken?

Some chicken marinade can work in as little as 10 minutes. Others work better when the chicken is marinated overnight.

Consult the recipe you're using, or the instructions on the prepared marinade bottle. If you're working from scratch, consider these factors.

Thickness of Chicken Breast or Chicken Breast Slices

Thinly sliced chicken will absorb marinade faster than thicker pieces. And thinner breasts will absorb flavors faster than thick ones.

Acidity of the Marinade

Marinades heavy on acidic elements like lemon juice or vinegar will work to break down meat faster than marinades made up of savory or sweet elements like soy sauce or sugar.

You can "over-marinate" with an acidic marinade, causing the chicken meat to become unappealing and spongy. Limit acidic marinade times to a few hours -- less if the pieces are sliced thin. Sweeter marinades are okay to use overnight.

How Much Marinade Do You Need?

Make enough marinade to fully submerge the chicken pieces when laid flat. The exact measures will depend on the amount of chicken, the thickness of the chicken, and the dimensions of whatever container you use to marinate.

Try to find a pan, plastic container, or other receptacle that allows the chicken to fit as snugly as possible in one layer without overlapping.

If you aren't having any luck, a plastic storage bag is a good option. The plastic will conform to the shape of the chicken, allowing the marinade to coat all the surfaces.

What Can You Marinate Chicken In?

Marinades are almost always made up of multiple ingredients, some of which provide flavor, some of which help to make the meat more tender, juicy, or better-looking when you cook it. Here are some of the most common chicken marinade ingredients.

Cooking Oil

Oil is a good chicken marinade ingredient because it helps the marinade adhere to the meat, and can help the surface of the chicken become appetizingly brown and crisp.

Extra-virgin olive oil is a common choice for chicken marinades because of its subtle flavor. EVOO lets other ingredients shine. But you can also use other vegetable oils like canola or sunflower oil. More flavorful oils like sesame oil, should be used in small amounts.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice adds a bright, summery flavor to chicken breast. It is usually paired with fresh herbs like oregano or basil.

Fresh lemon juice is best, as the refrigerated kind can have a harsh flavor.

Lemon juice is acidic, so the more you use, the less time your chicken will need to marinade.

Vinegar

Like lemon juice, vinegar can be used in a marinade to give a bright, pleasing tanginess. You can also use flavored vinegars to match with the other components of the marinade. For example, Asian-style marinades often call for rice vinegar.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is an easy way to add umami -- the deep, satisfying flavor we associate with meats and other savory foods. Soy sauce can be used in any marinade. Often it is used alongside other ingredients associated with the flavors of Asia such as ginger, green onions, sesame seeds, and others.

Garlic

Minced garlic deepens the flavor of a marinade, providing a slight bite as well as contrast to the heavier ingredients like oil or soy sauce. Other similar ingredients to use in a marinade include ginger, mustard, and onions.

Sugar

Many marinades are improved with a sweet component. You can use granulated sugar in a marinade, but more often, the sweetness is additional honey, molasses, mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine), and ketchup which can all add sweetness to a marinade.

Salad Dressing

Pressed for time? Just use your favorite salad dressing as a chicken breast marinade. Salad dressings have many of the same components of chicken marinades, for the same reasons as oil — they are meant to adhere to the food, provide a little extra flavor, and slightly tenderize ingredients.

What Chicken Breast Marinade Should You Choose?

Decide on a chicken breast marinade based on these three factors.

  1. The flavors you feel like eating
  2. The side dishes you plan to serve with the chicken
  3. How much time you have to marinade the chicken

Chicken breast on its own does not have a lot of flavor, so it's a blank slate for flavor. Based on the marinade you choose, you can have chicken breast flavors associated with many different types of cuisine.

Olive oil and lemon marinades are associated with Greek or Italian cooking.

Soy sauce and ginger marinades are associated with Japanese or Chinese cooking.

Marinades made with barbecue sauce — which typically includes vinegar, hot peppers, and often sweet elements like molasses — are associated with barbecue-style cooking.

If your side dishes fit into one of these categories, you may want to consider a marinade to match. But you don't have to stick to an established style. Experiment with flavor combinations that you enjoy.

One important consideration, though, is the amount of time you'll have to marinade before you cook. If you plan to cook within an hour or so, you may want to choose an acidic marinade. You can also slice the chicken thinner, which will expose more of the surface of the chicken to the flavors of the marinade.

Are Store-Bought Marinades Worth Buying?

Buying store-bought marinade saves time and effort. Everyone likes different flavors so we'd recommend trying out a few and see which ones you like. We'd recommend starting with our Traeger Sauces & Marinades.

How to Grill Marinated Chicken Breast

Grilling marinated boneless, skinless chicken breast couldn't be simpler.

  1. Preheat your grill to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place the marinated chicken breasts directly on the grill grate.
  3. Cook for approximately 15 minutes on each side, flipping once, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

You can also add additional marinade near the end of the cooking process for even more flavor. This video shows how.

How to Freeze Marinated Chicken Breast

You can marinate chicken breasts and then freeze them to cook later.

  1. Put the raw chicken pieces into a heavy-duty, sealable freezer bag.
  2. Add the marinade, enough so the surface of all the pieces is covered.
  3. Label the bag with the type of marinade, and the date.
  4. Lay flat in your freezer.
  5. Use within six months, thawing the chicken completely before cooking.

Chicken Breast Marinade Recipes

These marinade recipes are ideal for grilling chicken on a Traeger.

Lemon Chicken Breast Marinade

Makes enough for 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons honey

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves

1 lemon, zest and juice

1/2 cup high-quality olive oil or vegetable oil

Mandarin Chicken Breast Marinade

Makes enough for 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Ingredients

3/4 cup kosher salt

3/8 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup soy sauce

Bourbon BBQ Chicken Kabob Marinade

Makes enough for 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

3/4 cup Traeger Texas Spicy BBQ Sauce

3/4 cup Traeger Apricot BBQ Sauce

3/8 cup bourbon

3 tablespoons honey

1½ teaspoons garlic

1½ teaspoons onion powder