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How To Make BBQ Chicken Marinade

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BBQ chicken: It’s a crowd-pleaser that no grill master should be without a great recipe for. But to make the best BBQ chicken in town you’ll need a lip-smacking BBQ chicken marinade to pair your poultry with. It's not enough just to slather on your favorite sauce after searing it on the grill – if you want to get the juiciest, most flavorful chicken around follow our guide on the science of creating a marinade, what kind of cuts to grill up, and delicious recipes to follow along with.

Why BBQ Marinade Works for Chicken

Despite being such a versatile meat, chicken sometimes gets a bad rap for being too dry. If you don’t know how to cook it properly, that can absolutely be true.

Since chicken doesn’t have much fat on it—the breasts in particular—it’s more prone to drying out while cooking. If it does dry out, the chicken breast can get a rubbery and chewy texture in a hurry. However, there is a simple trick to avoiding this grilling mishap.

By creating a flavorful and moisture-adding marinade, your chicken will not only be boosted in flavor but boosted in texture. By adding oil, salt, spices, and acid to your chicken breast, you can infuse it with everything it doesn’t already have—extra fat, extra flavor, and a delicate, pull-apart tenderness. A BBQ marinade is just the ticket for taking a plain old chicken breast, and making it into something great.

While a common practice is simply adding barbecue sauce to your chicken after it’s been grilled, you’ll miss out on all the added flavor and moisture a marinade will give the meat. By adding in this extra step at the beginning, your chicken will be ready to eat right as you take it off the grill.

What You Will Need for the Marinade

Every BBQ marinade can be broken down into the same basic ingredients: Oil, salt, acid, spices, and sugar

Each of these ingredients play a role in flavoring the chicken: Oil adds fat and flavor, salt tenderizes and brings out the taste, acid (like lemon juice or vinegar) breaks down proteins and makes the chicken more tender, spices help to season, and sugar enhances.

To begin your marriage with marinade, read our article to learn all of the ins and outs of choosing a chicken marinade and three different marinade options to help expand your culinary repertoire.

However, when it comes to adding in a chicken marinade to your grilling process, you can go one of two ways: Make your own BBQ sauce, or use one of our pre-made Traeger BBQ sauces and add a little bit of oil.

Bourbon BBQ Sauce_RE_HE_M

If you do want to make your own BBQ sauce, we recommend starting with our recipe for Bourbon BBQ Sauce as a starting point. It contains:

  • Minced onions and garlic
  • Bourbon
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Ketchup
  • Tomato paste
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Hot sauce

Whether you want a BBQ sauce that’s sweeter or spicer though, there’s no bad option for a chicken marinade, however.

Preparing the Chicken Before Marinating

Choosing the cut of chicken you want to marinate and cook is all down to preference as BBQ chicken marinade works great with boneless, skinless, breast or thigh. However here are some pro-tips before you start:

  • Different cuts of chicken require different cooking times. If you choose to keep the skin or bones, these pieces will cook more slowly.
  • Before you toss your chicken into a marinade, trim off any excess skin, fat, or cartilage.

How To Marinate Your Chicken

With your chicken trimmed and your BBQ sauce in hand, it’s almost time to marinate your chicken. Grab a bowl of some plastic zip-top bags, and follow this process step-by-step.

How Much Marinade You Will Need

You will need enough BBQ chicken marinade to entirely coat your chicken in a thick layer. The amount you need will vary, based on a few things:

  1. The thickness of your marinade.
  2. How you’re storing your chicken.
  3. How much chicken you plan on cooking.

The most cost-effective way to distribute your marinade is by sealing your chicken and marinade in an air-tight bag. This maximizes the surface area of the chicken that is in contact with the marinade and is the best way to infuse the meat with maximum flavor.

Prepared this way, you’ll need about a quarter to half a cup of marinade for each piece of chicken. But if you only have a shallow dish to store your chicken in, you’ll need to use a lot more marinade to cover the top of the chicken. (Alternatively, turn the chicken in the marinade peridocially.)

Once it's in the marainde, cover the chicken or seal the bag its in, and refrigerate it. Is using a bag, consider placing it on a rimmed plate or sheet pan in case it leaks.

How Long To Marinate Your Chicken

A short marinade will give chicken a hint of flavor and a touch more tenderness. Ideally, you want to marinate it for at least 2 hours refrigerated, If you are pressed for time, however, leave it in the marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.

A longer marinade, ideally between 8 and 12 hours, will fully infuse it with flavor, and tenderize the meat to fork-tender perfection.

However, there is such a thing as marinating for too long as the acid in the mariande will start to make the meat mushy.

A Note on Marinade Safety

There are two rules you must abide by whenever you’re marinating:

  1. If marinating for more than 30 minutes, refrigerate the meat to keep bacteria at bay.
  2. Don’t use the marinade that's been in contact with the raw meat for basting or as a sauce as it's full of bacteria. Instead, reserve some of the marinade seperately before adding the chicken. (Note that you may see recipes in which the marinade is boiled down and served as a sauce, in which case bacteria has been killed.)

BBQ Marinade Variations


Each of our Traeger BBQ Sauces can be used as a marinade, offering a different selection of flavors to suit your palate. If you want to cook up barbecue chicken wings or chicken thighs, a dry rub is better suited to the task.

Honey BBQ Marinade

Our Show Me the Honey Sauce is bold, sweet, and savory, and a perfect compliment to chicken. Try mixing it with a dash of sesame oil for an Asian-inspired BBQ flavor.

Spicy BBQ Marinade

Peppery heat is the name of the game with our Traeger Texas Spicy Sauce—and its thinner consistency makes it ready for marinating as is. If you’d rather add just a little spice, our Traeger Sweet & Heat BBQ Sauce tones down the fire with an equal mix of Texas Spicy and Apricot barbecue sauces.

Dry Rub BBQ Marinade

If you want to get great BBQ flavor into a fattier piece of chicken like thighs or wings, a dry rub is another good way to add flavor and can also tenderize. We’ve put together a full guide to barbecue rubs that will take you through the whole process of choosing and applying one of our delicious Traeger BBQ Rubs.

These are just a few of the delicious sauces we offer though. Explore our different BBQ sauces and rubs to find the one that fits your taste preference.

More BBQ Marinade Recipes

BBQ Chicken Legs

Hungry for more BBQ recipes? Here are a few of dishes with BBQ marinade from the Traeger recipe files:

And for even more great BBQ recipes, you can always check out our full Traeger recipe catalog here.

Traeger BBQ Chicken Breasts

by Traeger Kitchen

Prep Time

20 Min

Cook Time

30 Min





Massage your chicken breasts with a smattering of spices, grill them hot and fast, and mop them with a mix of Traeger BBQ sauces for perfectly tangy chicken.

1/4 CupOlive oil
1 Teaspoongrated garlic
1 TablespoonWorcestershire sauce
2 TablespoonTraeger Fin & Feather Rub
4 chicken breasts
1/2 CupTraeger 'Que BBQ Sauce
1/2 CupTraeger Sweet & Heat BBQ Sauce
  • 1

    In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and Traeger Fin & Feather rub.

  • 2

    Coat the chicken breasts all over with the mixture.

  • 3

    In a separate small bowl, mix together the Traeger Sweet & Heat and Traeger ‘Que BBQ sauces.

  • 4

    When ready to cook, set the Traeger temperature to 500°F and preheat with the lid closed for 15 minutes.

  • 5

    Insert the probe into the thickest part of a chicken breast. Place the chicken directly on the grill grates, close the lid, and grill until the internal temperature reaches 160℉, 20-30 minutes. 5 minutes before the chicken is done, brush with the BBQ sauce mixture.

  • 6

    Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest 5 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

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