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.
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.
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.
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:
Whether you want a BBQ sauce that’s sweeter or spicer though, there’s no bad option for a chicken marinade, however.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
Grab your rib bib & sink your teeth into these tender, sweet, and spicy ribs. They smoke low and slow, and are definitely worth the wait.
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.
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this BBQ chicken recipe. Smoke and sauce bring out the flavor of these legs, making for an easy meal for any night of the week.
Classic BBQ chicken thighs are juicy and tender, infused with wood-fired flavor. Serve at your backyard BBQ with baked beans and chilled beer.
Inspired by carnitas, in which pork is cooked low and slow then crisped over high heat, this take uses beef flavored with Traeger Coffee rub that’s smoked for hours then braised until fall apart tender. Note: You’ll need to cook the meat for about 8 hours, so plan ahead. After getting shredded, the beef gets quickly seared on the flat top until crisp on the edges for an amazing contrast of textures. Serve the beef as main dish with sides like French fries, rice, cooked greens, or coleslaw or use the tender meat, topped with cheese if you like, in sandwiches, wraps, or tacos and serve the braising liquid on the side for dunking.
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