Does Marinating Chicken Work in Tenderizing and Adding Flavor?

Marinating chicken helps to tenderize and add flavor, mainly affecting the surface. Ideal marinades combine acid, fat, and flavorings. While acids break down proteins for tenderness, effective marinating time varies, with five to six hours recommended. Marinate in the fridge to prevent bacterial growth and cook the marinade before using it as a sauce.

So you are getting ready to make that fantastic new chicken recipe for dinner. But wait!

It calls for marinating the chicken overnight. Do you skip this process and just proceed with the recipe anyway?

Or not? Does marinating chicken work in tenderizing and adding flavor? 

Many believe that yes, marinating the chicken will help with tenderization and adding flavor. And the most popular is that marinating in full-fat buttermilk is the key to making a soft, tender chicken. 

How does marinating achieve these results? 

The Ideal Marinade

The typical marinade is made up of just three ingredients. An acid such as lemon juice, fat such as olive, and a flavoring such as spices and herbs.

You need a good balance of each. Too much of any of these three and you will not have the proper concentration for them to work their magic. 

The common ratio is 3 to 1. Three parts fat to one part acid. 

Example: 1 cup oil to 1/3 cup acid. Too many herbs can kill your dish. 

Choose a few that complement each other and enhance the flavor of your chicken. My favorite herbs to use when making chicken are thyme and rosemary.

does marinating chicken really work

What Does a Marinade Do?

The acid in marinades helps break down the protein structure making the chicken less chewy and retaining moisture. But chicken is full of water and is not going to absorb more so the marinade is limited to the surface only.

Many believe the secret to a moist and tender chicken is the quality and correct cooking. If you want tender chicken, then brining is best. 

What is a brine? Water and salt. 

Salt can penetrate the chicken, therefore, making it taste more flavorful and juicy. The internal temperature must be 165 degrees. 

After all, you don’t want to serve undercooked chicken. That will only get you a case of food poisoning.

On the other hand, overcooked chicken equals tough, chewy, and dry meat. 

How Long to Marinate Chicken?

Five to six hours is the recommended time for marinating a chicken to get the best flavor and texture. Even 10 minutes in a marinade will give flavor to the outside of a chicken if you don’t have much time.

Marinating too long depends on the ingredients of your marinade. The acid could essentially cook the meat and instead of tender, you may end up with mushy. 

Marinate Your Chicken in the Refrigerator

Never marinate your chicken at room temperature. Why?

Room temperature can allow dangerous bacteria to grow and lead to food poisoning. If your marinaded chicken has sat on the counter for more than two hours, throw it out!

Before cooking your marinated chicken it is safe to let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Why let the chicken come to room temperature before cooking?

It allows for more even cooking. While your oven for baking or oil for frying is coming up to temperature, remove the chicken from the fridge, discard the marinade, and either set the bird on a plate or in your baking dish.  

Can You Use The Marinade as a Sauce?

Yes, you can. But you need to cook it first.

The raw chicken has sat in the marinade and is essentially full of bacteria. By cooking the marinade first you are killing off all that bacteria.

Add your drained marinade to a saucepan and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. You can then either add the chicken to the sauce or serve it in a bowl on the side.  

You can also cook your chicken in the marinade. Just make sure you cook it long enough to kill all that nasty bacteria. 

Do Not Marinate Your Chicken in Aluminum

Always marinate in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel container or bowl. Never use aluminum. 

Why? The acid in the marinade will leach into your marinade thus causing your chicken to have an off-putting taste.

I use a plastic bag. 

Does Marinating Chicken Work?

If you are on the fence regarding marinading chicken you might find the video below helpful.

Conflicting Opinions

I have found while researching this article that there are differing opinions on marinating. Many believe that marinating chicken is a waste of time

Why? The marinade is unable to penetrate very far into the meat.

Then others believe that marinating works. My personal opinion?

I love making what we call chicken and biscuit bake at my house. I had never really done any marinading but I had heard that “soaking” your chicken in buttermilk will make it tender and juicy. 

So I thought to myself, why not?  But I didn’t have any buttermilk on hand. 

So I made my own. For every 1 cup of milk add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar.

Let this mixture sit for 10 minutes. I did let the chicken “soak” in the buttermilk overnight. 

Long story short. My husband said that was the best chicken I had ever made!

Wishful thinking? Maybe, maybe not. 

does marinating chicken really work?

My Final Thoughts

  • Marinating chicken adds flavor to the surface and can tenderize slightly, but effects are limited to the outer layers.
  • A typical marinade consists of acid, fat, and flavorings, balancing each other to enhance taste and tenderness.
  • Brining is more effective for deeper flavor penetration and moisture retention than marinating.
  • Marinate chicken for 5 to 6 hours to avoid over-tenderizing and flavor loss.
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth and ensure food safety.

A marinade is made up of three main ingredients. An acid, fat, and flavoring. 

Marinating is an effective way to introduce extra moisture into meat that can get dry when cooked. Many believe that marinating is a complete waste of time because the marinade only penetrates so far, flavoring just the surface.

Chicken is full of water and incapable of absorbing more. Always marinate in the fridge. 

Room temperature allows all those nasty bacteria to grow. You don’t want any food poisoning. 

I heard the experience is not pleasant at all. You can use your marinade as a sauce. 

Just make sure that you cook it first. The same goes for cooking your chicken in the marinade.

Cooking your food at room temperature allows for more even cooking. Don’t leave your marinated chicken on the counter any longer than two hours. 

After that, throw it out! Do you marinate your chicken?

Do you think it makes a difference? Please leave me a comment below with your thoughts and experiences with marinating.

And as always, have a wonderful day!

FAQ: Does Marinating Chicken Add Flavor?

1. How does marinating help in tenderizing chicken?

  • Marinating chicken helps tenderize it by breaking down the proteins on the surface, making it softer and easier to chew.
  • For effective tenderization, the marinade should contain an acidic component, like vinegar or citrus juice, which facilitates the breakdown of muscle fibers.

2. Does marinating chicken also enhance its flavor?

  • Yes, marinades infuse the chicken with flavors from the spices and herbs included, enhancing the overall taste of the meat.
  • The flavors primarily affect the surface but can penetrate deeper if given enough time or with the use of ingredients that aid flavor absorption.

3. What are the best ingredients to include in a chicken marinade?

  • A well-balanced marinade typically includes an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), fats (such as oils), and a variety of seasonings and spices to enhance flavor.
  • It’s also beneficial to include ingredients that complement each other and match the dish’s intended flavor profile.

4. How long should I marinate chicken for optimal results?

  • Generally, chicken should be marinated for five to six hours to balance flavor infusion and texture.
  • However, marinating time can be adjusted based on the type of marinade used and personal taste preferences.

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