Does Marinating Chicken Really Work in Tenderizing And Adding Flavor?

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 really work in tenderizing and adding flavor? 

There are many that 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 3 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 3 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 much spice can kill your dish.  Choose a few that complement each other and enhance the flavor of your chicken. My favorite spices 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 in chicken 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 of the chicken only. Many believe the secret to a moist and tender chicken is the quality of the chicken and correct cooking.  

If you really want tender chicken, then brining is best.  What is a brine? Water and salt.  Salt is able to 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

5 to 6 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 meat. 

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 2 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 your chicken 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/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 personally use a plastic bag. 

Does Marinating Chicken Really 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 there are others that believe that marinating works. 

My personal opinion? I love making what we call Chinese chicken at my house. I had never really done any marinading but I had heard that “soaking” your chicken in buttermilk will make your chicken 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 actually 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?

Final Thoughts

A marinade is made up of 3 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 with 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 2 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

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