What marinades do

Depending on what marinades are made of, they can be used both to add flavour to the outside of the chicken and to tenderise it. If a marinade includes sugar or salt it will tenderise the chicken a little, but if there is an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, buttermilk or yogurt, then the marinade will transform the texture of the outside of the chicken over time.


The longer you leave an acidic marinade to work on the chicken, the worse the surface texture will get, becoming more stringy and dry, so don’t leave chicken soaking any longer than overnight. Give it 5-6 hours for the best flavour and texture – if you don't have that long, even 10 minutes of marinating will give flavour to the outside of chicken. Marinades without acid can be left longer but won’t make them work any better, so stick to 24 hours as a maximum.

Try one of our delicious marinade recipes.

How marinades work

Contrary to popular belief, marinades never work their way far into a piece of chicken – they will always be surface flavours. Oil and fat won’t penetrate flesh at all, but salt will get a little way in if used in large enough quantities (1½ tbsp salt per 250ml liquid), as it loosens the muscle fibres.

Make the most of your marinade

Slash your chicken joints with a sharp knife, as this creates more surface area for the marinade to work on. It will also help the chicken cook more quickly – the longer you cook it, the drier it will become. Because marinades give mostly surface flavours, choose how to cook your chicken to make the best of them. High heat will caramelize sugars, so barbecuing, grilling, pan-frying and roasting will transform a marinade into a delicious crust.

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Marinated chicken skewers on a tortilla with a wedge of lime

Classic chicken marinades

  • Mediterranean marinade: ingredients include olive oil, garlic, lemon zest/juice, oregano, pepper, dried red chilli
  • Tandoori marinade: ingredients include yogurt, ginger, garlic, chilli, turmeric, garam masala
  • Jerk marinade: ingredients include garlic, chilli, ginger, thyme, brown sugar, soy sauce, allspice
  • Teriyaki marinade: ingredients include honey or sugar, mirin, soy sauce
  • Barbecue marinade: ingredients include garlic, brown sugar, wine vinegar, paprika

Simple chicken marinade recipe

Enough for 400g chicken

  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • handful of fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or coriander, finely chopped
  1. Mix the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and herbs in a large bowl and season well.
  2. Marinate the chicken for 1-2 hours.

Our 5 top chicken marinade recipes

Roast spatchcock chicken with lemongrass, honey & fish sauce

Whole marinated chicken in a dish

Make a Sunday roast with a difference by marinating your chicken with lemongrass, honey and fish sauce.

Chilli-lime chicken salad

Chicken, avocado, tomato, cucumber salad

A chilli-lime dressing makes an ideal marinade for chicken to go into a salad.

One-pan piri piri chicken dinner

Tray bake of marinated chicken with peppers and tomatoes and fresh herbs

Try this one-pan piri piri chicken for a family dinner, and adjust the chilli levels to suit your family's tolerance. You can use a whole chicken instead if you like.

Smoky chicken skewers

Marinated chicken skewers with white butter beans and a dip

Spanish smoked paprika adds another dimension to these marinated chicken skewers.

Hot wings

These Tom Kerridge hot wings are marinated in buttermilk and then cooked with a good dose of spice for a sharing feast.

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What are your favourite chicken marinades? Leave a comment below...

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