How Long Can I Marinate Chicken: [Complete Beginner's Guide]   

How Long Can I Marinate Chicken: [Complete Beginner’s Guide]   

Chicken is among the less expensive, healthy, and versatile dishes most people always have at home. It is easy to prepare, but the question has always been, how long can I marinate chicken?

It takes up to 48 hours to marinate raw chicken. However, different marinades require different durations. Thus the type of marinade you use determines the period you are likely to marinate your chicken. Marinating chicken for too long is not always a good idea, especially when using marinades with acids that can easily break down your chicken or make it tough.

This guide helps you understand the most critical factors when marinating your chicken. Read on for tips on how to marinate your chicken for a delicious meal.

How Long Does it Take to Marinate Various Chicken Parts

There are over five different parts of the chicken. Each piece takes a different amount of time to marinate completely. Here are the common parts and the length of time they take to marinate:

  • Breasts – 48 hours
  • Thighs – 24 hours
  • Tenderloins – 12 hours
  • Wings – 24 hours
  • Drumsticks – 12 hours

The time variations you see are due to the sizes of each part and the type of sauce used to marinate them. Let’s break down each of them and see the kind of sauces used to marinate them.

Chicken Breasts

Chicken breasts usually do not have bones, making them the simplest parts to marinate. Moreover, this is the best chicken part to marinate because it is tough and does not easily fall off when marinated for a long time. Neither does the meat break down easily or degrade. The breasts are tough, so you should use sauce that can quickly tenderize the meat. Marinate chicken breasts for about two hours, but in a fridge, it would be better if you leave them in marinade sauce for 40 hours. 

Also Read: How Much Chicken Should You Cook Per Person?

As much as marinating can help your breasts become tender, marinating them for too long can damage your meat. So, ensure that you do not overdo it.


Thighs are also small in size. You can buy thighs with or without bones. Nonetheless, this does not affect the duration of marinating. Chicken thighs are usually more tender than the breasts, meaning that if you marinate them for a long, they will be ruined, so you should always stick them to a fridge for 24 hours or even less.

Further, you can as well marinate your chicken thighs for only 15 minutes, but the most recommended time is at least 30 minutes to 2 hours. Especially when marinated in acidic sauces, you should not leave them in for long.


Tenderloins are small and are situated below chicken breasts. It is usually tender and moist compared to breasts, and their close location makes it taste just like chicken breasts. The tenderloin is lean but tender, thus requiring the same marinating treatment as that of drumsticks. If you are cooking them, immediately leave them to marinate for about 30 minutes so the sauce flavors can ideally soak in. However, when marinating chicken tenderloins in the fridge, leave them to marinate for at least 12 hours. Marinating for too long can easily damage your meat and make it tough.

Chicken Wings

Wings are typically marinated using acidic sauces. Also, they are always small in size with less meat meaning the marinade quickly penetrates through the meat pieces and absorbs within the shortest time possible. Therefore, you should always marinate your chicken wings for not more than 24 hours. The sauce can easily break down the soft chicken wings meat if done more than this—something you do not anticipate.


These are the most sensitive parts of the chicken, most people rarely marinate drumsticks, but that doesn’t mean you cannot marinate them. However, they are better seasoned or breaded than marinated. If you like your drumsticks marinated, you should not do it for so long; take at least 30 minutes to hours, but when marinating them in a fridge, do it for not more than 12 hours. The meat in drumsticks is tender, and if you tend to marinate them for long, the meat can quickly degrade and break down, giving you something you do not desire.

How to Marinate Chicken

The process of marinating chicken might be simple or even complicated, depending on your experience or interest. However, if you know the proper steps, you will realize how simple it is.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Cut the chicken of your choice – this step is for people who buy a whole chicken from the grocery store. But if you buy chopped chicken, then you can skip this.
  2. Make your favorite marinade – choose your favorite marinade from the three types available: enzymatic, oil-based, and acidic marinades.

Enzymatic Marinades

Enzymatic marinade comprises fruits such as papayas, mango, and kiwi fruit, among others. The fruits contain active enzymes that marinate your chicken to make it soft and delicious.

Bromelain and papaya are the primary ingredients for tenderizing chicken in this marinade. If the chicken is soaked in the marinade for too long, it will turn out tough and not delicious.

Oil-based Marinades

A significant number of recipes use oil-based marinades. The main ingredient here is olive oil, accompanied by herbs, aromatics, spices, and other acidic ingredients.

Acidic Marinades

Some of these marinades include tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus juice. Acidic marinades are responsible for tenderizing your meat and adding more flavor. Moreover, it makes your chicken juicier and tastier, but never soak it for too long in these marinades because it can quickly get mushy.

3. Soak your chicken in the marinade

You can brush the marinade of your choice all through the surface of the chicken. Once it is fully soaked for the required period, pat it to dry. You can cook it or store it in a fridge for safety.    

How Long Can I Marinate Chicken in the Fridge?  

It is always good to marinate your chicken in the fridge. Your chicken will be safer here and marinate faster, absorbing into your chicken pieces to soften it and add flavor. Based on the chicken and the type of marinade you use, it can take up to 2 hours in the fridge.                                 

How Long Can I Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk? 

Buttermilk is another type of marinade people tend to use. It has no acids, so you will need to marinate the chicken for quite a long time to ensure the marinade is effective. With buttermilk, you can marinate your chicken for up to 48 hours without worries, but the best timeframe is 12 to 24 hours.

Some people get confused when they hear buttermilk because they expect it to give the chicken a milk flavor, but it does not do that. Instead, it leaves your chicken with a robust flavor and tenderness.     

Why you Should Marinate Chicken

Here are the three main benefits of marinating chicken:

  • Moisture absorption – the chicken absorbs moisture through osmosis, leaving it moist, soft, and juicier. This is essential in ensuring that your chicken does not dry out. Also, moist chicken takes less time to cook.
  • Boosts flavor – Marinades add more flavor to your chicken. The herbs and spices soak in the meat pieces making them more flavorful.
  • Health benefits – some marinades contain medicinal and antibacterial properties that are good for your health.

Final Thoughts

The time to marinate chicken depends on the type of marinade you are using and the chicken part. However, avoid letting your chicken soak in the marinade for too long because it can easily be damaged, losing its taste and tenderness.

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