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Grill up tender and super juicy chicken all summer long – thanks to this easy Chicken Marinade recipe!
At least once a week, we marinate and cook a big batch of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We eat some for dinner, then enjoy leftovers for a day or two in salads, sandwiches, or sliced and eaten just as-is.
We always start with an easy Chicken Marinade – and today’s recipe is our new favorite! It’s made with ingredients that you probably have on hand in your refrigerator and kitchen cabinet. And, the chicken cooks up tender and super juicy with a golden exterior that has lots of delicious flavor.
We grilled our chicken here – but you could also roast or bake the chicken breasts after marinating. Any of these cooking methods will yield very delicious results!
Our Secret Marinade Ingredient
This chicken marinade recipe has an unusual ingredient…mayonnaise!
Mayonnaise in a marinade serves two purposes:
- First, mayo helps the other ingredients adhere to the chicken pieces, so the marinade can do its job of adding flavor and tenderizing the meat.
- Secondly, the mayonnaise helps the chicken brown as it cooks, giving the cooked chicken great flavor. This is also known as the Maillard reaction – a fancy name for the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, which gives browned foods their distinctive flavor.
Mayonnaise works well in all meat marinades – not just for chicken!
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Mayonnaise – As mentioned above, the mayonnaise helps the marinade stick to the chicken and also assists with browning and caramelization.
- Soy sauce – Choose a good-quality soy sauce with soy or tamari as one of the first ingredients on the label. We splurged on this brand recently, but an everyday soy sauce will work equally as well.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Use your best-quality extra virgin olive oil.
- Fresh garlic – This recipe needs the flavors of fresh garlic – avoid the jarred stuff!
- White Balsamic Vinegar – All marinades need some sort of acid to break down muscle fiber. We used white balsamic which has a very nice, fruity taste, it’s strong enough to break down muscle fiber, but not so potent that it leaves a bitter or strong after taste. You can swap in other acids such as lemon or lime juice, or other vinegars such as dark balsamic, apple cider, or red wine – just note that the finished flavors will change if you swap in other acids.
- Brown Sugar – To assist in the outer caramelization as the chicken cooks, and to balance the flavor -your marinade needs a sweetener. We used brown sugar but granulated sugar, honey or agave would also work, each giving a slightly different level of sweetness.
- Dijon Mustard – Besides the mayonnaise, mustard is an emulsifier and also acts to bind the oil and vinegar in the marinade together so they don’t separate. You can swap in other mustards, but avoid common yellow mustard – the flavor is too harsh for this recipe.
- Herbs and spices – We used dried basil and oregano in today’s marinade recipe, however, fresh basil and oregano can be used when available. Use twice the amount of fresh than the dry amount listed in the recipe below. Red pepper flakes, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper round out the spice profile of this chicken marinade.
Chef’s Tip –
After mixing up the marinade, hold some aside – separate from the marinade poured over the chicken. You’ll use it as a glaze when serving the cooked chicken. Note: For safety reasons, do not use the marinade that touched the uncooked chicken as a glaze…that used marinade should be discarded.
How do I make the best Chicken Marinade?
- Mix the marinade ingredients in a blender. Reserve half a cup of marinade and store in the refrigerator.
- Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken – in a gallon zipper seal bag or a bowl. Marinate at least two hours or, ideally, overnight. (Do not marinate more than 24 hours.)
- Remove chicken from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Then brush lightly with vegetable oil for grilling. Normally we say to oil the grill and not the food, but in this case, both should be oiled to avoid sticking.
- Sear chicken on both sides over a hot oiled grill, then move the breasts to the cool side of the grill. Slow roast until cooked through.
- Allow the grilled, marinated chicken to rest on a platter or board for ten minutes under a piece of foil. Brush on some of the reserved marinade, then slice and serve.
Chef’s Tip –
Avoid cooking your chicken on the hot side of the grill for the entire time. Sear over the hot flame, then move the chicken to the cooler side of the grill (where there is indirect heat) to finish cooking. This approach prevents the chicken from drying out. Use a probe thermometer to test the internal temperature of the chicken and remove from the grill when it reaches 158 degrees F. It will continue to cook as it rests.
Frequently asked Questions
- How long should I marinate chicken? For this recipe, at least two hours and no more than 24 hours.
- Can I reuse the marinade? No, after the marinade has been used with raw chicken, it should be discarded.
You might enjoy these other chicken recipes:
- Marinated Grilled Chicken
- Beer Can Chicken
- Chicken Mulligatawny Soup
- How to Grill Chicken Drumsticks
- Szechuan Chicken
5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup good quality soy sauce, we used this brand
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dry basil
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup vegetable oil for grilling
In a blender or using an immersion blender, add vinegar, soy sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, brown sugar, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and pepper flakes and blend to smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you blend to emulsify the marinade. Reserve half a cup to brush on cooked chicken.
Trim any visible fat from the chicken and place into a gallon zip lock bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate overnight but at least two hours and no longer than 24 hours.
When ready to grill, remove chicken from the bag and discard used marinade. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels on both sides.
Heat one side of your grill to its hottest setting.
Scrape and clean grill then wipe clean with a wet paper towel using long handled tongs.
Dip more paper towels into a little vegetable oil and oil the hot grill grates with the long-handled tongs.
Brush the remaining vegetable oil over the chicken and place on the grill.
Time two minutes and turn one quarter turn to make grill cross hatch marks.
Time two more minutes and flip.
Time two more minutes and turn one quarter turn.
Time two more minutes and remove to the cool side of the grill.
Maintain a grill temperature no higher than 350 degrees F and cook the chicken with the lid closed until the internal temperature reaches 158 degrees F.
Using our natural gas grill, after the initial eight minutes to sear, we cooked the chicken for 22 more minutes at 350 degrees F for a total of 30 minutes to reach the 158 degrees F. Your cooking times will vary based on your ability to control your grill temperature and the thickness of the chicken breasts. Use a probe thermometer to get to the 158 degrees F.
Cover loosely with foil and let rest ten minutes. The internal temperature will rise slightly higher as it rests to the safe temperature of 160 degrees F., which is the recommended safe internal temperature for chicken breast meat. Brush with the reserved marinade then slice against the grain and serve.
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