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How Long to Marinate Chicken Thighs

How Long to Marinate Chicken Thighs

Cooking chicken thighs is not as simple as firing up your grill and tossing the chicken on it. You need to marinate the chicken to get the most delicious, flavorful dish. 

However, the trick to marinating chicken thighs is not to over-marinate the meat. But before you marinate the chicken thighs, it’s essential to know the different types of marinades. 

What Are the 4 Types of Marinades?

There are 4 basic types of marinades for marinating chicken thighs: enzymatic, acid, oil, and dairy. 

Enzymatic Marinades

Enzymes found in fruits can be used to marinate meat. These enzymes are used to make tough meats tender.

For example, papain, an enzyme found in papaya juice, has proteases or protein enzymes that are used to tenderize meat. Kiwi, pineapple, figs, and honeydew contain enzymes that tenderize meat. 

However, when using fruit marinades, less fruit is more. The fruit enzymes are powerful and can cause the meat to develop a dry, mushy texture. 

Acidic Marinades

In contrast, acidic marinades consist of acidic ingredients such as lime, lemon, or any type of citrus juice. Acidic marinades can also use vinegar, tomato, and wine.

These ingredients contain acids that cause the protein chains to relax, resulting in tender meat. 

Oil Marinades

Oil-based marinades work wonders for chicken thighs. Oil-based marinades consist of oil, spices, and herbs.

Fresh herbs include rosemary, thyme, garlic, ginger, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil, and sesame oil are the most popular ingredients. 

Dairy Marinades

Lastly, dairy-based marinades like buttermilk or Greek yogurt work wonders for chicken thighs. These dairy products can be considered acidic, but they contain much less acid than citrus juice or tomato juice. 

In addition to this, dairy-based marinades can also tenderize the chicken thighs. This is due to calcium which triggers enzymes in the chicken thighs and causes the meat to become tender.

The mild acid in these ingredients will not cause the meat to become tough as acid-based marinades do. 

Marinade Application

In addition to the type of marinade, you must also consider how you will apply the marinade. Marinades can be applied as a dry rub or in paste or liquid form. 

Dry rubs consist of dry seasonings such as salt, paprika, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Dry rubs are applied by rubbing them onto the meat. 

Pastes usually consist of sour cream, yogurt, or other dairy products. For example, tandoori chicken or Greek chicken are marinated in yogurt.

Pastes are slathered onto the chicken thighs like you would slather lotion cream on your arm. 

Liquid marinades usually consist of oil-based or acidic-based marinades.

Soy sauce, olive oil, citrus juice, hoisin sauce, and Worcestershire sauce are the most popular ingredients for liquid marinades. Essentially, you toss the meat in the liquid marinade and let it sit for a specific amount of time. 

How Long to Marinate Chicken Thighs

The USDA suggests a raw chicken, including whole thighs, wings, breasts, legs, or ground chicken, can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days.

However, this only applies to food safety. This does not mean that chicken thighs should be marinated for 1-2 days.

Chicken thighs require less time to marinate than other types of meat, such as pork or beef. How long to marinate chicken thighs depends on how you intend to cook them. 

On average, chicken thighs can be marinated for up to 24 hours in the fridge. However, if you need to get food on the dinner table quickly, you can marinate it for as little as 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, the longer the chicken thighs sit in the marinade, the more of the marinade flavor it will absorb. 

It’s best to marinate the chicken thighs for 6-12 hours for the best flavor. Marinades without acids can last a little longer but do not exceed 24 hours. 

Can You Marinate Chicken Thighs Too Long?

Yes, chicken thighs can be marinated for too long, mainly if the marinade contains acidic ingredients.

The marinade can cause the chicken’s protein to break down too much, causing it to dry out and develop a stringy texture. 

No one likes dry, stringy chicken thighs. Therefore, you should not marinate chicken thighs for more than 24 hours.  

How to Marinate Chicken Thighs

All this talk about chicken thighs is bound to make you pull out your natural gas grill or cast-iron skillet and cook up some delicious chicken thighs.

However, to cook chicken thighs, you will need a marinade. Luckily, I’ve got you covered. 

First, mince some garlic, then mix it with 1-2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of cumin, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in a bowl. 

Pour the marinade into a ziplock bag or airtight container and add the chicken thighs.

Toss to coat the chicken thighs in the marinade or seal the bag and massage the marinade into the chicken thighs if you are using a ziplock bag. 

Place the ziplock bag into a container. If the seal is broken, the marinade will spill into the container.

If the chicken thighs were not placed into a container and the bag was to start leaking, the marinade would spill all over the fridge contaminating all of the other food in the fridge. 

Not only would you have to clean the fridge, but you will probably have to throw away everything in the fridge. 

Marinate the chicken thighs for at least 2-12 hours. You can also marinate the chicken thighs for 30 minutes if you are in a rush.

Once the chicken thighs have marinated, cook them on the stovetop, oven, slow cooker, or instant pot, or pull out your pellet grill and cook them. 

Final Thoughts

Marinating chicken thighs enhances their flavor. However, if you marinate the chicken thighs too long, you will end up with dry, tough, and stringy meat instead of tender, juicy chicken thighs.

Nevertheless, if you marinate the chicken thighs for up to 24 hours, this won’t be an issue.

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