An easier way to make a chicken sparkle is by using a marinade. But how long can chicken marinate in the fridge before it goes bad?
If you’re like me, I used to marinate chicken or meat for a long time, thinking that they would turn more flavorful and juicy after extended marination. I was wrong!
Based on experience, I quickly realized that marinating meat is like stretching, which is vital when exercising. Your muscles get all messed up when you stretch too much. The same goes for the meat, and you should not marinate chicken for more than 24 hours.
How long can you marinate chicken in the fridge before it goes bad?
The truth is, it is best to marinate poultry or meat within 2 hours up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. This timeline depends on what marinades you use, as various marinades call for different durations.
Marinades with acidic ingredients can break down the meat fibers; hence the results can render a mushy or grainy texture. No matter how perfectly well you cooked the meat, you can blame the marinade for the outcome of incorrect preparation.
In fact, most marinades comprise a mixture of flavor enhancers along with sugar, acid, and salt. To some degree, sugar and salt can break down muscle fibers, while the acidic marinades are the big offender in this case.
Sure, most of us don’t have the luxury of time on our side to cook, what more in marinating the meat, especially the chicken.
But it’s good to know these marinating shortcuts if you have less than an hour to marinate your chicken before you fire up your stove and bring the food to the table.
Types of marinades
There are two types of marinades.
There are three known essential components of a typical marinade.
- Acid (like vinegar, citrus juice, and wine)
- Flavoring agent ( like spices and herbs)
- Oil (like sesame oil or olive oil)
These ingredients combined aid and transform the taste and texture of the protein in various ways. The acid breaks down the meat, absorbing more flavor while maintaining its natural juices.
The oil (like olive oil) has the unique ability to help pull the fat-soluble flavors out of some ingredients that help seep through the meat and prohibit more moisture loss when cooking, while the spices and herbs introduce robust flavors.
What is a marinade?
A marinade is a liquid mixture that is essential if you want to inject more flavor into your meat or protein while making them more tender by beginning the breakdown process of cooking.
This process occurs due to acidic ingredients like vinegar, fruit juice, or papaya, pineapple, ginger, or guava enzymes.
This breakdown yield seasonings and fluid to penetrate the meat while maintaining its moisture when cooking.
1 Acidic marinades
This marinade uses natural, mild, occurring acids from certain liquids that help to denature the proteins in the chicken that usually traps the moisture. Ingredients like vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt, apple juice, and wine are examples of acidic liquids for marinades.
2 Enzymatic marinades
Fruits like papaya, pineapple, ginger, kiwi are the best examples of enzymatic marinades that help tenderize the protein inside and out while breaking down the muscle fiber and connective tissues.
3 Third option: Dairy-based marinades
In Middle Eastern cuisine, yogurt is notably the typical base for marinades. Though they are actually acidic in nature, the lactic acid present in yogurt interacts so mildly compared to other non-dairy acidic marinades.
Learn how marinades work
Marinades serve two purposes:
- as a flavor enhancer
- as a meat tenderizer
You can read my exhaustive post here on how to tenderize tough meat.
Marination requires contact
During the marination process, meat must directly contact the liquid for the chemical reaction to occur. This means saturating meat or protein in marinades will only permeate or pass through the surface, particularly in large cuts of meat.
Moreover, if you think that piercing or puncturing the meat will give you better penetration of the marinades, it’s the opposite. The result provides uneven flavors with an undesirable consequence of allowing the meat to lose more juices or liquid while cooking.
Hence the cuts that benefit most from tenderizing marinades are the flat ones, especially if you place them in a Ziplock bag with the air squeezed out.
Few tips before you get started:
- To let the liquid absorb for a no-mess marinade, place the meat in a resealable bag (like Ziploc) in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
- Never use an aluminum container as the acids can react with the metal and can adversely affect the color and flavor of the chicken.
- Never attempt to leave marinades at room temperature, as this can cause bacterial growth.
- Please don’t save or reuse a marinade after it’s been in contact with raw proteins. You can boil the used marinade if you wish to brush it on the meat or poultry while cooking.
- Let the marinade defrost in the marinade if you’re using frozen chicken or meat. The moisture inside the frozen meat will further infuse the meat with flavor.
- To achieve that golden crisp crust while cooking, ensure that you pat the chicken dry after marination before dipping it into breadcrumbs, eggs, and flour.
How long can you marinate chicken thighs?
Again, based on my experience. You should marinate chicken thighs overnight or less inside the refrigerator.
Do you know why?
Chicken thighs are a pretty small piece of meat either purchased with bones or without bones and are far more tender than chicken breast. This is the main reason you should not marinate chicken thighs for a longer time frame.
But in fact, it is possible to marinate thighs for just as quick as 15 minutes, and it works perfectly fine. In my case, I usually marinate chicken thighs for at least 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
Therefore, be mindful not to marinate them for a more extended period. Like chicken wings, thighs will deteriorate or turn inferior in quality over time, particularly when using acidic marinades.
How long can you marinate chicken breasts?
The chicken breast is the most effortless part of working with when it comes to marinating—considering that the meat is not as tender compared to other chicken pieces.
Therefore it is less inclined to degrade or fall apart. My advice is to take precautions on what kind of marinade to use, especially with the acidic base, as it can affect the chicken’s texture if marinated for too long.
But to sum it up, you can marinate chicken breasts for up to 24 hours inside the refrigerator. However, marinating them for at least 2 hours is good enough to get that incredible flavors.
Note that using acidic marinade like vinegar, lemon juice, or even Italian dressing has a timeline of 2 to 12 hours. It cannot be longer than that. Otherwise, the more you let it soak, the more tender your chicken could get.
However, if you use dairy-based marinades like buttermilk or yogurt, the chicken breast will take a bit longer to penetrate the flavors. Therefore, you can marinate overnight or for up to 24 hours.
How long can you marinate chicken tenderloins?
I love chicken tenderloins; they are thin and small, although they are much alike with the chicken breast, there’s no need for extended marination.
Marinate chicken tenders for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours. Don’t overdo it, as the chicken will turn into mushy textures.
In theory, 2 hours is the perfect timeline for getting those flavors to penetrate the chicken tenders, hence helping them moist and juicy.
How long can I marinate chicken drumsticks?
Who doesn’t love chicken drumsticks? They are one of our favorites because they are dark meat such as chicken thighs. Besides, they have great flavor naturally, and most of all, they are an effortless and inexpensive cut of meat to cook.
Chicken drumsticks don’t need that long marination as well. You can marinate them in 2 hours, and you’ll get the tastiest drums you’ll ever have.
When it comes to drumsticks, less is more; therefore, exceeding 12 hours of marinating could break down the meat fibers, causing them to become mushy.
How long can I marinate chicken wings?
Chicken wings are not simply party food; they are an excellent appetizer that’s super easy to make and often a crowd-pleaser.
That’s why marinated chicken wings are ever-present on our menu. When it comes to marinating, I usually use acidic marinades. It is always favored to marinate chicken wings for at least 1 hour up to 2 hours.
You cannot over-marinate these cuts of chicken because they will potentially fall apart due to meat deterioration.
Recipe for Chicken Wing marinade:
- ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. sriracha/hot sauce
- 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 and ½ tsp. hoisin
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. fresh minced ginger (or ½ tsp. dried ground ginger)
- Mix the liquid ingredients in a bowl. Gently whisk the ginger and garlic powder in to blend well.
- Once you’re done, arrange the chicken wings inside a Ziploc bag, pour in the marinade mixture and let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours up to overnight.
- You can either bake of grill the wings according to your preference.
Bake at 400°F until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F, about 40 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
Prepare grill for direct grilling over medium heat, around 350°F. Cook around 20-25 minutes total, flipping and adjusting placement as needed.
Difference Between a Marinade and a Brine
When we talk about brine and marinades, each serves its own purpose— marinades inject robust flavors while brine helps with the moisture.
Lean cuts of meat like poultry breast, tough cuts of beef, pork, turkey cuts usually benefit from brining, while marinades are perfect for proteins with fat content.
You can read my complete guide here: Difference between brine and marinade
When brining, you immerse the meat or protein in a saline solution of salt, sugar, and water. Doing this process improves its texture and moisture content that aid in keeping the liquid juices when cooking.
On the other hand, marinades are a mixture of liquid solutions either using an acidic (like vinegar, citrus, and wine) or enzymatic base (like pineapple, kiwi, and papaya).
The acids from marinades break up the structure of the proteins fiber, while the meat will absorb a lot of flavors.
Marinades serve their purpose, especially for the smaller cuts and tender pieces like chicken, steaks, and pork. Don’t try soaking the proteins for an extended time, as it can result in a tough or mushy texture.
Handling chicken the safe way
Proper handling and storage are essential to ensure safety when working with chickens. Salmonella is one of the causes of foodborne illness, and these harmful bacteria are occasionally found on the chicken.
Follow these guidelines on how to handle the chicken properly
- It is imperative to have a clean working environment when dealing with raw chicken. Wash hands properly before and after handling the meat.
- Thoroughly clean the work area, utensils, cutting boards with hot, soapy water after the exposure, and never use them until they are spotless.
- Don’t let the raw chicken be exposed or jeopardized to warm temperatures after purchase. You should take them home immediately and store them in the fridge as soon as possible.
- You should place it in a secure plastic bag to avert any drip, which could contaminate other foods inside the fridge.
3 Cooking Safety
- Always check the internal temperature using a meat thermometer to ensure the chicken is done and cooked thoroughly.
- The internal temperatures in the breast area should read at a minimum of 170°F. In case you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can check the doneness by puncturing the breast or thigh area with a fork. If you see the juices run clear, it means it’s good to eat.
Does liquid in the package mean bad quality?
The answer is no. The pink liquid you found in the package of fresh chicken is not blood but generally water absorbed during the chilling process. The butcher already drew out the blood from the poultry during the slaughter, and only a tiny amount was present in the muscle tissue.
How do you know if the chicken is of good quality?
The first thing to look for is if the chicken has a pinkish color. Double-check if there exist some bruising or tears in the skin, as this can influence the quality and freshness of the poultry.
Remember, poultry should look plump, and when you poke or pinch it, there will be some resilience that quickly revives its normal shape after a few seconds.
Is it safe to cook smelly chicken?
In case you notice that your chicken has a foul smell or feels slimy and has a change of color, these are the indications that your chicken has gone bad.
Ensure to bin the chicken right away, mainly if it’s past expiration and has been stored in the fridge for four days, which means if you feel skeptical about its overall quality, you better throw it away.
Properly dispose of chicken by putting it in a plastic bag and sealing it to avoid contamination and offensive odor.