Most marinades are essentially salad dressings masquerading for a part in the main course. Salad-style marinades thin as they pull moisture from the meat, so when the meat hits the grill, the marinade slips right off. The solution lies in one special ingredient: yogurt!
Yogurt makes boneless, skinless chicken infinitely more tender, and a yogurt marinade is as easy as one-two-three: one cup of yogurt, two citrus fruits, and three garlic cloves.
Why Yogurt Makes the Best Marinade for Chicken
Yogurt is the most versatile food I buy, adding tang to a variety of my meals and snacks. It's greatest use, though, is as a marinade. The lactic acid and calcium in yogurt gently break down the protein in the meat, making it flavorful, juicy, and ultra-tender. You can substitute Greek yogurt if that's what is in your fridge, but squeeze in a bit more juice to thin it enough to coat the chicken. And while it can be tempting to reach for the 0% fat carton of yogurt, you'll get better flavor from 2% or whole-milk yogurt without the gums and stabilizers found in fat-free dairy products.
Add Citrus and Garlic for an Easy 3-Ingredient Marinade
Use two whole citrus fruits — lemon, lime, or orange — for this flavorful marinade. Oranges are sweeter and more subtle, while lemons and limes are straightforward and sour. Despite the difference in size, follow the method below no matter which fruit you choose (and stick to using one type of citrus).
Zest and juice one of the citrus fruits for the marinade, then slice the other to grill alongside the chicken. Finish the marinade with three cloves of garlic, a pinch of kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Do all the prep at once, and you won't need to revisit the knife block or cutting board. After one bite of tender grilled chicken and charred citrus, you'll resolve to commit this one to memory.
3-Ingredient Yogurt Marinated Chicken
Prep time: 15 minutes ; cooking time: 10 minutes
medium lemons, limes, or oranges
plain whole-milk yogurt
freshly ground black pepper
boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
If using chicken breasts, pound thin first. (There is no need to pound chicken thighs.) To do so, place 2 chicken breasts in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Use the flat side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin to pound to 1/2-inch thickness. Transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining breasts. Make sure your zip-top bag does not have any holes in it from pounding the chicken breasts. If it does, continue with a new bag; otherwise, make the marinade in the same bag.
Cut 1 of the citrus fruits into 1/2-inch-thick slices and refrigerate until ready to grill. Finely grate the zest of the remaining citrus fruit and add to the bag. Slice the fruit in half and squeeze the juice into the bag. Add the yogurt, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
Add the chicken breasts or thighs, seal the bag, and massage to coat the chicken with the marinade. Place the bag on a baking sheet so that the chicken sits flat in a single layer in the bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Prepare an outdoor grill for high, direct heat. Once hot, scrape the grill grates if needed to remove any lingering grit or debris.
Using tongs, remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the grill in a single layer. Cover and grill undisturbed until grill marks appear and the chicken does not stick to the grill, about 4 minutes. If it sticks, continue to cook another minute until it releases easily. Flip and cook the second side until grill marks appear and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 165°F, about 5 minutes more. Meanwhile, place the reserved citrus slices on the grill and cook until grill marks appear, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer the chicken and citrus slices to a clean cutting board. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing the chicken and serving with the citrus.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Make ahead: Make the yogurt marinade up to 2 days in advance and store in the refrigerator.
Stovetop variation: Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken (in batches if needed) and cook until browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 165°F, 6 to 8 minutes per side.