What if I told you that all the stress of grilling could be removed with one marinade? You'd totally be making that marinade tonight, wouldn't you? Well ready your chicken, friends, because the one marinade you need this summer for juicy grilled chicken is right here!
The Ultimate Marinade for Juicy Chicken
The right marinade for chicken guarantees two things: flavor and juiciness. Marinades are always some combination of an acid (think: lemon juice or vinegar), some fat, and some sweetness. There's some salt and you can add other herbs and spices, but at its core a marinade is acid, fat, and sweetener.
Last summer I learned that a little water and salt added to a marinade acted as a pseudo brine, making for even more flavorful and juicy chicken. I haven't looked back since.
This recipe is for a lemon pepper marinade. Chicken soaked in this marinade and grilled is the ideal summer chicken — slightly tangy, lightly peppered. It's good enough to eat alone with no sauce, but also neutral enough to toss leftovers into chicken salad or soup.
For eight pieces of chicken — that's a whole chicken cut into pieces, about four pounds total — you'll want about 2 1/2 cups of marinade. You goal is to make sure that every piece of chicken comes into contact with the marinade while it sits.
Key Steps for Chicken Marinade
- Mix the marinade in the bag. A gallon-sized, zip-top freezer bag is your BFF for marinades, namely because it makes cleanup easier but also because it helps the marinade sit snugly around the chicken. Don't dirty another bowl — just make the marinade right in the bag.
- Prep the chicken for the marinade. This marinade works well for all pieces — breast, thighs, or drumsticks — but my favorite trick for grilled chicken breast is to flatten it slightly for more even cooking. In a separate zip-top bag, pound breasts using a mallet before adding to the marinade.
- Marinate for one hour to overnight. Marinades are effective with as little as an hour of soak time, but an overnight soak (or marinating in the freezer) make the prep work feel easier.
- Dry the chicken before you cook it! Before grilling, remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. This will prevent the marinade from burning or causing flare-ups on the grill.
How to Grill Juicy Chicken
Chicken is best grilled over a combination of direct and indirect heat. Grilling the chicken over direct heat for a few minutes on each side will give you gorgeous grill marks. Then move the chicken to indirect heat and cook until the chicken registers 165°F on a digital probe thermometer. Because you marinated the chicken, there's no worry about breasts being dry or overcooked. Now that's a dinner win!
Our grilled chicken tutorial: How To Make Juicy, Flavorful Grilled Chicken Breast
How To Make the Ultimate Marinade for Juicy Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
Prep time: 15 minutes ; cooking time: 20 minutes to 8 minutes
What You Need
freshly squeezed lemon juice
garlic, peeled and smashed
freshly ground black pepper
bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks, or boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8 pieces)
Measuring cups and spoons
Two gallon zip-top freezer bags
Mallet or rolling pin
Make the marinade. Place the olive oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, honey, salt, and pepper in a gallon zip-top bag and stir to combine. If using drumsticks or thighs, place in the marinade.
Pound any chicken breasts. If using chicken breasts, place 1 or 2 in another gallon zip-top bag. Press out extra air, seal the bag, and use the flat side of a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the thickest part of the breast so that it is the same thickness as the rest of the breast.
Marinate the chicken. Add the chicken breasts to the bag of marinade. Seal the bag and massage the chicken to coat in the marinade. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and position it so that the bag sits flat. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Place on the baking sheet for easy transport to the grill.
Grill the chicken. Heat an outdoor grill for both high direct and indirect heat. Scrape any debris from the grill grates and oil well. Place the chicken on the grill over direct heat and cook for 3 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 minutes more. Move the chicken to indirect heat and cook until the thickest piece registers 165°F on a instant-read thermometer, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a clean serving platter.
Make ahead: The chicken can be marinated in the refrigerator up to 1 day ahead.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.