How Long to Marinate Chicken?

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There are many ways to prepare chicken. One of those ways is to use a marinade. Marinades can do two things. It can tenderize the chicken so it doesn't become tough when you cook it. The marinade can also add flavor to the chicken. You may have an Italian dressing marinade one night, and then use a milk-based marinade the next night. You will have two totally different tasting pieces of chicken. The important thing is to know how long to marinate the chicken.


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Dairy Based Marinades

You may choose to marinate your chicken in yogurt or a milk-based product. You may choose this method if you plan on adding a bread crumb mixture before cooking. Using a dairy based marinade is one of the best ways to tenderize your meat. This is because you can marinate it for up to 12 hours without worrying about it toughening. Make sure you keep the chicken in its marinade in the refrigerator. Leaving it out on your counter can cause a food-borne illness. You will also need to note that your chicken won't have to cook as long as usual if you have been marinating it the full 12 hours.


Acid-Based Marinades

Acid-based marinades use vinegar, lemon juice or tomato juice. That means when you make an Italian dressing marinade or a lemon juice marinade for lemon chicken, you will need to keep the marinade times to a minimum. The acid will break down the protein bonds in the chicken. This will cause them to toughen after two hours. If you choose to marinate your chicken with an acid base, you should plan on doing it for 30 minutes to 1 hour before you plan on cooking the chicken. That is enough to flavor the chicken and keep it tender.


Enzyme-Based Marinades

Enzyme-based marinades work the opposite way of an acid-based marinade. They can actually make your chicken too mushy after two hours. This is because the enzymes break up the muscle fibers. If you add any of the following ingredients to your marinade you will want to make sure that you only marinate the chicken for 30 minutes to 1 hour: fresh pineapples, fresh melons, figs, and papaya. In some countries, cooks wrap their chicken in papaya leaves to tenderize them.


Dry Marinades

Dry marinades contain no liquid other than a small amount of oil. The rest of the ingredients are spices that are rubbed on to the chicken. This type of marinade does not cause the chicken to dry out and can therefore be prepared as much as one full day in advance. A small amount of oil is rubbed on all sides of the chicken. Spices are combined in a bowl and then rubbed by hand over both sides of the chicken. The chicken is placed in the refrigerator on a plate covered with plastic wrap.