This 7-ingredient chicken thigh marinade is the best and most budget-friendly way to infuse succulent, sweet, and savory flavors into your weekly chicken dinners.
Chicken thigh marinade
If you want to take your chicken thigh dinners over the top, then you need this easy chicken thigh marinade in your life! It’s a budget-friendly, yet flavor-packed sauce that infuses layers of sweet, salty, and umami-forward flavors into every bite of chicken.
Cuts of dark meat chicken, like chicken legs, chicken wings, and chicken thighs, are naturally flavorful and juicy. They don’t necessarily need to be marinated but taking that extra step can lead to beautifully flavored, out-of-this-world chicken. And once you use this 7-ingredient marinade to up-level your chicken thighs, you’ll never look back!
Why you’ll love this recipe
- It’s made from 7 easy ingredients. A small list of pantry and spice rack staples make up this simple marinade. Plus, you can modify it with extras to find your perfect flavor.
- It has the 3 key chicken marinade elements. A good chicken marinade must consist of acid, fat, and flavor, and this simple recipe checks off all three boxes (like a fajita marinade, lamb chop marinade, or tofu marinade!).
- It’s not just for chicken thighs! The marinade is fantastic with chicken thighs but is just as delectable when used with chicken breasts, drumsticks, and other types of meat.
For the best-tasting marinade, make sure you buy high-quality ingredients. This is what you need:
- Honey. This offers the right amount of sweetness to balance the other flavors. It also helps create a caramelized crust on the chicken’s exterior while the interior stays nice and juicy. You could use my low carb honey here if you were looking for a low carb chicken thigh marinade.
- Soy sauce. This umami-forward condiment enhances the deep, meaty flavor of dark meat chicken. Low-sodium soy sauce is best. Gluten free soy sauce or tamari also works.
- Worcestershire sauce. This builds on the marinade’s sweet, savory, and tangy flavors.
- Garlic. Freshly minced garlic cloves are best.
- Ginger. To brighten up the marinade and give it a distinctly zesty and peppery aroma.
- Pepper. For a subtle warmth.
- Smoked paprika. Improves the marinade with a smoky, spicy, and subtly sweet flavor.
How to make the best marinade for chicken thighs
Brace your tastebuds for the most delicious chicken thighs you’ve ever eaten! Here’s an overview of how to make the marinade, with a variety of ways to cook the marinated chicken thighs to follow.
- Make the marinade. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Coat the chicken thighs. Pour the marinade into a large glass bowl or ziplock bag. Add the chicken thighs and toss to coat.
- Marinate the chicken thighs. Cover the bowl (or seal the bag) and transfer it to the fridge so the meat can soak up the delicious flavors.
How long can you marinate chicken thighs?
This marinade doesn’t contain an intense acidic element (like lemon juice or vinegar), which means the thighs can be left to soak for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. But remember that marinating chicken thighs for too long can produce mushy meat with an overpowered flavor, so don’t overdo it!
Ways to cook marinated chicken thighs
After marinating, the final and most important step is cooking the thighs to crisp and juicy perfection. You can do so using any of the following methods:
Arrange the marinated chicken thighs in a lightly greased baking dish, and bake at 220ºC/428ºF for 35 to 40 minutes or until cooked through.
Check out my crispy baked chicken thighs to learn more.
Reserve ½ cup of unused marinade for basting. When the thighs are finished marinating, shake off the excess, and place them on the grill over medium-high heat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, brushing the reserved marinade on top as they cook.
Check out my grilled huli huli chicken recipe to learn more.
Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken in an even layer, then sear for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until evenly browned and cooked through.
Check out my cast iron chicken recipe to learn more.
Place the marinated chicken thighs, skin side up, in a 190ºC/375ºF preheated air fryer basket. Cook for 13 to 17 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Check out my air fryer chicken thighs recipe to learn more.
Place the chicken thighs and the marinade in a vacuum bag, seal the bag closed, and submerge it in a 75ºC/165ºF tempered water bath for 1 hour. Finish the chicken thighs by quickly searing them on both sides in a hot skillet.
Check out my sous vide chicken thighs recipe to learn more.
Have fun playing around with the flavors but remember to maintain a balance of acid, fat, and flavor in the marinade. Here are some ways you can jazz it up:
- Hot and spicy marinade. Give the marinade a spicy kick by adding a pinch of cayenne or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried red chili flakes, harissa paste, chili oil, or sriracha hot sauce.
- Honey mustard marinade. Follow the recipe as normal, but add 2 to 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard. We use something similar in our honey mustard chicken.
- Teriyaki marinade. Make teriyaki chicken by converting my teriyaki sauce recipe into a marinade. To do so, omit the xanthan gum, use only 1 tablespoon of water, and whisk the ingredients rather than simmering them on the stove.
- Asian-inspired. Substitute the Worcestershire sauce with a splash of rice wine vinegar and add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. You can also add a dash of eel or katsu sauce.
- To store: Keep the unused marinade in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- To freeze: Place the unused marinade in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 1 month. Let the marinade thaw entirely before using it.
Recipe tips and tricks
- You can use fresh or frozen chicken thighs. Frozen thighs can be placed in the marinade without thawing and will actually absorb the flavors as they thaw.
- Use bone-in chicken thighs for the juiciest results. While boneless chicken thighs cook faster, the bone imparts a more profound and savory flavor.
- Marinate the chicken thighs in a ziplock bag. This way, there aren’t any dirty dishes left behind!
- When you’re ready to cook the thighs, shake off the excess marinade but don’t pat the pieces completely dry. A light coating of the marinade on the surface helps the skin crisp up while locking the juicy meat in the middle.
Frequently asked questions
This marinade works well on ALL cuts of chicken, including bone-in, skin-on pieces, like chicken breasts, tenderloins, drumsticks, and wings. You can even use this to soak a whole chicken! It’s also an excellent marinade for turkey breasts, turkey wings, pork chops, and pork tenderloin.
It’s best not to reuse the marinade because it might have come in contact with harmful bacteria from the raw meat. However, if you want to repurpose the used marinade, the USDA recommends boiling it for 5 minutes first. This may thicken the consistency, making it better off as a baste or sauce.
Chicken Thigh Marinade
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until combined.
- Add the marinade to a ziplock bag and add the chicken thigh fillets to it. Marinade the chicken for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
- TO STORE. Keep the unused marinade in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- TO FREEZE. Place the unused marinade in a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 1 month. Let the marinade thaw entirely before using it.
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