Can You Marinate Chicken for Two or More Days?

Chicken marinated for one day tastes so much better than chicken marinated for one hour. Given this logic, chicken marinated for three days or more should taste heavenly.

However, when it comes to marinating chicken, longer is not necessarily better. In fact, marinating chicken for more than two days can do more harm than good.

There are a couple of reasons why chicken should not be marinated for more than two days. First, to avoid the chicken from being mushy. Second, to keep the chicken from going bad. Different types of marinade for chicken require different marinating times, ranging anywhere from two hours to 24 hours.

Looking forward to serving the most tender and mouthwatering chicken? Read on.

Below, you will come across just about everything you need to know about how long you should marinate chicken. By the time you reach the end of this article, you will become a certified pro at chicken marinating, getting praises at the table rather than eliciting negative comments behind your back.

Let’s kick things off by taking a look at the four main types of marinades and the approximate marinating time for each one of them to get the best possible results:

Acidicvinegar, wine, beer, tomatoes, citrussix to 24 hours
Oil-basedolive, sesame, hazelnut, walnut, coconutup to 24 hours
Enzymaticpapaya, pineapple, kiwitwo hours
Dairy-basedmilk, sour milk, butter, yogurtfour to 12 hours
Time to marinate chicken

Different marinade types have different marinating times because of their varying purposes. However, the presence of other ingredients, like herbs and spices, makes most of them infuse flavor and tenderize chicken meat at the same time.

Let’s take a quick look at the main types of marinade for marinating chicken:

Acidic marinade

Soaking chicken in an acidic marinade causes the protein bonds in its meat to loosen. This not only causes the chicken to be tender but also makes the flavors in an acidic marinade to be able to penetrate the chicken.

While additional flavors can come from herbs and spices, some flavors can come from the main ingredients themselves, such as vinegar, wine and lemon juice.

marinated chicken

Oil-based marinade

The main goal of an oil-based marinade is to keep the moisture intact, which is why it’s commonly used for marinating chicken for roasting or grilling.

Because the various main ingredients of oil-based marinades have subtle flavors only, it’s not uncommon for herbs, spices and other ingredients with more pronounced flavors to be added as well.

Some very good examples include mint, parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, tarragon and chives.

Enzymatic marinade

Simply put, enzymatic marinades are used for marinating tough cuts of meat in order to make them more tender and palatable.

What makes them very good at carrying out their tenderizing task is the enzymes found in their main ingredients, such as papaya, pineapple, kiwi, fig, mangoes and guavas.

Because the ingredients commonly used as enzymatic marinades are flavorful, too, needless to say, they also make meat marinated in them taste so much better.

However, soaking meat in enzymatic marinades longer than necessary can make it tough and dry instead of tender.

Dairy-based marinade

Just like enzymatic marinades, dairy-based marinades help to tenderize meat. But instead of utilizing tenderizing enzymes in certain fruits, dairy-based marinades work by allowing their lactic acid content to break down protein and soften collagen in the meat. They also infuse the meat with their mild flavors.

The good thing about dairy-based marinades is that, unlike acidic and enzymatic marinades, they are milder. This is why you should not panic if you accidentally leave the chicken soaking in a dairy-based marinade longer than needed.

Why Should You Avoid Marinating Chicken Longer?

There are a couple of reasons why it’s not a good idea to marinate chicken longer than two days. First, to keep the chicken from becoming mushy, especially when soaked in a tenderizing marinade. Second, to prevent bacterial multiplication in the refrigerator, which can cause food poisoning.

Just because you want the chicken to be as tender as possible doesn’t mean you should marinate it for as long as you can. Especially if your marinade is acidic, enzymatic or dairy-based, the chicken can end up anything but tender.

When it comes to tenderizing chicken using certain marinades, less is more.

If you are using an enzymatic or dairy-based marinade, which is very good for tenderizing purposes, soaking chicken in it for two hours is more than enough.

The smaller or thinner the cuts, the shorter the marinating time. On the other hand, if you are using an acidic marinade, it’s a good idea to stick with six to 24 hours of marinating time.

According to, chicken, whether whole or cut into pieces, should be stored in the refrigerator for no more than one to two days. This is to keep it from being dangerous to eat due to bacterial growth.

It’s for this reason why marinating chicken longer than two days can cause food poisoning. This is especially true if you fail to cook it very well after marinating it in the fridge for a long time.

It’s also for this reason why used marinade should be boiled before reusing it as a sauce — bacteria can multiply not only in the chicken but also in the marinade.

marinated chicken

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Lemon Juice?

It’s not a good idea to marinate chicken in lemon juice for more than 24 hours. The same is true for other acidic marinade types that contain vinegar or alcohol such as beer and wine. Instead of becoming tender, chicken marinated in lemon juice or any other acidic marinade longer than a day becomes mushy.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Italian Dressing?

Italian dressing is a combination of various types of marinades. That’s because it contains ingredients such as oil, vinegar and mayonnaise. Because of this, one should limit the marinating time of chicken in Italian dressing to half a day to a whole day to make sure that the meat is tenderized perfectly.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken Breast?

The best marinating time for chicken breast will depend on the marinade type. When using an enzymatic marinade, avoid marinating chicken breast for two hours. Chicken breast can be marinated longer in acidic, oil-based and dairy-based marinades, but it should not be longer than two days.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Soy Sauce?

Because the purpose of a soy sauce marinade is to make chicken flavorful rather than tender, it can be used as a chicken marinade for two days at most. There is no risk of ending up with mushy meat if the chicken is marinated overnight in soy sauce. Since soy sauce is mostly salty, other ingredients may be added.

Can You Marinate Chicken for Three Days?

Marinating chicken for three days is not safe. That’s because it can promote bacterial growth and thus cause food poisoning if the chicken is not cooked well afterward. As a general rule of thumb, chicken should not be marinated longer than two days. It should be marinated shorter when using certain marinades.

Can I Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk for Two Days?

Buttermilk is commonly used as an ingredient in a dairy-based marinade, which is meant to tenderize meat. Because it is milder than fruits containing tenderizing enzymes, such as those used for making enzymatic marinades, it’s fine to marinate chicken in buttermilk for two days. However, four to 12 hours is ideal.

Just Before You Marinate Chicken

Marinating makes chicken flavorful and tender, too. However, it doesn’t mean that the longer you marinate chicken, the better the results you will get.

Especially if the marinade is acidic, animatic or dairy-based, your chicken will end up mushy instead of soft and tender if you marinate it longer than necessary.

While it’s safe to marinate chicken for up to two days, keeping the marinating time between two hours and one day is a good idea, depending on your marinade.

Keeping chicken from marinating too long is good not only for the taste buds but also for the health. Otherwise, you will be running the risk of serving mealy chicken and giving everyone food poisoning, especially if you fail to thoroughly cook the chicken that has been marinating in the refrigerator for the past few days.

Can you marinate chicken in the freezer instead of the fridge?

You can marinate chicken in the freezer if you are not sure as to when you will be able to cook it. Freezing stops the process of marinating, thus saving the chicken from becoming mushy. Thawing frozen marinated chicken in the refrigerator starts the marinating process all over again.

Can you reuse marinade as marinade and sauce?

Because marinade can be contaminated with bacteria from meat marinated in it, it should be boiled before using as a sauce. Boiling marinade, however, will render much of its tenderizing properties useless, which is why it’s a much better idea to make marinade from scratch instead of reusing one.

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