If you’re craving bright, flavorful chicken, this simple lemon chicken marinade is the answer! This zesty blend of lemon, garlic, red pepper flakes, and mustard is your new go-to for baked, grilled, or skillet chicken.
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This lemon chicken marinade recipe is perfect for all cuts of chicken. I use it when baking, grilling, and roasting. Initially inspired by these lemon chicken thighs, we’ve had this marinade recipe for a long time.
Here are a few reasons we think this marinade is the best! I use it so much. I know this one by heart.
- Tender Juicy Chicken: The acidic lemon juice helps break down muscle fibers, making the chicken more tender. The oil and other ingredients help lock in moisture, guaranteeing juicy, flavorful chicken.
- Flavorful: Lemon and garlic are a classic combo, while mustard adds tang, and red pepper flakes add a subtle kick.
- Super versatile: It’s perfect for chicken but also delicious with pork, fish, and vegetables.
Why This Chicken Marinade Works
- Lemon Zest and Juice: Lemon adds brightness, acidity, and a burst of citrus flavor. The zest gives an extra zesty punch, while the juice is crucial for tenderizing the chicken.
- Olive Oil: Distributes the flavors evenly and makes the final dish more delicious.
- Dijon Mustard: Adds a subtle tang and flavor that complements the lemon beautifully.
- Garlic: Smashed whole garlic cloves add the right amount of fresh garlic flavor and balance the acidity of the lemon.
- Fresh Herbs (Optional): Choose your favorites – dill, parsley, cilantro, basil.
To make the marinade, we stir all the ingredients in a bowl with salt and pepper and use it within 2 hours. So easy!
How Long to Marinate Chicken
While this marinade is delicious, remember that it contains lemon juice, an acidic ingredient. Over-marinating in acidic marinades can create a mushy texture, so timing is key. Here’s a guide for how long to marinate chicken using this lemon marinade:
- Chicken Breasts: Aim for 30 minutes to 2 hours maximum. For extra tenderizing, pound breasts to an even thickness before marinating.
- Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks: These cuts are naturally more forgiving, so marinating for 2 to 4 hours is ideal. You can even marinate them overnight for deeper flavor.
- Bone-in Pieces: Bone-in cuts of chicken take longer to absorb the marinade. Depending on the size of the pieces, plan for 2 to 12 hours.
- Whole Chicken: Whole chickens benefit from the longest marinating time. For the flavors to penetrate deeply, give them at least 12 or 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Important Note: Always marinate chicken in the refrigerator. For food safety, discard leftover marinade after use.
Turn the Marinade into Salad Dressing
I love the flavors of this lemon marinade so much that I often turn it into a dressing for salads and roasted veggies. All you need to do is reduce the mustard a bit and increase the olive oil. I also love adding a touch of honey or maple syrup to balance the lemon. We include tips in the recipe below for transforming the marinade into a dressing.
More Easy Marinade Recipes
Easy Lemon Chicken Marinade
We love this simple chicken marinade! It is incredibly versatile and works for all cuts of chicken, turkey, pork, fish, shrimp, tofu, and vegetables.
We recommend a maximum marinating time of 2 hours for chicken breasts. Still, all other cuts of chicken can marinate for longer, even overnight.
To marinate something more delicate like fish, you only need 30 minutes to an hour. You can also use this to baste while cooking or grilling. If you plan to do this, set aside some of the prepared marinade for basting.
**This makes enough to marinate 2 to 3 pounds of chicken.
Makes approximately 1/2 cup
Watch Us Make the Recipe
You Will Need
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled or finely grated
1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lemon juice, from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like things
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs like dill, parsley, cilantro, basil, or a combination, optional
1Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper until the salt has dissolved. Stir in the garlic, lemon zest, and herbs (if using). Refrigerate and use within 1 to 2 hours.
2Add the marinade and chicken to a resealable food-safe bag or container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Since this is so flavorful, even 30 minutes will work wonders.
3Don’t marinate too long because the lemon can make the chicken tough. Marinate thighs, drumsticks, and bone-in for up to 12 hours. Marinate boneless chicken breasts for a maximum of 2 hours.
Adam and Joanne’s Tips
- To turn into a salad dressing: Increase the olive oil to 1/4 cup and whisk until blended. Refrigerate for 1 hour, then discard the garlic and lemon zest. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt. Add a sprinkle of sugar or a little honey to balance the acidity and the mustard.
- Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.
Nutrition Per Serving