Can You Marinate Chicken For 2 Days or More? If Not, Why?

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can you marinate chicken for 2 days

How long should you marinate chicken? Since your goal is to impart flavor to the meat, is it better to leave it in there for as long as possible? The answer might surprise you.

Can You Marinate Chicken For 2 Days?

You should never leave chicken in an acidic marinade for 2 days. The only time it’s acceptable to marinate chicken for this long is when the mixture is made from enzymatic compounds such as yogurt or buttermilk. When chicken remains in marinade for too long, the proteins break down, resulting in mushy or gummy meat.

About Marinades

A marinade is a solution—typically liquid—that’s used to saturate meat prior to cooking. When you marinate meat, you have a couple of goals in mind.

First of all, you want to imbue the meat with flavor. The ingredients you choose should complement your chosen cut of meat, as well as the other seasonings and sauces you might have in mind.

Marinades have another important purpose: They usually contain acidic ingredients or enzymatic components that break down the protein structure of the meat. This has a tenderizing effect, so your cooked meat will have a more pleasing mouthfeel.

A good marinade will also allow the meat to retain more moisture as it cooks. When meat heats up, its natural juices are forced out, but the marinade should help to keep it from becoming too dry.

can you marinate chicken for 2 days

Common marinade ingredients include vinegar, citrus juice, pineapple juice buttermilk, or yogurt. Soy sauce, Worcestershire, and Tabasco may also make appearances. You can employ various herbs and spices to take your marinade to the next level.

Marinades can be used no matter what cooking application you have in mind, but they come in especially handy when grilling. Not only do they help lock in moisture, they offer an important health benefit.

The intense heat of the grill can form harmful substances on the surface of the meat. When you use acidic ingredients in a marinade, it slows the production of these chemicals while still allowing the meat to attain a proper crust.

Since lean meats like chicken and pork loin are likelier to dry out when exposed to high heat, they benefit especially well from marinades. That brings us to the subject we’re here to discuss.

Can You Marinate Chicken For 2 Days or More?

As we pointed out, marinades are designed to break down proteins in the meat. But if the process goes on for too long, the proteins will denature to the point of mushiness. This is especially true of lean meats, which are tender to begin with.

If you’ve ever left chicken breasts in an acidic marinade for longer than a day or so, you’ll know exactly what we mean. The meat may be fully cooked, but it retains an unpleasant gummy texture.

When marinating chicken breasts, it’s best to limit the process to 2-4 hours. The white meat is very lean and will actually begin to “cook” in the marinade after a while.

Even if you have only 30 to 60 minutes to devote to the marinating process, it can still be worthwhile. Lean meats can benefit from short stints in the marinade. In fact, 15 to 30 minutes is the recommended marinating time for most fish.

Dark meat cuts, such as legs and thighs, can stand to remain in the marinade for 8 to 12 hours. You may be able to add these to the mixture the night before you plan to cook them, depending on your schedule.

Whole chickens can marinate for up to 12 hours without suffering any ill effects. In fact, you’ll probably want to plan on marinating them this long, though it shouldn’t do any harm if you only have time to leave them in the mixture for a few hours.

We should also point out that if you do wind up marinating the chicken for 2 days, there’s no need to throw it out—assuming that the meat hasn’t spoiled. The texture might be affected, but it should still be safe to consume.

The Enzymatic Difference

These guidelines do have a caveat. While it’s a bad idea to leave chicken in an acidic marinade for longer than 12 hours, marinades that work using enzymatic compounds are a different story.

If your marinade uses wine, buttermilk, yogurt, or some other non-acidic ingredient as its base, it’s acceptable to marinate the chicken for up to 2 days. These compounds don’t work as quickly to denature the proteins, so the meat shouldn’t suffer as a result.

Still, the chicken will begin to break down in the marinade after about 48 hours. No matter what ingredients you use, you should never marinate chicken for longer than 2 days.

A Word About Food Safety

Once your marinade has come into contact with raw chicken, it’s been exposed to any potentially dangerous bacteria that may have taken up residence on the flesh. As such, you’ll need to follow the usual protocol for food safety.

Don’t reuse any marinade that’s been used on raw meat. If you want to brush some of the mixture on the chicken shortly before taking it off the heat, set a small amount aside for that purpose beforehand.

Also, always marinate the chicken in the refrigerator. Meat should never be left at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, or the aforementioned bacteria will set up camp.

Wash any dishes and utensils that you’ve used to marinate or transfer the raw chicken. Don’t use the same tongs to flip the cooked meat without giving them a good washing first.

Finally, use a nonreactive container or plastic zip-top bag for marinating. If you use aluminum or glazed pottery, the acid in the marinade might cause dangerous chemicals to leach into the food.

How Long Does Raw Chicken Last in the Fridge?

Here’s another reason why it’s not a good idea to marinate chicken for 2 days or more: The meat might start to deteriorate during that time.

can you marinate chicken for 2 days

Although marinade ingredients can slow the growth of bacteria, they won’t halt it entirely. You’ll still want to cook the chicken off within a reasonable time frame to avoid spoilage.

We recommend cooking chicken within 2 days of bringing it home from the store—sooner, if possible. There’s a chance that it might keep for a day or two longer, but when it comes to poultry, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Even if you were to add the chicken to the marinade immediately after buying it, you’d be cutting it close if you left it in there for 2 days. Try to restrict the marinating period to 2 to 12 hours, depending on which cuts you’re using.

You should be able to tell if your chicken has gone bad in the marinade. Spoiled chicken will smell foul and develop a slimy texture. The color may also change from pale peach or pink to green, gray, or yellow. If this happens, discard the meat and marinade at once.

The Bottom Line

We don’t recommend long marinating periods for chicken. It’s not necessary, and it may even have an adverse effect on your results. Aim for a marinating period of 2 to 4 hours for breasts and tenderloins, and 8 to 12 hours for dark meat and whole chickens.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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