If you’re wondering how long marinated chicken can stay fresh in the fridge, you’ve come to the right place. Our ultimate guide will answer this question—as well as several related ones that you might have.
How Long Can Marinated Chicken Stay in the Fridge?
Marinated chicken should stay fresh in the fridge for up to 2 days—the same amount of time as if you’d skipped the marinade. For optimum results, try to cook it off within a day. Remember that acidic ingredients can take the tenderizing effect too far, so don’t be tempted to leave the chicken in the marinade for too long.
Why It Matters
Like any meat product, chicken has a limited shelf life. In fact, it tends to spoil more quickly than other meats. That’s why you want to pay close attention when planning your meals around it.
Eating spoiled meat can result in abdominal discomfort—sometimes even food poisoning. The best way to avoid this is to cook the chicken as soon as possible after bringing it home.
How Long Does Chicken Last in the Fridge?
As a general rule, chicken should keep for up to 2 days when properly refrigerated. That means setting the fridge to a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the range between 40 and 140 degrees, the bacteria that cause food poisoning are able to breed at a rapid pace. Therefore, if the meat is kept at these temperatures for too long, it’s no longer safe to consume.
Always put chicken and other meat products in the fridge within 2 hours—or 1 hour if the weather is especially hot that day. This applies to cooked meat as well as raw products.
Since the shelf life of raw chicken is so brief, we try to cook it off the same day we bring it home, or the next day at the latest. That gives us enough time to marinate and season the chicken, as we’ll discuss in more detail later on.
How Long Can Marinated Chicken Stay in the Fridge?
Although some marinade ingredients can act as preservatives, these aren’t sufficient to prolong the shelf life of the chicken. Even if you’ve used a marinade, you should cook the chicken off within 2 days.
Bear in mind that this is just a guideline. Factors such as the refrigerator temperature and the type of marinade can affect the overall shelf life. But 2 days is a good rule of thumb to follow.
How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in the Fridge?
Marinades provide a good flavor boost and help the meat retain moisture as it cooks. They can also promote tenderness, as most marinade recipes include at least one acidic or enzymatic ingredient that breaks down the protein strands in the meat.
It’s this last point that you need to keep in mind when adding chicken to a marinade. Chicken is a lean and naturally tender meat to begin with, so prolonged exposure to a marinade may cause the protein strands to denature too much.
Try to marinate chicken for 2 to 12 hours, tops. If you’re pressed for time, the meat can benefit from just a 30-minute stint in the mixture, particularly if you’re working with leaner cuts like the tenderloin and the breast.
It’s permissible to marinate chicken for up to 48 hours as long as the mixture doesn’t contain overly acidic ingredients. Buttermilk, wine, yogurt, and papaya, for example, will all work as tenderizers without taking things too far.
Bear in mind that you don’t have to leave the chicken in the marinade until the last minute. It’s fine to remove it from the marinade and then put it back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook, provided you’ve followed the proper guidelines for food safety.
Other Tips on Marinating Chicken
Choose Ingredients Wisely
Because chicken has a mild flavor on its own, you can get creative with your marinade ingredients.
Vinegar is a popular tenderizing ingredient, as are citrus juices such as orange, lemon, and lime. However, you want to use caution when these are in your recipe, as they’re especially acidic and can cause the problems we mentioned earlier.
Oil will help lock in the flavors and provide moisture at the same time. Neutral oils like peanut, canola, and safflower are all good choices, but olive oil is a common ingredient in marinade recipes as well.
The mixture should also contain herbs and spices for flavor. Try experimenting with fresh parsley, mint, sage, or tarragon. Depending on the effect you’re trying to create, you can add zip with hot sauces like Tabasco or Frank’s Red Hot.
Some recipes call for a sweetener, such as brown sugar, honey, or agave. Don’t add too much, though, or the sugar will burn and give the food an acrid taste.
Finish things off with hearty doses of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Wash Your Hands
Before and after handling raw poultry, wash your hands thoroughly using soap and hot water. Otherwise, you’ll risk spreading bacteria around the rest of the kitchen.
Similarly, when a cooking utensil has come into contact with raw meat, don’t use it again on the cooked meat unless you’ve washed it first.
Although the right marinade will prevent the meat from becoming too dry, this won’t work if you overcook the chicken.
Chicken breasts should cook to 160 degrees, then rest for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the internal temp to come up to 165. This resting period also allows the juices to redistribute, so don’t neglect it.
As for dark meat cuts such as thighs and drumsticks, it’s best to let these cook to 180 degrees before taking them off the heat. At this temperature, the meat will turn tender and silky. Don’t forget that these should also rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
How Long Can Seasoned Chicken Stay in the Fridge?
What if you’ve used a spice rub instead of a marinade? Will that affect the chicken’s overall shelf life?
Not to any noticeable degree. We would suggest following the 2-day rule in any case, whether the meat is marinated, seasoned, or left plain.
How To Tell if Chicken is Bad
As we’ve established, marinated chicken can go bad just as easily as chicken that’s still in the package.
First and foremost, test the meat by sniffing it. Do you smell anything other than the ingredients you used in the marinade? If so, that’s a bad sign. Raw chicken doesn’t have much of a scent on its own. If you can smell it, it’s probably gone bad.
Test the texture by running a finger along the meat. Obviously, the marinade would have altered the texture somewhat, but if the chicken is overly slimy or sticky, it’s no longer fresh.
Discoloration is another red flag. Should you notice any gray or green patches—or any colors that can’t be easily explained by the marinade ingredients themselves—it’s time to throw the chicken out.
Never be tempted to cook the chicken if you suspect that it’s gone bad. The last thing you want is to consume spoiled meat. “When in doubt, throw it out” is a good rule to follow here.
Can You Freeze Marinated Chicken?
Let’s assume you’ve marinated the chicken overnight, but you won’t be able to cook it after all. Is it okay to put it in the freezer once it’s been marinated?
Absolutely. In fact, you can marinate chicken even if you know it’s headed for the freezer before you cook it. Doing so will help keep the meat from drying out.
Once the chicken has had its stint in the marinade, portion it out and freeze it in individual containers or zip-top bags. Label the containers with the contents, including the type of marinade you used as well as the date.
Thaw and cook the marinated chicken within 2 to 3 months, if possible. Whole marinated chickens might be able to handle up to 1 year in the freezer.
The Bottom Line
In terms of storage time, you should follow the same rules for marinated chicken that you would for plain chicken. Since the meat doesn’t need to marinate for very long, it’s best to cook it off as soon as you can.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!