Soaking Chicken in Vinegar: How Long Should I Do It?

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soaking chicken in vinegar

The concept of soaking chicken in vinegar might sound a bit strange, but vinegar is actually a popular marinade ingredient. The trouble is, many people tend to overdo it. We’re here to help you avoid that fate.

Soaking Chicken In Vinegar

In addition to tenderizing the meat, marinating chicken in vinegar can help to remove the fatty residue from the skin. It’s a great step if you’re making fried chicken. When your recipe includes vinegar, though, it’s best to limit the marinating time to 4 hours. Otherwise, the chicken will be mushy or gummy once it’s cooked.

About Marinades

Why would you leave your chicken in a vinegar solution in the first place? For the same reason we apply any type of marinade: to promote flavor, moisture, and tenderness.

Marinades help the meat retain moisture as it cooks. For lean cuts like chicken breast, this can be a lifesaver. White meat dries out more quickly than fattier cuts, which can make the finished product too dry. You can sidestep this effect with the right marinade.

You’ll also want to choose ingredients that give the meat the flavor profile you want. The flavors will penetrate a few millimeters beneath the flesh, giving each bite a vibrant taste.

Most importantly, marinades work to tenderize the meat. Acidic ingredients like vinegar will break down the protein strands, so that the cooked chicken will melt in your mouth.

Why Vinegar?

You’ve probably heard of people soaking racks of ribs in vinegar before putting them on the smoker. But chicken is leaner, with a milder flavor profile than pork. Won’t the vinegar be too overpowering?

In fact, you shouldn’t notice a strong vinegar flavor once the meat is cooked. This is a tenderizing ingredient, not a seasoning. Assuming you’ve done the job right, the only effects you notice should be positive ones.

Many recipes for fried chicken, particularly in the southern US, recommend soaking the chicken parts in pickle juice before adding the coating. If you’ve ever eaten authentic southern fried chicken, you’ll know that it doesn’t retain any pickle-like flavor at all.

Proponents of this method claim that the vinegar works to remove the fatty residue from the chicken skin, leaving it cleaner. This helps the coating adhere better, so the end result will be nice and crisp.

The Myth About Soaking Chicken in Vinegar

Some novices believe that soaking chicken in vinegar or citrus juice will kill off bacteria. Although it does have some disinfecting properties (vinegar is a useful cleaning aid, for example), taking this step is no substitute for proper cooking.

soaking chicken in vinegar

Some types of vinegar, such as white vinegar, can help to reduce pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. But even they can’t eradicate them entirely. What’s more, vinegars with lower concentrations of acetic acid won’t kill off much bacteria.

Regardless of whether you’ve left the chicken in a vinegar marinade, or for how long, you’ll still need to cook it to a safe temperature before you can eat it. That means 165 degrees for chicken breast and 180 degrees for dark meat cuts like thighs and drumsticks.

How Long To Marinate Chicken in Vinegar

Because vinegar is so acidic, we recommend using it sparingly in marinade recipes. Regardless of how much you use, though, it’s just as important to limit the amount of time the chicken spends in the mixture.

Thanks to its lean texture, chicken can benefit from just a few hours in a marinade. This is especially true of lean cuts like the breast and tenderloin. Whole chickens and dark meat cuts will hold up longer, but you should still take care not to overdo it.

As we discussed earlier, marinades work by dissolving the proteins in the meat. That’s a good thing—up to a point.

When meat marinates for too long in an acidic mixture, those protein strands will break down too far. That means that once the meat is cooked, it will have a strangely mushy or gummy texture.

We would suggest marinating chicken in a vinegar mixture for no more than 2 to 4 hours. You might be able to get away with leaving it in there for 12 hours or overnight, but after that, the protein strands will break down to the point of mushiness.

Pro Tip: Include an oil in your marinade to help the meat’s tissues absorb the flavor. Oils with a high smoke point, such as canola or peanut, are ideal, but extra-virgin olive oil is preferable for some recipes.

Tips for Safe Marinating

First things first: Never marinate meat at room temperature. You’ll need to keep it properly refrigerated to prevent harmful bacteria from setting up camp.

Many people don’t realize how important this is, since the marinade ingredients help to ward off bacteria. But as we pointed out, the acid isn’t sufficient to wipe out all the bacteria, and if they hang around long enough, cooking the meat won’t help either.

Use a lidded container or a sturdy zip-top bag to marinate your chicken. Be sure the container is made of a non-reactive material—some types of metal can react poorly with the marinade ingredients, which will affect the flavor.

Once you’ve combined the chicken and the marinade, seal the container and set it in the fridge. If you’ve used a bag, put the bag on a large plate beforehand.

Refrigerate the chicken until you’re ready to start cooking. Turn it a few times in the marinade to ensure even coverage.

After removing it from the marinade, pat the meat dry using paper towels. There’s no need to rinse it off—doing so could spread bacteria around your kitchen.

Season and cook the chicken as desired. Don’t forget to always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat products, especially poultry.

Discard any marinade that’s come into contact with raw meat. You can set a bit aside before adding the chicken if you want to brush some on the meat while it’s cooking.

Ideas For Vinegar Chicken Marinade Recipes

The following recipes should yield enough marinade for about 1 pound of chicken. If you need more or less, simply adjust the measurements accordingly.

soaking chicken in vinegar

Olive Oil Balsamic

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced basil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Tuscan

Pro Tip: For this marinade, place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is well-combined.

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup freshly minced basil
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon quality Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons freshly minced dill
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Spicy

  • 1/2 cup finely minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Raspberry

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons raspberry preserves
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced basil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced oregano
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

The Bottom Line

Soaking chicken in vinegar for longer than 12 hours could do more harm than good. While you can marinate meats in enzymatic ingredients like buttermilk and wine for up to 48 hours, you’ll need to take more care when vinegar is your primary ingredient.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar

AUTHOR

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