Mastering the Art of Marinating a Whole Chicken

How to properly marinate a whole chicken

Chicken is a popular and versatile meat, but it can often end up dry when cooked. To prevent this, marinating a whole chicken is a great technique that adds flavor and moisture to the meat. In this article, we will discuss the process of marinating a whole chicken, the benefits of marinating, different types of marinades, and best practices for achieving a flavorful and juicy result.

The benefits of marinating a whole chicken

Marinating a whole chicken provides several benefits that enhance the quality of the meat. Here are three key benefits:

Tenderizes the meat

Marinades, which typically consist of oils, wines, spices and herbs, have a tenderizing effect on the meat. They break down the tough protein bonds, resulting in a softer and more tender texture. Marinating also allows the meat to absorb more flavor and moisture, further enhancing its flavor.

Adds flavor to bland cuts

Marinades are designed to infuse meat with delicious flavors. By using a combination of spices, herbs, flavorings and seasonings, you can create a variety of flavor profiles. The marinade not only enhances the flavor of the chicken, but also adds depth and complexity to otherwise bland cuts.

Adds juiciness to dry cuts

Chicken tends to get dry when cooked. However, marinating chicken helps retain moisture and prevents it from drying out. As the meat tenderizes, it also absorbs the juices from the marinade, resulting in a succulent and juicy texture.

Types of marinades you can use

There are several types of marinades that can be used to marinate a whole chicken. Each type offers unique characteristics and flavors. Here are three common types of marinades:

Acid marinades

Acid marinades are designed to tenderize meat by breaking down protein bonds. Common acidic ingredients include citrus juices, vinegar, and acidic wines. The acid component is typically combined with oil, herbs, spices, and flavorings to create a flavorful marinade.

Oil-based marinades

Oil-based marinades do not tenderize the meat as effectively as acid marinades. However, they do infuse the chicken with flavor over time. These marinades consist of oil, spices, and herbs. The longer the chicken sits in the marinade, the more pronounced the flavors will be.

Dairy-based marinades

Dairy-based marinades use tangy and slightly acidic dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream. These marinades are unique because they are not removed before cooking. Instead, they are cooked with the chicken, adding tenderness and a creamy flavor to the meat.

The best way to marinate a whole chicken

To get the best results from marinating a whole chicken, it’s important to follow proper techniques. Here is a step-by-step guide:

1. Clean and prepare the chicken

Start by cleaning the chicken and removing any dirt or feathers. Make sure the chicken is thoroughly cleaned before continuing with the marinating process.

2. Prepare the marinade

Prepare the marinade by combining the desired ingredients. This may include oils, acids, spices, herbs, and flavorings, depending on the type of marinade you choose. Consider experimenting with different flavor combinations to find your preferred flavor profile.

3. Brush the chicken with the marinade

Place the prepared chicken in a glass jar and pour the marinade over the chicken. Make sure the entire surface of the chicken is covered with the marinade. If the marinade does not completely cover the chicken, turn the chicken every 1-2 hours to ensure even distribution.

4. Marinate the chicken

Wrap the jar or place an airtight lid on top and refrigerate the chicken for about 5-6 hours. If using an acidic marinade, do not marinate for more than 6-8 hours to prevent the outer skin from becoming tough.

5. Cook the chicken

After marinating, remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a lined roasting pan. Cook the chicken according to your preferred method, such as roasting, grilling, or baking. Make sure the chicken reaches the appropriate internal temperature for safe consumption.

Tips for Marinating Chicken

Here are some additional tips to enhance your chicken marinating experience:

  • Clean the chicken thoroughly to remove any dirt or feathers before marinating.
  • Remember to remove the giblets from the inside of the chicken before marinating or cooking.
  • Avoid trussing the chicken until after marinating to allow the marinade to penetrate the meat evenly.
  • Use a glass or non-reactive container for marinating to prevent unwanted flavors from leaching into the chicken.
  • When using an acidic marinade, avoid marinating for too long to prevent the meat from becoming too tender or mushy.
  • For oil-based marinades, allow the chicken to marinate longer to maximize flavor infusion.
  • Experiment with different combinations of herbs, spices, and flavorings to create unique flavor profiles.
  • When cooking the chicken, be sure to follow proper food safety guidelines to ensure it reaches the correct internal temperature.
  • Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes after cooking to allow the juices to redistribute, resulting in more flavorful and tender meat.


Marinating a whole chicken is a simple yet effective way to enhance its flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. By following proper techniques and using different types of marinades, you can create a variety of delicious and satisfying chicken dishes. Whether you prefer acidic, oil-based, or dairy marinades, the key is to allow the flavors to penetrate the meat and transform it into a delicious culinary delight. So the next time you plan to cook a whole chicken, consider marinating it for a memorable dining experience.


How long should I marinate a whole chicken?

The ideal marinating time for a whole chicken is approximately 5-6 hours. Avoid marinating for too long, especially with acidic marinades, as this can toughen the outer skin.

Can I reuse the marinade after marinating the chicken?

It is not recommended to reuse marinade that has been in contact with raw chicken. It may contain bacteria from the chicken and may pose a food safety risk. It’s best to discard the used marinade and prepare fresh marinade for basting or saucing.

Should I rinse off the marinade before cooking the chicken?

No, it is not necessary to rinse off the marinade before cooking the chicken. Leaving the marinade on the chicken adds flavour and moisture during the cooking process.

Can I freeze a whole marinated chicken?

Yes, you can freeze a whole marinated chicken. Place the chicken and marinade in a freezer-safe container or bag. Make sure the chicken is properly sealed to prevent freezer burn. Defrost the chicken in the fridge before cooking.

At what temperature should I cook the marinated whole chicken?

Cook the marinated whole chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) in the thickest part of the meat. This ensures that the chicken is safe to eat and thoroughly cooked.

Can I use leftover marinade as a sauce?

If you plan to use the marinade as a sauce, it is important to bring it to a rolling boil for at least 5 minutes to kill any bacteria that may be present from the raw chicken. This ensures food safety and allows you to enjoy the flavour of the marinade as a sauce.