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Aug 3, 2008 10:46 AM

Citrus marinade for chicken -- how long is too long?

I'm marinating chicken in oil/vinegar/herb marinade but also want to add lime and lemon. Can I use the citrus for an all-day marinade, or add closer to cooking time? Will the long citrus bath make the chicken mushy or "cook" it like it does ceviche?

Thanks in advance for tips.

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  1. I have used a citrus marinade for overnight marinading and it was great. I didn't notice that it 'cooked' the chicken. Should be fine.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sarah galvin

      Same here, BB. I have a marinade that includes half orange juice and half lemon juice and marinated cut up chicken in it for several hours in the fridge. Turned out fine.

      1. re: Pat Hammond

        Pat! Great to hear from you! Do you also use oil...I actually used today some bottled dressing and some limeade. I was thinking of only the limeade with a little bit of soy for next time for sweet and savory---so wasn't sure oil was needed, this was for chicken drumsticks.

    2. I respectfully disagree with much of this. Rather than go into detail, take a peek at the information here:

      1 Reply
      1. re: todao

        Excellent link! Explained how the acid will make the chicken mushy after about 2 hours. I like to season my meat for bbq 1-2 days in advance. After reading the article, I concluded I should season my chicken in the marinade around 2 hours before I plan on grilling it. Would you agree?

      2. To what purpose are you aiming ? If you are trying to impart a citrus flavor, then leaving chicken in a marinade for a long time reaches a point of diminishing returns. Chicken marinates for flavor very quickly, usually in 1 to 2 hours, after that you really aren't adding flavor, you're just soaking the chicken in a flavored sauce. If you are going to grill the chicken, there are a couple of other ways you can go. I normally use a flavored brine and soak the chicken approximately 1 hour per pound. A brine does a couple of things that a marinade won't do, first it replaces the fluids in the bird thru basic chemistry, a higher concentration of salt water replaces the lower concentrations of salt in the chicken and it also denatures the protein and loosens its bonds but doesn't cause them to reform. Using the brine as a transport for flavors distributes them completely through the bird in small enough quantities that they don't cause the problem with toughening. I use brine to impart flavors of all sorts, using different things. For citrusy flavors I use either citric acid or Countrytime dry lemonade mix. I use a teaspoon of citric acid OR a tablespoon of Countrytime mix. I mix my brine using one quart of water and 1/2 cup Mortons Kosher Salt and 1/3 cup sugar, plus what other spices or flavorings I want to use. I usually , for chicken, throw in a tbs of dried rosemary, a ts of whole tellecherry pepper corns, some strips of dried lemon zest, and either the Countrytime or citric acid depending on how concentrated I want the flavors. After I've boiled the brine, I cool it to room temp. and add 1 1/2 quarts of ice water, it makes just enough brine to cover a 4 to 5 pound bird. After 5 hours, in the fridge, I'll remove the bird and give it a through rinse and complete dry and sprinkle it with a rub with citric acid added to it. The acid has no sugar so it won't burn. You'll get a very citrusy bird with juicy flavor running all through it. Serve it with some grilled zucchini marinated in some EVO and lemon juice with a little Italian seasoning sprinkled on and you got a meal to remember.

        1. One of my favorite chicken marinades is lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk salt and pepper into the juice of two lemons, whisk in a couple tablespoons of olive oil and pour over chicken parts that you've placed in a ziploc bag. Close the bag, massage the marinade into the chicken and refrigerate overnight. Cook on the grill; this makes the juiciest, most flavorful chicken. I've tried this with lime juice, a mixture of lime and lemon juice, added rosemary or garlic or both, added ground chile or cayenne, but none of these variations are as good to our palate as the plain jane lemon juice and olive oil. Love, love, love it.

          So, no, overnight is not too much time, with one caveat: I would only marinate skin-on, bone-in pieces this way. If you want to do just chicken breasts keep the marinating time to just a couple of hours in the fridge.

          1. I Just brined & put (bone-in skin on) chicken breasts into a lemon/olive oil/herb marinade. My thought was to cook them tomorrow night but that would be a *day and a half* in the marinade. If I cook them tonight it will be only 6 hours in the marinade. I'm not interested in "mushy" breasts, but I do want them super flavorful...would you vote to cook tonight or tommorrow night?