Can You Marinate Frozen Chicken? Tips and Techniques for Tasty Results

Ellisha Rader Mannering
Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha is a passionate food writer with over 15 years of writing experience under her belt.

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can you marinate frozen chicken

I am usually very organized with meal prep. But I occasionally find myself staring at frozen chicken, wondering if I have time to both defrost it and marinate it in time for dinner.

And if I am not wrong, I am not the only one who gets stuck in this situation! So, we wonder, can we speed up the process by marinating chicken while it’s defrosting, and how will it turn out? 

Marinades work best when the chicken is completely thawed. But if you don’t have enough time to wait for the chicken to thaw completely, the suggestions in this article will help you make the most of this not-so-ideal situation.

So, let’s cook your frozen chicken to the best possible flavor and tenderness with these tips!

The thawing chicken releases water, diluting the marinade and affecting its flavor. Also, frozen chicken cannot soak up the flavors to its full potential.

You might want to leave the chicken to marinate longer than usual to compensate for these shortcomings. But be careful!

While this trick sounds logical, it doesn’t work well. The acid in marinades can weaken the protein structure of meat, affecting the meat’s ability to retain moisture. This makes chicken dry and tough. 

So, even if it means delaying dinner, it may be worth letting the chicken defrost before marinating. This way, your original marinade recipe gives the best-expected result!

Why Marinate Chicken?

Is marinating better than just letting the chicken defrost, rubbing some spices on it, and slow-cooking, baking, or grilling?

Marinating is a time-honored technique used by cooks around the world. It involves soaking chicken with herbs, spices, oils, and acids before cooking.

Some excellent advantages of marinating chicken, according to my experience, are:

  • Adds flavor – Marination helps chicken soak up the flavors and seasonings in the marinade. This makes it more flavorful and delicious.
  • Adds tenderness – It also helps to tenderize tougher cuts like chicken breasts or thighs. The acid (lemon juice or vinegar) breaks down meat proteins, making it more tender and juicy.
Why Marinate Chicken

Tips for Marinating Frozen Chicken

It’s safe to marinate frozen chicken if you follow these food safety rules: 

  • Marinate frozen chicken in the fridge. Never leave it to thaw or marinate on the counter at room temperature. This danger zone temperature range can make harmful bacteria multiply faster.
  • Fully thaw the frozen marinated chicken before cooking. It will give the marinade enough time to seep into the chicken deeply and uniformly. Also, the chicken cooks best when it is defrosted completely.
  • Discard any excess marinade after you’re done marinating. This marinade contains juices from the chicken, posing a potential bacterial contamination risk.

How Long to Marinate Chicken for Perfect Flavor

Most people leave the chicken to marinate overnight, thinking the flavors will penetrate deeply. But actually, marinade only flavors the chicken’s exterior and will not seep deep down. 

BBC Good Food recommends marinating chicken for 5-6 hours for a perfect flavor and texture. Leaving chicken in the marinade for a longer time will not enhance the flavor. It will only ruin the texture and appearance as the acid breaks down protein and makes the chicken mushy from the outside.

If you cannot cook right away and want to keep marinated chicken in the fridge, do not leave it for more than 2 days, as the USDA suggests. 

How Long to Marinate Chicken for Perfect Flavor

I recommend marinating whole chicken for 10 to 12 hours or overnight and 6 hours for smaller pieces. Also, don’t marinate for more than 24 hours to keep the meat juicy and tender.

Preparing the Marinade

When your only options are marinating chicken while thawing or not marinating it at all, you can make your chicken taste as delicious as possible with these tips from the  Utah State University Extension.

  • Acid and Oil – Use an acid like vinegar, lemon juice, or tomato juice to soften tough cuts. Lean meats such as fish and chicken also benefit from oil which adds moisture and flavor. For 1 tablespoon of acid, add 3 tablespoons of oil.
  • Marinade Ingredients – In addition to acid and oil, you should add herbs, spices, and aromatics (ginger, garlic). But don’t forget to add the most important ingredient, Salt!
  • Marinade-to-chicken Ratio – You need enough marinade to coat the chicken entirely. You will also need excess marinade to reapply to your chicken, as thawing will water down your marinade.
  • Consistency of the Marinade – Your marinade should not be too thick or thin. The thick marinade will not coat your chicken effectively, while too thin will run off.

Marinating Fresh Chicken Before Freezing

Have you ever tried marinating your chicken when you bring it fresh from the store, before freezing it? This will make your meal prep simple and easy the next time you want to make chicken for dinner.

Frozen marinated chicken has made my life easier on many occasions! It comes in handy when I don’t have enough time to thaw and marinate chicken.

Cut your fresh chicken into smaller pieces and marinate before storing it in the freezer. You can freeze fresh chicken parts for 9 months.

This informative video will help you avoid common mistakes everyone makes with frozen chicken:

How To Perfectly Marinate Frozen Chicken

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perfectly marinate frozen chicken:

  1. Choose Your Marinade – Choose a marinade with the right balance of acid, oil, and other ingredients. You can use a readymade marinade or make your own using the tips above.
  2. Use a Sealed Bag or Container – Place the frozen chicken in an airtight ziplock bag or container. This will prevent any leaks or spills. My favorite is this collapsible marinade container that can hold two 6-pound chickens.
  3. Add Marinade – Pour the marinade over the chicken, ensuring it is fully coated. Massage the chicken to distribute the marinade evenly if using a plastic bag. I always place bagged chicken in a shallow tray to catch leaking juices.
  4. Place the Chicken in the Fridge – Remove the air, seal the bag, or close the container tightly. Now, the chicken can thaw and marinate without any cross-contamination risk. Place the bag or container in the fridge and let the chicken thaw overnight.
  5. Add More Marinade – Halfway through thawing, turn the chicken over. Then, drain the watery marinade added earlier, and add fresh marinade.
  6. Cook the Chicken – Remove marinated chicken from the bag or container when thawed. Discard any leftover marinade, which may contain bacteria from the raw chicken. Cook the chicken using your preferred method.

Should I Thaw Chicken Before Marinating It

I recommend thawing chicken before marination, for better flavor and tender meat, but it isn’t mandatory.

Using hot water or a microwave to thaw the frozen chicken takes considerably less time. However, these thawing methods expose the chicken to danger zone temperatures that trigger bacterial growth. 

The USDA recommends cooking the chicken immediately if you thaw it in the microwave or hot water.

Cooking prevents harmful bacteria from growing further. It means you’ll not have time to marinate before cooking. So, if you want to marinate your chicken, these thawing methods are unsuitable.

Should I Thaw Chicken Before Marinating It

Thawing chicken in the fridge is the safest method, but it can take up to 24 hours to thaw a whole chicken.

Using cold water to thaw your chicken is the fastest method to give you enough time to marinate before cooking. Smaller cuts will thaw faster than a  whole chicken. You can then marinate thawed chicken in the fridge until you are ready to cook.

Defrost in Cold Water

Follow these steps for thawing your chicken quickly:

  • Take a large bowl. It should be deep enough to submerge the whole chicken in water.
  • Place the chicken in the pot without taking the package or wrapper off.
  • Pour enough cold tap water that covers the chicken entirely.
  • Keep changing the water after every 30 minutes.
  • Also, keep stirring the water after a few minutes. It keeps a uniform water temperature around the chicken.
  • Changing water regularly and turning the chicken over repeatedly will thaw your chicken in 2 to 3 hours, depending on its size.
Defrost in Cold Water


How long should you marinate chicken in the fridge?

The USDA advises not to marinate chicken in the fridge for more than 2 days. Marinating chicken longer can break down meat fibers and change its texture to be spongy.

Can I marinate frozen chicken overnight?

Yes, you can marinate the frozen chicken overnight. This will give the chicken a better chance to absorb all the goodness of the marinade.

Can I freeze marinated chicken?

You can freeze marinated chicken pieces for up to 9 months. This is a better option than marinating thawing chicken as it saves you the marinating time.


Marinating chicken enhances its flavor and juiciness. While it is possible to marinate frozen chicken, it is recommended to thaw it first for best results.

When marinating chicken, follow proper food safety guidelines.

Pro tip: Using a dedicated marinade container keeps your chicken safe and prevents cross-contamination.

Cuisinart CMT-100 XL Collapsible Marinade Container
✅ Large capacity
✅ Great for marinating & Brining
✅ BPA-free plastic
✅ Space-saving storage
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If you have any questions about safely marinating chicken, don’t hesitate to comment below. I will reply with the best possible solution to your problem!

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Ellisha Rader Mannering
About The Author
Ellisha has been writing about food for over 15 years. When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, and coaching baton twirling.

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