This easy lemon chicken marinade is simply the best! Marinating with lemon not only adds tons of flavor, but it also helps tenderize the chicken. This lemon marinated grilled chicken comes out so flavorful, moist, and juicy inside.
This lemon marinade is made with freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, minced garlic, Italian herb seasoning, salt, and pepper. That’s all, simple and easy!
The chicken needs to marinate for a maximum of 3 hours. You can use this marinade for chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks, or wings. It’s very versatile!
Chicken is one of the most versatile proteins out there. By itself, it’s pretty neutral in flavor, but once you marinate it, it can be super flavorful and tender.
I love this lemon chicken marinade recipe because it is simple and flavorful. It also does a great job keeping the chicken really moist and tender.
The lemon chicken marinade is super simple – you only need 7 ingredients for the marinade itself: lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, minced garlic Italian herb seasoning, salt and pepper.
Why I Love This Recipe
- Adds so much flavor throughout the chicken. Imagine citrus-y, garlicky with aromatic herb flavors…delicious!
- The lemon juice tenderizes the chicken and keeps it juicy inside.
- It doesn’t need to marinate overnight, so I can make it for dinner whenever I crave grilled chicken. In fact, it shouldn’t marinate for more than 3 hours or it could start to break down too much (see “Marinating with Citrus” below).
- It’s versatile! Customize it by adding other ingredients to the marinade, such as fresh herbs, seasoning, mustard, or honey.
- It can be used for chicken breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings…up to you.
Marinating with Citrus
Many marinades call for marinating overnight, but NOT with this one! Any time you marinade with lemon juice or some sort of acidic component, you can’t let it marinate for too long. Marinades that use acidic components, such as lemon juice, should only be used for 2-3 hours, no more than 3 hours.
Here’s why: Lemon juice helps to tenderize meat, but when left for too long, it will break down the proteins too much, making the meat tough and rubbery…sometimes even mushy. So, if you want tender, juicy, and flavorful chicken, make sure to only marinate the chicken for 2-3 hours.
All About The Lemon Marinade
This is a very simple lemon chicken marinade that’s packed with lots of flavor!
The lemon juice not only provides flavor and acidity, but also helps tenderize the chicken. This works especially well for leaner cuts like chicken breast. The result is super flavorful, vibrant, juicy, and tender chicken.
The lemon garlic marinade ingredients are pretty straightforward: lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. All you have to do is combine all these ingredients until uniform, and that’s your marinade!
I always use a resealable plastic bag to marinate the chicken in order to ensure that every inch of the chicken absorbs ALL the flavor more evenly.
To give you an idea, these are the ingredients I use for the lemon chicken marinade:
- Chicken breasts: Make sure to pound them to even thickness, about ½ inch thick. You can also use chicken thighs, drumsticks, or wings.
- Olive oil: For moisture and to help the lemon flavors penetrate into the thickest parts of the chicken.
- Zest of 2 lemons: Before cutting and squeezing the lemons, remember to zest it.
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice: The lemon juice adds flavor and tenderizes the chicken.
- Minced garlic: For flavor.
- Italian seasoning: For flavor. You’ll need about 2 teaspoons. You can also use fresh herbs – for every teaspoon of dried herbs, use 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
How to Make This Recipe
This recipe basically consists of two main parts: 1) making the marinade and marinating the chicken, and then 2) cooking the chicken. The best way to cook it is on the grill or on a skillet (pan-seared), but you can also bake it.
Detailed instructions and quantities can be found in the recipe card below, as always, but here’s an overview to give you an idea, plus a few helpful tips!
1. Make the Lemon Marinade & Marinate
- In a large resealable plastic bag, whisk all the marinade ingredients: olive oil, lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Remember to zest the lemons before cutting it.
- Add the chicken to the marinade, making sure it’s fully and evenly coated, and then seal the bag. Note: I like using resealable bags to ensure the delicious marinate coats every inch of the chicken.
- Marinate in the fridge for 2-3 hours, a maximum of 3 hours. Longer than 3 hours can turn the chicken tough, rubbery, or even mushy.
Prepping the chicken: Make sure the chicken breasts are pounded to ½ inch thick before adding it to the marinade. This will ensure even flavors and even cooking later on, which will also help keep the chicken moist and juicy.
Why marinate for 2-3 hours only: Lemon-based marinades are great to keep chicken tender, but when left for too long, the acid starts breaking down the proteins too much, causing it to be tough, rubbery, and even mushy. Marinate for no more than 3 hours for best results. This will be plenty of time for the flavors to develop.
2. Grill the Chicken
You can use an outdoor grill, stovetop grill pan, electric grill, or a stovetop skillet. Up to you!
- Take the chicken out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes so that it’s not so cold.
- Shake off any excess marinade. Grill the chicken for 6-8 minutes on each side, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Let the chicken breasts rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!
You can also BAKE the chicken at 425 degrees F. Breasts and boneless thighs take about 20 minutes. Bone-in thighs, drumsticks, and wings take about 40 minutes in the oven.
How to get beautiful grill marks: Let the chicken cook on each side for 6-8 minutes undisturbed, and make sure to shake any excess marinade. This will allow the grill marks to develop. If you flip them too early, you’ll only get dull grill marks.
To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer and make sure it registers 165 degrees F in the thickest part of the breast. Chicken thighs and drumsticks should register 175 to 180 degrees F.
- A large resealable bag (preferred) or a large bowl to marinate the chicken.
- Zester: I use a microplane zester.
- Lemon squeezer: It makes squeezing lemons so much easier!
- Meat tenderizer or mallet to pound the chicken to even thickness.
- Grill or grill pan: An outdoor grill, stovetop grill pan, electric grill, or skillet.
There are a few substitutions you can easily make for the lemon chicken marinade:
- Olive oil: rather than olive oil, you can use vegetable oil, canola oil, or any other neutral flavor oil.
- Italian seasoning: dried oregano or herbs de provence work too.
- If you prefer to use fresh herbs instead of dried herbs, use a blend of minced herbs such as rosemary and thyme. For every teaspoon of dried herbs, use 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs.
Pairing and Serving Ideas
I like to keep it simple, and pair my grilled chicken with a basic garden salad made of chopped greens, sliced cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. No dressing or anything, just a few drizzles of good olive oil, salt and pepper.
Here are a few other side dish recipes I love to serve this lemon marinated chicken with:
2-3 hours. Maximum 3 hours. This is because this marinade contains lemon juice, which if left for too long, can actually make the chicken tough, rubbery, and even mushy.
Pound the chicken to about half inch thick evenly, before placing it in the marinade.
Yes, absolutely! You can also use drumsticks or chicken wings.
Yes, bake at 425 degrees F. Discard the marinade (you don’t want a pool of marinade in the oven). Chicken breasts and boneless thighs take about 20 in the oven. Bone-in thighs, drumsticks, and wings take about 40 minutes in the oven, depending on how big they are. Use a meat thermometer to be safe – it should register 165 degrees F for breasts boneless thighs, and 175-180 degrees F for bone-in thighs, wings, and drumsticks.
Yes! You can finish the chicken in the oven at 400 degrees F.
I’d recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice for best results.
You can, but I personally prefer using fresh garlic for better taste.
The chicken comes out so juicy, tender, and ultra flavorful. I love that this marinade can be used for chicken breasts, thighs, and even drumsticks and wings. So, so good!
I hope you like this recipe as much as we do. No more boring or bland chicken!
Thank you for reading and happy cooking!
Tips for Success
- Marinate the chicken for 2-3 hours for best results. Maximum 3 hours. Lemon helps add flavor and tenderize the chicken, but if left for too long, it will actually start breaking down the proteins way too much, resulting in tough, rubbery, or even mushy texture.
- Use resealable plastic bags to ensure the delicious marinate coats every inch of the chicken
- For even cooking, pound chicken breasts to about ½ inch thick evenly.
- Remember to zest the lemon before squeezing it. I know I often forget…!
- Discard most of the marinade before cooking. You don’t want a “pool” of liquid on the grill pan – this will cause the chicken to steam instead.
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Easy Lemon Chicken Marinade
- 4 medium chicken breasts, pounded evenly to ½ inch thickness - (see note)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Zest of 2 lemons
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice - (from about 1 lemon)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning - (see note)
- 1 ½ teaspoons Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Lemon slices for garnish
- Make the marinade: In a large resealable plastic bag, whisk the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
- Add the chicken breasts to the marinade, making sure all the chicken is coated with the marinade evenly to ensure proper flavor. Seal the bag and let it marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours (maximum 3 hours). Important: Don’t let it marinade for longer than about 3 hours, or it could turn out tough and chewy, see note below.
- Once it has marinated, let the chicken sit on the counter for 15 minutes so it’s not so cold. Meanwhile, preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
- Discard any excess marinade. Grill the chicken breasts 6-8 minutes on each side, until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Remove from grill and let chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- I use chicken breasts and boneless chicken thighs interchangeably. You can grill or even pan-sear them until cooked through (internal temperature of 165 degrees F). Make sure the chicken breasts are pounded to ½ inch thick evenly before adding it to the marinade. This will ensure even cooking.
- If using bone-in thighs, drumsticks, or wings: Cook them longer on the grill, preferably covered, so that they get cooked through inside. If cooking them in an indoor grill or skillet, you may have to finish them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes, or until the thickest part registers 175 to 180 degrees F.
- Marinate for 2-3 hours only: Don’t marinate for longer than 3 hours. This marinade uses lemon juice, which often makes chicken tough and rubbery if left for too long.
- Italian seasoning substitution: You can also use dried oregano or herbs de provence. If you prefer to use fresh herbs, substitute 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs per every 1 teaspoon of dried herbs – try a blend of rosemary and thyme.
Tiffany M says
My husband and so use this recipe every time we grill chicken skewers. The tip for the correct amount of time to marinate was clutch! We were marinating for too long before this recipe and now we have the perfect tender chicken every time!