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This is my go-to chicken thigh marinade, a basic mixture that seasons poultry to juicy perfection. Mix the marinade in minutes with soy sauce, fresh garlic, a liquid sweetener (such as mirin or honey), vinegar and Dijon mustard. Use the recipe as written to cook chicken thighs on the grill or to bake in the oven. You can customize the pantry ingredients to your taste with my flexible suggestions. Use this flavorful marinade to enjoy one of the best chicken thigh recipes.
I cook chicken thighs a few times a week, in ALL kinds of chicken recipes for dinner — they’re hands-down the best bang for your chicken buck when it comes to ease, flavor and economy.
One reason is that they go with just about any seasoning you throw at them. If you want to enjoy tender chicken without a whole lot of fussing, marinated chicken thighs are a must-try!
Ingredients in chicken thigh marinade
- Soy sauce: The “secret” ingredient for any type of marinade. Made from fermented soy beans, it has a deep, complex flavor that quickly penetrates the chicken with umami. I recommend Japanese-style soy sauce — such as shoyu and gluten-free tamari because it has a sweeter taste profile, and is overall less salty than Chinese soy sauce.
- Mirin: Granulated sugar (including brown sugar) doesn’t dissolve instantly and it can easily cause chicken to burn, so I use a small amount of mirin (a type of sweet rice wine) in marinades. Mirin has a delicate sweetness that helps to balance the salty and tangy seasonings in the marinade — and it gives the chicken beautiful caramelization. If you don’t have mirin in your pantry, don’t worry! Use the same amount of maple syrup, agave nectar or liquid honey.
- Dijon mustard: This piquant condiment acts as a binder for the other ingredients, adding flavor at the same time.
- Garlic: Use enough grated or pressed fresh garlic to fill a tablespoon, about 2 cloves. If you don’t have fresh garlic, substitute with 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder.
- Vinegar: A bit of acidity in chicken marinades adds a mouthwatering element. You can substitute an equal amount of lemon juice, lime juice or another type of mild vinegar such as red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Cayenne: For a touch of heat, this finely ground chili pepper is the best. Crushed red chili works just as well. You won’t really think it tastes “hot”, but feel free to omit if your sensitive to spicy flavors — or add more if you love spicy heat.
- Oil: Most marinade is eventually discarded, so instead of wasting good extra virgin olive oil, I use a neutral-tasting oil such as sunflower, grapeseed or avocado oil instead. You only need a tablespoon, which is just enough to coat the chicken so that it doesn’t stick to the grill. Using a high ratio of oil in marinades can cause flare-ups on the grill.
Recipe steps at a glance
This marinade gives you options for planning your cooking:
- Prepare the marinade, add the chicken and let it sit at room temperature while you preheat the grill, oven or get the rest of your meal ready, 15-30 minutes.
- To cook the chicken at a later time, cover the bowl or dish with plastic wrap or place in a storage container or heavy-duty zippered plastic bag. Refrigerate 12-24 hours proceed with your desired cooking method.
Wondering how long to cook to chicken thighs? Refer to the cooking times below when cooking the thighs at 425 degrees, either on a medium-hot grill or baked in the oven.
Tip: Use an instant read meat thermometer if you’re not sure of doneness. Look for a temperature range of 160-175F.
- Chicken thighs without the bone: 20-25 minutes
- Bone-in chicken thighs: 25-30 minutes.
- Broiled chicken thighs: 12-15 minutes
All-Purpose Chicken Thigh Marinade
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, or tamari (for gluten-free)
- 2 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine), maple syrup or honey
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon crushed or grated garlic
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, or 2½-3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Marinate the chicken
- Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and whisk together.
- Place the chicken in a bowl, baking dish or heavy duty zip-top bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Flip the thighs over a few times with a fork or a pair of tongs to coat them evenly in marinade.
- If you want to cook the chicken right away, marinate at room temperature 20-30 minutes. Otherwise, store the marinated chicken in the refrigerator 12-24 hours ahead.
- Preheat a grill to medium-high heat (400-425F; 200-220C) for direct grilling, and scrape down the grill rack with a wire brush.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade (discard the marinade) and transfer to a plate or baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
- Arrange the chicken on the grill rack, skin-side up. Cook 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and move them to a section of the grill with indirect heat. If you're cooking skin-on chicken, this will prevent the skin from scorching.
- Cover the grill an cook until the chicken is cooked through, an additional 5-8 minutes. A digital thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should register 160-165F (70-75C). Transfer to a platter and rest 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Preheat the oven to 425 (220C) with the rack in the center. Arrange the chicken on a non-stick or foil-lined sheet pan. Bake 20 minutes for boneless thighs, or 25-30 minutes for bone-in thighs, turning the pieces over halfway through.
- Position an oven rack so it's about 6 inches from the heat source. Preheat the broiler element to high for 5-10 minutes. Arrange the chicken on the rack a broiler pan, or on a grill rack set on a foil-lined sheet pan. Broil 6-7 minutes per side, until the chicken is nicely browned.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- This recipe makes enough marinade for 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, or up to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs. You can double or triple the recipe.
- The marinade is tasty on boneless chicken breasts too!
- If you don’t have mirin in your pantry, use the same amount of maple syrup, agave nectar or liquid honey.
- Substitute fresh garlic with 1 teaspoon garlic powder.