Top 10 Healthy Chicken Marinade Ideas

By: Jonathan Strickland & Marie Willsey

Chicken may be a staple for healthy eaters, but it's far from bland.
Chicken may be a staple for healthy eaters, but it's far from bland.
James and James/Getty Images

It's a common misconception that eating healthy means sitting down to bland, uninteresting food. But eating healthy doesn't mean banishing flavor from the dinner table. With a little creativity and some magic in the kitchen, you can cook a meal that's both healthy and pleasing to the palate.

Chicken is a staple for healthy meals. It's high in protein and, if prepared properly, low in fat. When you use a variety of seasonings and marinades, chicken offers a delicious foundation for dozens of different interesting meals. Pair the chicken with appropriate side dishes and you'll have a dinner to rave about, sans guilt.


We've scoured the recipe books for ten healthy marinades to use with chicken dishes, collecting flavors from around the world, from the Caribbean to the heart of Texas. Our goal was to find a handful of distinct approaches that will add versatility to your menu. So the next time you feel the need to add some zing to your healthy meals, try one of these recipes.

10: Fajita Marinade

Want your fajitas to have a little kick? Try this simple marinade to season your chicken before grilling.

Marinade ingredients:


  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 pound chicken tenders

This marinade is about as simple as it gets. Put the chicken tenders in an 11- by 7-inch (27.9-centimeter by 17.8-centimeter) glass baking dish. Combine the lime juice and about half of the minced garlic. Pour the mixture over the chicken, tossing the tenders to coat them evenly. Cover the dish and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

Citrus fruits like limes have acids in them that help break down tissue in meat. The juice acts as a tenderizer while also adding flavor. Don't leave the chicken marinating for too long, or the lime juice will break down too much of the tissue.

Once your chicken is marinated, you can move on to cooking. To make amazing fajitas, try this recipe.


  • 1 cup sliced red bell peppers
  • 1 cup sliced green bell peppers
  • 1 cup sliced yellow bell peppers
  • 3/4 cup onion slices (about 1 medium onion)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 8 teaspoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 8 (6-inch) flour tortillas, warmed

Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Heat it over medium heat until hot. Add the chicken mixture. Cook and stir five to seven minutes or until browned and no longer pink in center. Remove chicken from the skillet. Drain excess liquid from skillet, if necessary.

Add the bell peppers, onion and remaining garlic to the skillet. Cook and stir about five minutes or until tender. Sprinkle with cumin, salt and ground red pepper. Return chicken to skillet. Cook and stir one to two minutes.

Now you're ready to make your fajitas!

9: Barbecue Chicken Marinade

Barbecue chicken has been a favorite of chicken lovers for decades -- with good reason.
Barbecue chicken has been a favorite of chicken lovers for decades -- with good reason.
John E. Kelly/Getty Images

Here is a great formula for a tasty barbecue chicken dish that uses a sherry and dry vermouth marinade. Try to use a sherry suitable for drinking when making the dish -- it'll add a lot of flavor to the finished product. You can use the recipe as a sauce or even to baste if you like. Always be careful with bastes -- this one contains vegetable oil, which is flammable.



  • 1 cup sherry
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Medium onion, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon mixed herbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry vermouth


Combine all ingredients, and marinate the chicken for about three hours before grilling. Grill the chicken until it is cooked through and serve.

8: Teriyaki Marinade

It's an old standby -- the teriyaki marinade. This marinade is versatile and a crowd-pleaser. You can serve your chicken with fresh fruits or vegetables, both go well with the flavors of teriyaki. And best of all, it's simple and quick to put together.

You'll only need four ingredients:


  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Sprinkle of garlic powder


Combine all ingredients, and marinate your chicken for one hour or so. Remember that oranges have citric acid -- so don't allow the chicken to marinate for too long.

After marinating, grill your chicken until it's cooked through. Serve with vegetables like onions or bell peppers or fruits like pineapple. A simple bowl of rice makes an appropriate side dish.

7: Grilled Chicken with Orange Glaze

Grilled chicken makes a great choice for a warm day.
Grilled chicken makes a great choice for a warm day.
Craig Veltri/Getty Images

This grilled chicken recipe makes four servings. If the peppers in the dish are too strong for your tastes, try removing the seeds before crushing them. Remember to wear gloves when preparing peppers to avoid getting any pepper juice on your hands and accidentally transferring it to your eyes or nose.



  • 1 to 2 dried de arbol chilies
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons tequila
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 broiler-fryer chicken (about 3 pounds or 1.4 kilograms), cut into quarters
  • Orange slices (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley (optional)


Begin by crushing the chilies into coarse flakes using a mortar and pestle. Combine crushed chilies, orange juice, tequila, garlic, orange peel and salt in small bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking continuously, until marinade is thoroughly blended.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a shallow glass baking dish. Pour the mixture over the chicken; and turn each piece to coat it in the marinade. Marinate, covered, in refrigerator two to three hours, turning chicken and basting with the marinade several times.

Prepare the grill for cooking. Drain the chicken but reserve the marinade. Bring the marinade to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Boil for two minutes. Grill the chicken on a covered grill for 15 minutes, brushing frequently with marinade. Turn the chicken and grill for 15 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink in the center and juices run clear, brushing frequently with the marinade. Do not baste during last five minutes of grilling. Discard the remaining marinade. Garnish with orange slices and cilantro.

6: Chicken with Peanut-ginger Marinade

This Asian-influenced marinade is sweet, salty and tangy. While it's possible to substitute less expensive or powdered versions of some of the ingredients, the best version uses fresh ingredients. You'll get quite a zing if you're using fresh ginger and orange zest. Freshly-squeezed orange juice rather than the store-bought variety will also help create a superior marinade.



  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes


Mix together the orange juice, orange zest, peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes until the mixture is smooth. Put the chicken in a sealed plastic bag after filling the bag with the mixture. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than eight hours. Bake, roast or grill until chicken is no longer pink in the center and juices run clear when meat is pierced.

5: Spicy Island Chicken

Jerk chicken is a surprisingly healthy approach to spicy food.
Jerk chicken is a surprisingly healthy approach to spicy food.
David Bishop Inc./Getty Images

Look to the Caribbean for a spicy approach to chicken that will wake up your menus. Jerk seasoning originated in Jamaica, and it is used as a traditional accompaniment for grilled pork and chicken. This recipe calls for ingredients used in traditional jerk recipes, but replaces the usual Scotch bonnets with extra-hot habañero and serrano peppers. The marinade tends to burn easily, so cook the chicken slowly on the grill for the best results and most tender chicken. Serve with a mango salsa, black beans and rice.



1 cup finely chopped onion

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

6 green onions, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 habañero or serrano pepper, finely chopped*

4 ½ teaspoons olive oil

4 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1 tablespoon ground allspice

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts

*Habañero and serrano peppers can sting and irritate the skin, so wear rubber gloves when handling peppers -- and make sure you don't touch your eyes.


Combine all ingredients except chicken in medium bowl; mix well. Place chicken in resealable food storage bag and add seasoning mixture. Seal bag; turn to coat chicken. Marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or overnight. Spray cold grid with nonstick cooking spray. Adjust grid to 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) above heat. Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade. Grill 5 to 7 minutes per side or until chicken is no longer pink in center, brushing occasionally with marinade. Do not brush with marinade during last 5 minutes of grilling. Discard remaining marinade.

4: Persian Chicken Breasts

Modern cooks know cinnamon as a common ingredient in cookies, pies, breakfast rolls and other desserts. However, in the Middle East, the spice is used in savory chicken and lamb dishes, as well as soups and sauces. In this recipe, cinnamon adds an exotic, unexpected flavor to grilled chicken. Serve with grilled vegetables and flatbread.



1 medium lemon

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts


Remove lemon peel in long strips with paring knife; reserve for garnish. Juice lemon; combine juice with oil, cinnamon, salt, pepper and turmeric in large heavy-duty resealable food storage bag. Gently knead ingredients in bag to mix thoroughly; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Remove chicken from marinade; gently shake to remove excess. Discard remaining marinade. Grill chicken 5 to 7 minutes per side or until chicken is no longer pink in center.

3: Balsamic Chicken

Balsamic vinegar makes a great chicken marinade.
Balsamic vinegar makes a great chicken marinade.
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Every cook needs a go-to recipe for a savory chicken dish. This recipe uses ingredients found in most pantries: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic. Chopped fresh rosemary adds a Mediterranean flavor. Try roasted potatoes and a green salad to round out this comforting meal. Any leftovers are delicious in salads or sandwiches.



1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


Combine rosemary, garlic, pepper and salt in small bowl; mix well. Place chicken in large bowl; drizzle chicken with oil and rub with spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate several hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius). Spray heavy roasting pan or cast iron skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken in pan; bake 10 minutes. Turn chicken over, stirring in 3 to 4 tablespoons water if drippings begin to stick to pan.

Bake about 10 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and no longer pink in center. If pan is dry, stir in another 1 to 2 tablespoons water to loosen drippings.

Drizzle vinegar over chicken in pan. Transfer chicken to plates. Stir liquid in pan; drizzle over chicken. Garnish, if desired.

2: Japanese Yakitori

In Japan, chicken grilled on a skewer is known as yakitori. This recipe calls for marinating the chicken pieces in a delicate sauce featuring garlic and ginger, then threading chicken onto skewers with pearl onion and small chucks of pineapple. The result? Delicious in any language!



  • 1 pound (453 grams) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch (19-millimeter) wide strips
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 5 ounces (142 grams) red pearl onions
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch (25.4 millimeter) wedges


Place chicken in large resealable food storage bag. Combine sherry, soy sauce, sugar, oil, garlic and ginger in small bowl; mix thoroughly to dissolve sugar. Pour into plastic bag with chicken; seal bag and turn to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, turning occasionally. (If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.)

Meanwhile, place onions in boiling water for 4 minutes; drain and cool in ice water to stop cooking. Cut off root ends and slip off outer skins; set aside.

Drain chicken, reserving marinade. Weave chicken accordion-style onto skewers, alternating onions and pineapple with chicken. Brush with reserved marinade; discard remaining marinade.

Grill on uncovered grill over medium-hot coals for 6 to 8 minutes or until chicken is cooked through, turning once.

1: Simple Lemonade Chicken

This delicious drink can help make an equally delicious chicken dish.
This delicious drink can help make an equally delicious chicken dish.
Andrew Unangst/Getty Images

Who says a marinade can't infuse your chicken with a little fun? This recipe uses frozen lemonade, plus a few other ingredients that you probably have on hand, to add a distinctive flavor to chicken breasts. Paired with a summer squash medley, this chicken is the star of a simple summer meal.

1 can (6 ounces or 170 grams) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed

1/4 cup white wine Worcestershire sauce

6 tablespoons water, divided

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) skinless chicken pieces (breasts, legs, thighs)

1 tablespoon cornstarch


Combine lemonade concentrate, Worcestershire, 2 tablespoons water, vinegar, rosemary and garlic in large resealable food storage bag; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate in refrigerator 1 hour or overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius). Remove chicken; reserve marinade. Place chicken on rack in roasting pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake covered 50 to 55 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center and juices run clear.

Meanwhile, bring reserved marinade to a boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil marinade, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Combine cornstarch and 4 remaining tablespoons water in small bowl; stir until smooth. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into marinade. Cook and stir 3 to 4 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Transfer chicken to serving plate. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and lemon slices, if desired. Serve sauce on the side.

Lots More Information

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