This 4 ingredient chicken marinade has an amazing sweet, tangy, spicy kick with so little effort but big flavor. With Asian inspired flavors, this no-soy sauce (low-sodium) recipe mixes up in less than five minutes, but tastes like you spent hours! Grill, stir-fry, sauté or bake your chicken – this marinade works with any cooking method.
Be sure to check out more of my easy gluten-free sauces, dressings and marinades, including my orange marinade for chicken, sesame teriyaki sauce and spicy cashew dressing.
Which Type of Chicken?
This marinade can work with any cut of chicken. Whether you prefer thighs, wings, drumsticks or breasts, skin-on or skinless, bone-in or boneless, this marinade adds excellent flavor. The only difference is that skinless chicken can marinate for just 30 minutes and absorb some flavor. But skin-on chicken should marinate overnight to allow the flavors to get to the meat.
Can you cook the chicken in the marinade? – Yes, you definitely can cook the chicken in the marinade if baking, roasting or cooking it on the stovetop. But my preference is to pat the chicken dry so that it browns better while cooking. Then brush on once the chicken had browned. And as always, discard the marinade that the raw chicken soaked in if not cooking it. It is not safe to eat unless cooked.
Can you brush marinade on the chicken while grilling or baking? – Yes, but do not use the marinade that the raw chicken was in. It is not safe unless cooked to the proper temperature. The safest method is to make double the recipe and set aside half to brush on.
How to Make a Simple Chicken Marinade
To make a delicious yet simple chicken marinade, a combination of sweet, tangy, spicy and a hint of bitter is the key. Then add an oil to give it a base. About 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of chicken works well.
- Choose a sweet ingredient like honey, agave maple syrup, fruit juices or sugar.
- Pick a sour ingredient like lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar
- Add a bitter ingredient like onion, olive oil, coffee or beer.
- Add something with a little kick to wake up all the other flavors even if you avoid spicy food. Use just a pinch of cayenne pepper, some sesame-chili oil or a few drops of hot. If you like spicy add more!
- Optional – Add a salty ingredient to the marinade like soy sauce or leave it out and add a sprinkle of salt to the the meat right before cooking.
I almost always add salt to anything I cook, but I prefer to salt marinated meats right before cooking. So this marinade does not contain any salt or salty ingredients. If you follow a low-sodium diet, you can easily control exactly how much salt goes on the chicken. You’ll sprinkle a light coating of salt on both sides of the chicken before grilling, baking or stir-frying.
The spicy ingredient is sesame chili oil which has an intoxicating aroma. The little bit of spice it adds, brings the marinade flavor to another level. Sesame chili oil can be found in the Asian foods section of most grocery stores. There is a pretty good spicy kick in this oil. I consider it to be medium spicy, so if you don’t want any heat in your marinade, replace it with plain, toasted sesame oil.
Rice vinegar is the vinegar of choice in most Asian cooking and adds the tangy element to the marinade. If you don’t have rice vinegar, white balsamic or apple cider vinegar will be good substitutes,
The sweet in this marinade is coconut palm sugar – my favorite sweetener. It has a caramel-like flavor and is less processed than most sweeteners. Coconut sugar is not made from actual coconuts – it comes from the nectar of the flower on coconut trees. I highly recommend trying it. Use brown sugar, maple syrup or agave instead if you prefer.
Finally, a slightly bitter ingredient will round out the flavor profile. Onion powder (or granulated onion) is the perfect, fast, easy way to get onion flavor into a sauce or marinade.
How to Marinate Chicken
Here is the best way to marinate chicken:
- Place the marinade ingredients in a zip top bag, seal and shake.
- Add the chicken, press the air out of the bag and seal. The airtight bag assures that the chicken will be submerged in the marinade.
- Massage the bag to be sure that the chicken is completely coated with the marinade.
- Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or as long as 48 hours. If using skin-on chicken, marinate overnight to allow the flavors to absorb under the skin.
- When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the bag, discard the remaining marinade and pat the chicken dry. Patting the chicken dry allow for it to brown better.
- Sprinkle a coating of salt on both sides of the chicken and cook using your favorite method.
4 Ingredient Chicken Marinade in 5 Minutes
- 3 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp sesame chili oil or plain, toasted sesame oil for no spicy heat
- 2 Tbsp coconut palm sugar agave or brown sugar can be used too
- ½ tsp onion powder
- Notes: This is enough marinade for 1/2-1 pound of chicken.This marinade does not contain salt or a salty ingredient, I prefer to salt my chicken directly before before cooking.Optional – Make double the recipe and set aside half to brush on the chicken immediately after cooking or to use as a dipping sauce. DO NOT re-use the marinade that the raw chicken was in.
- Place all of the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk until combined.
- The best way to marinate chicken is to place it in a zip top bag with the marinade. Press all the air out of the bag and spread the liquid around so that all of the chicken is coated.
- Refrigerate on a plate or in a bowl for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight,
- To prepare the chicken for cooking:Remove the chicken from the bag and place on a plate or tray. Pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with a light coating of salt and let sit 5 minutes. Grill, bake, roast, stir-fry or cook any way you please.
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