Grilled Chicken Marinade

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4

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This Grilled Chicken Marinade is easy to make and adds a ton of flavor to chicken breasts or thighs! Freezer friendly and perfect for roasted or pan fried chicken as well.

grilled chicken with marinade on white plate overhead

If you’ve been searching for the perfect Grilled Chicken Marinade I’m happy to tell you that you don’t have to look any further!

In fact, I bet this sweet and tangy sauce will become your go-to recipe whenever your family is in the mood for grilled chicken. (And if you need something to serve with it, check out this Easy Potato Salad Recipe or this Creamy Ranch Bowtie Pasta Salad)

Made from only a handful of ingredients, this recipe makes a marinade that will transform chicken breasts or thighs into a memorable meal for the whole family in just a short amount of time.

In fact, this easy Chicken Marinade is part of my new SIX Ingredient Summer series — the same 6 ingredient recipes we all love, with a summery twist!

grilled chicken breast sliced on plate

The chicken marinade gets its signature flavor from a combination of balsamic vinegar, ketchup, honey, brown sugar — in other words, ingredients you probably already have in the pantry.

The fact that my family gets excited every time I make this recipe for dinner is proof this recipe is a winner!

Sometimes I’ll double the recipe and freeze chicken breasts directly in the marinade for quick weekday meals. You wouldn’t believe how tender this makes the chicken once it’s been cooked!

I’ve given instructions for using this marinade with baked and pan-fried chicken breasts — which means you can make this recipe any time of the year with or without a grill.

If you enjoy this Grilled Chicken Marinade check out some of my other delicious homemade BBQ sauces!

Try out these recipes for Easy Homemade Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce and Easy Homemade Cherry BBQ Sauce the next time you’re thinking of grilling — you might be surprised at the difference a homemade sauce can make! 

Try this delicious Pork Tenderloin Marinade next!

What is the best chicken to use with this marinade?

  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts are my first choice when I make this recipe. I find that the marinade adds tons of tangy flavor while keeping the chicken moist and tender. I also like the fact that chicken breasts are a nutritious, lean source of protein that my whole family enjoys. 
  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs will work well with this marinade and they’re also an economical alternative to chicken breasts. With a slightly higher fat content than chicken breasts, chicken thighs are extra-flavorful and juicy by nature.
  • Bone-in skinless chicken breasts are another delicious pairing for this marinade! To grill bone-in chicken breast, the total grilling time will need to be increased on either side (bone-in chicken doesn’t radiate heat as efficiently as boneless breasts) — please use a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken breasts are cooked through before consuming!
  • This marinade can also be used with chicken wings, drumsticks, and skin-on chicken breasts and thighs.
grilled chicken marinade on plate close up
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How long should I marinate chicken?

For best results, I like to marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Although it’s technically considered food safe to marinate chicken for up to 24 hours, the acid in the marinade — in this case the balsamic vinegar and ketchup — will cause the texture of the chicken to deteriorate. In other words, your chicken will turn out stringy and tough (or even worse, mushy).  

How to freeze chicken in marinade:

Freezing chicken in marinade means you’ll have juicy, flavor-packed chicken breasts on hand for future meals — all you’ll need is a side to complete the meal! As a safety precaution, I would advise against using chicken that has been previously frozen and thawed. 

  1. Spoon half of the marinade into a resealable freezer bag — since half of the marinade in this recipe is reserved for the glaze, you can reserve the extra marinade in a separate container to make the glaze, or you can prep two servings of chicken for the freezer.
  2. Add the chicken to the bag.
  3. Rub the marinade into the chicken.
  4. Seal and freeze for up to 9 months.
  5. To thaw frozen marinated chicken: remove chicken from the freezer and let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using. 

Variations on grilled chicken marinade:

  • Try an Asian-inspired version of this marinade by using hoisin sauce in place of the ketchup, soy sauce instead of balsamic vinegar, and sesame oil as a substitute for the olive oil. Sprinkle the finished grilled chicken with sesame seeds before serving.  
  • Love Tex-Mex? Make your own south-of-the-border marinade by substituting ¼ cup of lime juice for the balsamic vinegar and bottled chili sauce for the ketchup. Add ½ teaspoon ground cumin and a pinch of dried chili flakes to the marinade if desired. 
  • If your family is a fan of spicy flavors you can add your favorite hot sauce to the marinade. Begin with a small amount, tasting as you go, until the marinade has just the right amount of kick to it. 
grilled chicken sliced on plate with salad

Can I use this chicken marinade to bake or pan fry chicken?

With a few modifications this chicken marinade can successfully go from the grill to the oven or stovetop.

To bake chicken with marinade:

  1. Marinate the chicken as directed, reserving half.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray.
  4. Transfer chicken breasts to the prepared baking tray, discarding used marinade.
  5. Bake chicken breasts for 20 minutes (or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the thickest part of the breast — the cook time will depend greatly on the size of your chicken breasts!). 
  6. Thicken marinade according to recipe directions and serve with baked chicken breasts.

To pan fry chicken with marinade:

  1. Marinate the chicken as directed, reserving half.
  2. Remove chicken from the marinade and discard used marinade.
  3. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Alternately, spray a regular skillet with non-stick spray to coat.
  4. Add chicken breasts to the hot skillet and pan fry, covered, for 5 minutes per side.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining marinade to the pan with the chicken breasts.
  6. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, coating the chicken with the marinade until it begins to thicken.
  7. Serve chicken with thickened sauce on the side.

If you’re in the mood for chicken but are looking for more of a hands-off approach, you can also try making my Instant Pot BBQ Chicken using boneless skinless chicken breasts. The chicken will shred apart when cooked in a pressure cooker but you’ll get a similar sweet and tangy flavor from the barbecue sauce. 

Try these other recipes in my Six Ingredients Supper series:

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Grilled Chicken Marinade

5 from 4 votes
This is my very best Chicken Marinade recipe! It's sweet, tangy, and is the most foolproof way to ensure your chicken is tender and juicy. The best part is how the marinade thickens into the most mouthwatering sticky sauce.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Cuisine American
Course Main Course
Servings 4
Calories 350cal


  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup liquid honey
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1.5lbs)


  • Combine all marinade ingredients (vinegar through pepper) in a large liquid measuring cup or bowl.
  • Place chicken breasts in a large ziploc freezer bag or medium container. Pour half of the marinade onto the chicken, seal and turn to coat. Reserve remaining marinade in the fridge, covered.
  • Marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.
  • Preheat the grill to medium-high heat, about 400 degrees. Lightly grease the grill.
  • Meanwhile, add remaining marinade to a small pot and cook over medium heat on the stove top, until slightly thickened. (*This step is optional but a great accompaniment to the finished chicken)
  • When grill is hot, add chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes per side (you may want to lift or turn more than once to prevent sticking), until the breasts reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F in the thickest part.
  • Let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Serve with thickened glaze if desired.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 350cal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 468mg | Potassium: 534mg | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 137IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 26mg | Iron: 1mg
Keywords chicken marinade, grilled chicken

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Meet Ashley

My name is Ashley Fehr and I love creating easy meals my family loves. I also like to do things my way, which means improvising and breaking the rules when necessary. Here you will find creative twists on old favorites and some of my favorite family recipes, passed down from generations!

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  1. Judith Romaine says

    We loved this. Next time, I will double the marinade to have more to reduce to the glaze. Just loved the glaze.

  2. Jenn says

    This marinade is fantastic!! Love that it can easily be whipped up with what I already have on hand – which is a must for our busy schedules. Thanks!

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