How long to marinate chicken in soy sauce?

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “How long to marinate chicken in soy sauce?”, discuss answers to other related questions like how do marinades work, and do you rinse off the marinade before cooking chicken.

How long to marinate chicken in soy sauce?

Chicken can be marinated for a minimum of 4 hours to a maximum of 12 hours. Once you have marinated the chicken, the richness of the flavor of chicken due to the marinade will start increasing every minute. 

The chicken should not be left in the marinade for more than 12 hours. Otherwise, you will end up having a dry, tough, and poor texture of the chicken.

The time limit to marinate chicken also depends on the cut of the chicken that you are going to marinate. To have a brief idea of this, read through the following table:

          Chicken (cut)                Time limit
Whole chicken4 to 12 hours 
Boneless, skinless breasts30 minutes to 2 hours
Bone-in, skin-on breasts1 to 4 hours 
Skinless thighs (bone-in)1 to 4 hours
Wings (skin-on)2 to 6 hours 
Legs (skin-on)2 to 6 hours

What marinades do?

Marinades are meant to tenderize the meat and add flavor and moisture to the meat. These functions of marinades are based on the type of marinade that you are going to use. In general, the marinades are classified into 2 types depending on the purpose they serve:

Acidic marinades

Acidic marinades are based on mild acids like vinegar, apple juice, or wine. These marinades serve their purpose by attacking and denaturing the proteins of chicken, causing them to form a microscopic mesh that traps moisture in the meat.

Enzymatic marinades

Enzymatic marinades are based on things like pineapple, guava, or ginger. The fluid of these marinades breaks down the connective tissue and muscle fiber of the chicken, thereby tenderizing the meat as they do so.

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How do marinades work?

Marinades work by increasing the flavor of the chicken or meat from its surface or the inside of the meat. The thing whether the marinade will flavor the meat surface or its inside depends on the ingredients that are using in making that marinade.

Flavoring the surface

If you have prepared a marinade out of ginger, honey, and soy sauce, the ginger and honey remain on the outside of the meat, but the salt in the soy sauce can penetrate a bit deeper into the interior.

Flavoring the surface of the meat with the marinade is a technique that works well with thinner, flat cuts or pieces of meat that have been cut into cubes or slices.

Flavor absorbing inside

The meat absorbs the flavor of the marinade to its inside by osmosis. During osmosis, salt first draws out the liquid from the meat; then the brine is reabsorbed into the meat while breaking down muscle structures. 

The brine draws water-soluble flavors further down below the surface into the cut, like onions and garlic. 

Oils are also used to transfer fat-soluble flavors from the seasonings like herbs, chilis, and some spices onto the surface of the meat.

Do you rinse off the marinade before cooking chicken?

It is better to rinse off the marinade before cooking chicken. Because rinsing marinade helps you to prevent flare-ups on the grill and ensure properly browned meat when sautéing or stir-frying.

Therefore, you need to make sure to wipe off most of the excess marinade before cooking. You can keep just a little marinade on the meat surface to maximize flavor.

Recipe for soy sauce marinated chicken 


4 garlic cloves, crushed

1-2 inch piece ginger, crushed

½ cup fresh citrus juice

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tbsp plus 2 tsp distilled white vinegar

2 tbsp sugar

5-6 chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)

Kosher salt (to taste)

Black pepper (to taste)


  1. In a bowl, combine garlic, ginger, citrus juice, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
  2. Add the chicken thighs in a large plastic resealable bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator. Allow the chicken to marinate for 1 to 4 hours.
  3. Once marinated, heat the oven to 425 degrees.
  4. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and remove the chicken from the bag; discard the marinade.
  5. Pat dry each piece of chicken with a paper towel.

Drying the chicken is really important because there is sugar in the marinade that may cause the chicken to burn.

  1. Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.


In this brief guide, we answered the question “How long to marinate chicken in soy sauce?”, discussed answers to other related questions like how do marinades work, and do you rinse off the marinade before cooking chicken.