Yogurt Marinade Is The Secret To Extra Juicy Chicken

Marinating meats such as chicken is an easy way to add extra flavor, as well as making the meat more tender and juicy. Marinades vary when it comes to their exact ingredients, but an acidic component is usually included to help tenderize the meat. A basic marinade recipe might include citrus juice, vinegar, or wine, in addition to a fat like oil and additional seasonings. To add both acidity and richness in one sweep, try using tart yogurt as the acid in a chicken marinade.

Yogurt, used traditionally in world cuisines including Greek, North African, and Indian food, makes for a surprisingly delicious marinade. It has a refreshing tart flavor that is still mild enough to carry the taste of other ingredients, such as the spices in Indian tandoori chicken. Yogurt also contains lactic acid and calcium, which work to gently but effectively tenderize chicken, creating a juicier result once it's cooked.

The lactic acid in yogurt works slightly differently compared to the acids in citrus, wine, or vinegar. Lactic acid is more gentle, which means that the meat can be marinated for longer without turning mushy. And the lactic acid also tends to penetrate the meat better to deliver extra flavor. When used in dishes from grilled chicken skewers to sweet chili chicken lollipops, a yogurt marinade helps to make your chicken extra-juicy and delicious.

Why yogurt might be the best choice for your marinade

Marinades often include acids because they help to break down the protein structure in meats such as chicken. But because of the strength and low pH of acids such as citrus, they also act quickly, within just a few hours. If they are left in contact with the meat for a longer period, such as overnight, then the meat can start to turn mushy, or even become tough. 

The lactic acid in yogurt, however, is much more gentle, with a higher pH. It also helps the chicken to absorb more liquid while marinating while losing less of its weight (i.e. its juices) during the cooking process, resulting in a juicier texture and better flavor absorption overall. This is why you'll see yogurt included in many spice-heavy marinade recipes that are meant to deliver a real kick of flavor.

Yogurt is also much less likely to cause an unpleasantly mushy or tough, rubbery texture if the meat marinades for a longer time. You can even leave meat in a yogurt-based marinade for up to 12 hours. This means you can prep your chicken much further ahead, without needing to worry about strong acids negatively affecting the texture. And more time marinating means more chance for the marinade itself to impart extra flavor to the meat.

How to use yogurt in marinades

Yogurt, which has a naturally milder flavor than sour citrus or vinegar, delivers a pleasing creamy taste when used to marinate meats, and the sugars in the yogurt add a little natural sweetness. A bit of extra sugar also helps to promote browning as the meat cooks, creating desirable crust. Whole-milk, plain, natural yogurt works best for marinades, as it's more flavorful and effective than fat-free yogurt. Greek-style yogurt works well, though it might need thinning out with water, stock, oil, or juice if it's too thick to spread evenly across the meat.

Yogurt is exceptionally versatile when it comes to pairing with other flavors, from garlic to fragrant herbs such as oregano and thyme to bold spices such as paprika, cayenne, chili, cumin, or a tandoori-style blend. For the marinade to have the most impact, try marinating your meat of choice — such as chicken breasts or thighs — in a resealable plastic bag, so that all of the meat's surface area is in contact with the yogurt. Play around with different herb and spice mixes and it's likely that you'll always be pleased. And don't worry about leaving the meat marinating while you get on with your day, or overnight as you sleep. With yogurt, you're guaranteed a juicy result with less risk compared to other marinades.