This may be the easiest, tastiest, and most versatile marinade you’ve ever tried, and all you need is equal parts of three basic ingredients. (Video included!)
This is perhaps the easiest marinade ever. Even better, this recipe demonstrates how three basic ingredients can be the foundation for a multitude of meals that are doable enough for weeknight dinners yet entirely worthy of company.
After enjoying the most delicious grilled chicken at our friend Dorothy’s house years ago, I asked her what she put in the marinade that made the chicken taste so good.
I was expecting a long list of hard-to-find ingredients.
Her reply? “It’s easy. Just remember ‘a third, a third, a third.'”
There was no need to write anything down.
The recipe, which tasted like a complex combination of Asian ingredients, was simply equal parts lemon juice, olive oil, and soy sauce.
Over the years, this marinade has proven to be as versatile as it is easy. I have used it innumerable times for grilled vegetables, seafood, and pork as well as the chicken that initially wowed us. (For those who are interested, Donovan and I made a quick video.↓↓)
Over the years, I have also passed along Dorothy’s culinary masterpiece to countless new fans who are consistently delighted by its flavor and amazed by its simplicity. (Full disclosure, Dorothy recently told me that her sister, Martha, was the original source of the recipe all those years ago.)
Most recently, my father, who dare I say never mixed up a marinade before, started preparing this recipe.
And prior to a family dinner where I planned to serve “a third-a third-a third” salmon, my sister-in-law, Melissa, suggested a subtle sesame flavor might compliment the fish. Indeed, a small addition of sesame oil enhances the Asian flavor, and this variation has become a regular in the rotation.⇩⇩
How much marinade do I need?
As a general rule, plan on ½ cup liquid for every pound of meat. When I grill four chicken breasts, I often use ¼ cup of each, which is more than enough to marinate them in a bowl or zip-top bag.
How long should I marinate chicken?
I like to marinate chicken for at least a few hours and up to all day. I’ve also allowed chicken to steep in this mixture overnight many times with great results.
If you occasionally notice areas of the chicken that appear cooked after extended marinating, do not worry. Acidic ingredients, like lemon juice, can cause this, but you should still have very good results if you simply cook the chicken to temperature, as usual.
How long should I marinate seafood?
I generally marinate shrimp, salmon, tuna, and other fish for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours.
What about vegetables?
Vegetables should be allowed to steep for at least 30 minutes, if possible, and up to several hours.
Do I need to baste when grilling?
With this recipe, I usually don’t bother, but my husband does when he’s at the grill. If you do, you may notice the flavor of the finished chicken (or vegetables and other meats) is a touch bolder.
More ways to enjoy this easy marinade:
- Prepare a little extra marinade to steep onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, and/or mushrooms and grill them alongside the meat for a low-effort way to create a complete meal.
- For a hearty, super easy side dish, marinate and grill whole portobello mushrooms. Simply scrape out the gills with a spoon before placing in the marinade.
- For a mouthwateringly “meaty” veggie burger, serve the grilled portobellos in a bun and top with sliced avocado, tomato, lettuce, and slivered onion. I also make an Avocado Lime Sauce (or Sriracha Mayo; see recipe notes of linked post) that tops off this hearty sandwich beautifully.
- For another filling plant-based option and a great way to repurpose leftovers, grill extra of your favorite vegetables and create a Grilled “Veggiewich” with your favorite pesto and cheese. Tip: Cutting the zucchini, eggplant, etc., in thick strips instead of rounds makes them less likely to slip through the grill grates and creates perfect pieces for layering in a sandwich.
- My mother-in-law uses the leftover chicken to boost the flavor and make quick work of her standard chicken salad as well as this seasonal Summer Breeze Chicken Salad (one of my personal favorites).
If you happen to create your own spin-off recipe, I would love to hear about it!
Simply follow the basic formula: use equal parts of each of the three ingredients, adding one tablespoon of sesame oil per cup of marinade if choosing the sesame variation.
- ⅓ cup (80ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ⅓ cup (75ml) olive oil
- ⅓ cup (80ml) soy sauce (use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari, as needed)
- Optional: 1 tablespoon sesame oil (I use this when grilling salmon or tuna steaks)
Mix all ingredients together and use as a marinade for chicken, salmon, tuna, pork, flank steak, and/or your favorite vegetables for grilling. Simply make any quantity needed based on the amount of food to be grilled. As a general rule, plan on about ½ cup of marinade for every pound of meat.
Prior to grilling, allow chicken, pork, and steak to marinate in the refrigerator for at least several hours and up to all day. Seafood and vegetables are best soaked for at least 20-30 minutes but not more than two hours. Occasionally flipping the bag (or turning over the items in the bowl, if using) will redistribute the liquid throughout the items being marinated.
I have tried this recipe using lime juice instead of the lemon juice. Lemon juice is my preference, although lime could be substituted if that is what you have on hand.
Recipe first posted August 2013
Photos from meals gone by…
Have leftover chicken? It’s delicious as is, and it also makes an extra flavorful chicken salad, like this Summer Breeze Chicken Salad.
Just wondering if a “copy it” is available for the breading/batter recipe mix for POPEYES’ spicy chicken sandwich.
Hi Sandy, I don’t have a recipe for that, but perhaps someone else will see this and weigh in.
Ann, this is the second marinate of yours I’ve tried and it’s also wonderful! (Sweet and sour sauce was the first) We used it with grilled chicken on Saturday and it got rave reviews, just as you suggested. Thanks for sharing this delicious, yet so easy recipe! I’m about to try your leafy green pesto next…it will be a real stretch for my hubby.
Hi Mary, I’m so glad you are two for two and am wishing you luck with the pesto! I anxiously await feedback and have my fingers crossed that your husband will enjoy!
I made the marinade but have some left over because I am only cooking two chicken breasts. Can unused marinade be stored for another time? In the fridge? Freezer?
Yes, Donna, the marinade will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. If the olive oil separates and firms up, just let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes and then stir to incorporate. I haven’t frozen it before, so I’m not sure how that would turn out. If you happen to try, please report back!
Could I Use this method with baby back ribs?
That’s a great question, Sheri. As many times as I’ve used this marinade and prepared ribs, I’ve never used this marinade on ribs. I think the outright flavor would be delicious. My only question is whether I would like a traditional barbecue sauce used with it. Perhaps something with an Asian twist, like a Korean barbecue sauce? If you try, I’d love to know what you think!
It was delicious and we started the ribs in the oven and then went out to the grill
And then we used roasted garlic and Sriracha barbecue sauce from Trader Joe’s it was so delicious my new all-time marinade thank you so very much
I am so happy to read this, Sheri…and now mildly hungry, too! Your ribs sound divine and I’m delighted the marinade worked so well.
Would this work for cooking methods other than grilling, like on a sheet pan in the over or an instapot?
Hi Jessica, I think my first choice after the grill might be to pan sear, and then I’d try baking it in the oven. My concern with the Instant Pot is what liquid to cook it in. I’m afraid if you cooked it in the marinade under high pressure the flavors would overpower. If you try, I’d love to know how you make out!
I used this last night on chicken thighs, and onion wedges and squash spears. I used Meyer Lemon EVOO and added some lemon zest. It was a hit.
I’m delighted! Thanks for the feedback!
Being an Olio fan, I am trying this with their Meyer Lemon EVOO and the zest of one of the lemons.
Oh, I bet that will be wonderful, Carol! Feel free to report back.
The 1/3, 1/3,1/3 ratio of Oil, Sour, and Salty is indeed perfect.
Fold in a teaspoon Za’atar and Lo! One has a marinade for shish kabob.
The addition of Za’atar sounds fantastic, Gil. Thanks for mentioning!