Mayo Is The Secret Ingredient You Should Be Marinating Chicken In

Most people use their mayonnaise exclusively for its intended purpose. There's no denying it makes for a tasty addition to a sandwich, but the condiment has plenty of other uses beyond that. If you add it to cake batter, for example, your cake will be perfectly moist, and you can even slather it on potatoes so they'll turn out extra crispy. Mayonnaise is also just as useful in chicken dishes because of how well it works as a marinade.


Chicken marinades typically do three things: they lock in moisture, add flavor, and if they include an acidic ingredient, they also tenderize the meat. Though you probably wouldn't consider it a marinade, mayonnaise checks off all these boxes. It's high in fat and therefore effective at keeping chicken moist. Vinegar is also one of the main components in mayo and acts as an acidic tenderizer. On top of that, it's also a natural flavor enhancer, ultimately making it an ideal chicken marinade.

The magic of mayo

The distinct taste you normally associate with mayonnaise isn't what makes it a flavorful chicken marinade. Instead, mayonnaise has some unique properties that make it perfect for the job. First, certain ingredients, like onions, garlic, and many herbs and spices, will release more of their flavors when added to a mayo-based marinade. That's because they're fat soluble, and mayonnaise is fatty. It works similarly to when you toast spices in oil, or sauté onions and garlic in butter. But unlike other sources of fat, like oil or butter, mayonnaise can function as a marinade because it's actually thick enough to stay on the meat.


When it's time to cook your marinated chicken, the mayonnaise continues to add even more flavor. Oil, vinegar, and eggs, the main components of mayonnaise, contain all the necessary elements to produce the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction occurs when protein and sugar combine and come in contact with heat. This results not only in a sear but a richer, savory flavor.

The best way to marinate chicken with mayo

Since mayonnaise does such a good job of sticking to meat, you don't need to fully submerge it as you would with a more liquid marinade. Instead, use just enough mayonnaise to brush on a moderately thick layer of it on every side, or about a ¼ cup per two chicken breasts. You can marinate chicken with either homemade or store-bought mayonnaise, just make sure it isn't the fat-free kind, because if you plan to add fat-soluble seasoning, the fat is necessary for the added flavor.


Avoid using vegan mayonnaise too. While it may be fine for a sandwich, it doesn't work quite as well as a marinade because it's made up of ingredients like plant-based milk and oil and usually lacks vinegar and fat. Without these key ingredients, it'll still add moisture, but you'll be missing the added flavor and tenderizing element that make mayo such an effective marinade.