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Lemon soy chicken is about to be your new go-to grilled chicken marinade. This simple, 4 ingredient citrus soy marinade creates a seriously flavor packed, delicious grilled chicken. No grill? Check out the oven instructions instead!
I’m gonna make a claim that may sound crazy to you, but I swear it’s true. This is the best, most delicious, super easy grilled chicken you will ever have. Seriously.
Honestly, this ridiculously easy lemon soy chicken is at every family party, every summer cookout, and whenever I happen to have the ingredients handy. Which is often considering its only 4 ingredients. Literally everyone in my family requests this, and complain when it doesn’t appear on the menu. It’s one of those lick your fingers, empty the platter, always make extra for leftovers recipe.
It’s been in my family as long as I can remember, sooo I felt that it was just about time to share it! Give it a try and I’m convinced it will become a family favorite of yours as well.
What’s A Marinade, Really?
The secret to this fabulously easy grilled chicken is the simplest, 4 ingredient marinade. Soy sauce, white vinegar, lemon, and onion. That’s it. As simple as it is, each of them is a key ingredient in the success of the marinade.
Marinades are simply acidic liquids used to impart flavor into the meat soaking in it. Historically, during Renaissance times, they were used slow down the spoilage of meat. Nowadays, we use them primarily for flavor, but they can also improve moisture and tenderness.
Often composed of acid, salt, aromatics, and occasionally sugar, a marinade is designed to infuse the surface with flavor. When cooked those flavors caramelize and create an amazing layer of finger licking goodness. In this particular marinade, the high levels of acid and salt help break down the meat just enough to increase the chance at moist juicy grilled chicken.
That being said, letting a marinade sit for too long can sometimes result in a stringy, unpleasant texture (that acid is no joke!) As such, I generally avoid marinating my chicken for longer than a day, for this lemon soy chicken, 3 hours is my golden window.
- Soy Sauce – a salty, fermented soy bean sauce we all know and love. I use the Kikkoman soy sauce you find commonly at most grocers.
- White Vinegar – There are TONS of types of vinegar that come from fruits, wine, ciders etc. In this recipe you want white vinegar, which is made from pure alcohol without aging or added flavors. It makes it the ideal choice to add some tang and acidity without overpowering the other ingredients.
- Lemon – Yup, another acidity, this time with big flavor. Any lemons will do, thought I generally avoid meyer lemons for this. They’re more expensive and have a sweetness that’s better in recipes that highlight it, rather than this one which benefits more from big, tart lemon flavor.
- Onions – Out of the literally hundreds of onion varieties available to us, I recommend using your favorite supermarket storage onion (not a fresh spring onion, but rather a red, yellow, or white one.) I like red onion for this personally. I’d avoid sweet onions, and save those instead for my Crock Pot Pineapple Pork.
Making Lemon Soy Chicken Marinade
Whipping up this super easy grilled chicken marinade is well…easy. The quanities given are enough for 1 whole chicken broken down, or 8 pieces of chicken.
- Start by combining the soy sauce and vinegar in a VERY large bowl. You can even use a pot, as long as it’s made of a metal that won’t react with the acids (don’t use cast iron or aluminum). You need enough space for the increased volume as you add lemons, onions, and chicken.
- Chop the onions into large chunks, no need to dice, just thick slices will do. This allows the acid to break down the onion too, and infuse the marinade with its flavor.
- Cut each lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the marinade, then just toss the squeezed halves in as well.
- Add the chicken, cover the bowl and chill for 3 hours up to 1 day. I like to go in and flip the chicken about halfway to make sure it all gets a nice bath.
Pro Tip: Feel free to increase the marinade for parties or larger cooking batches, just remember the simple ratio of 2:3 vinegar to soy sauce. For every 3 cups of soy sauce, you’ll need 2 of vinegar. That’s the typical amount I use for my 8 chicken pieces, and for that I use 2 whole lemons, and one whole large onion.
Cooking Lemon Soy Chicken
Cooking this marinated chicken on a grill results in the most gorgeous, caramelized surface that is really incomparable to any other cooking method. HOWEVER, if you can’t/don’t grill, use the oven, it’s still delicious and completely worth it.
- Heat your grill to sustain a temperature of about 375°F. Our charcoal grill hovers between 350° and 400°F and we’ve never had an issue cooking this chicken. Check out this guide to knowing grill temperature without a thermometer if you don’t have one.
- While your grill is heating, take your marinating chicken out of the fridge and allow it to come closer to room temperature.
- When your grill is up to temp, place chicken over direct heat, skin side down. Allow to sear and caramelize for about 5 minutes.
- when the skin is crispy, move the chicken to indirect heat and allow to cook for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, flipping it twice, until the internal temperature is 160°F. (the chicken will come up to 165°F as it rests, I promise)
- Remove from grill and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve!
- Start by preheating the oven to 350°F. Then place an oven safe pan like cast iron or stainless steel over medium high heat on the stove.
- When your pan is hot, add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and sear the chicken on each side until the skin is brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Transfer to a 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes or until 160°F. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes then serve.
Pro Tip: Regardless of your cooking method, I recommend THIS Instant Read Thermometer and I love it. Works quickly, is waterproof and I can use it in my kitchen or over the grill.
Absolutely! I’ve used boneless skinless breasts and thighs on numerous occasions. While the skin adds a lovely richness and flavor, it’s not mandatory. Go with bone in, bonless, skin on, or skinless, whatever suits your tastes.
Be aware that without the skin to crisp, cooking over direct heat won’t have the same effect. For any chicken you cook, it is entirely possible to cook it over indirect heat the entire time. Simply allow for an extra 5-10 minutes of cook time.
Not without extra steps. While there is a lot of acid that would very likely kill bacteria, I’ll never advise consuming something that has come into contact with raw chicken.
If you’re determined to use it, add it to a large pan and bring it to a rolling, violent boil (at least 165°F). Then cool and use as desired. Or, just remove half a cup or so before adding your chicken in the first place and set that aside for use!
Eat & Enjoy!
I hope you enjoy this family favorite. A simple 4 ingredient marinade, a bit of time, and a hot grill is all you need to prepare the best grilled chicken for your next cookout. I promise, it’ll be a hit. I’d love to hear what you think, and as always, Happy Eating!
If you’re wondering what to serve alongside it, check out these recipes!
- Great Grandma’s Potato Salad
- Avocado Corn Salad with Roasted Red Pepper
- Garlic Bread Rolls
- Cornbread Muffins with Fresh Corn
- 3 cups soy sauce
- 2 cups white distilled vinegar
- 2 medium lemons
- 1 large red onion*
- 8 pieces skin on chicken*
- Combine soy sauce and vinegar in a large bowl. Chop onion into large chunks and add to liquid.
- Slice lemons in half and squeeze into liquids. Then add lemon halves into the liquid as well.
Gently add chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, up to 1 day, turning the chicken at least once in the marinade.
- Remove the marinating chicken and allow to come up to room temperature as you heat your grill. Heat grill to 375°F. (Can hold your hand above it, 5 inches away, for no longer than 5 seconds).
- Remove chicken from marinade and place skin side down over direct for 5 minutes or until skin is crispy.
Move to indirect heat and cook for 25 to 30 more minutes until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 160°F. Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Enjoy!
Oven Baked Instructions
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Place an oven safe pan over medium high heat and pull chicken from fridge.
- When pan is hot, add a tablespoon of oil. Remove chicken from marinade and place skin side down in pan. Let the chicken sear until crispy on both sides, 4 minutes per side.
- Transfer to oven and baked 25-30 minutes or until chicken is 160°F. Allow to rest 5 minutes or so, then enjoy!
Nutrition information and cooking times are provided as a best estimate. Values may vary based upon ingredients and equipment.