How to Marinate BBQ Chicken Thighs & Legs

by Viola Horne

The delicious sights, sounds and smells from barbecuing chicken are rivaled only by the mouth-watering taste of tender meat smoked and seasoned with a robust marinade and sauce. By removing the skin from legs and thighs, the marinade can penetrate deep into the meat, infusing it with flavor and preventing the loss of succulent juices. Marinades with acidic ingredients, such as citrus juice, vinegar or wine, help break down the tissue in the poultry and produce a more tender piece of barbecue.

Cut the skin away from the bone using kitchen shears or a sharp knife. On thighs, a thin membrane holds the skin in place and skin can pulled off easily. On legs, the skin is attached to the bone at the smaller end of the drumstick. Discard the skin and rinse any visible fat from the meat.

Place the legs and thighs in the plastic bag and add 1/2 cup of marinade per 1 pound of chicken. Zip the bag closed, pressing out as much air as possible. Shake or turn the bag so the marinade coats the chicken.

Lay the bag flat on a shelf in the refrigerator and leave it there for 30 minutes or longer, turning once halfway through. Legs and thighs can be marinated for up to four hours.

Remove the chicken from the bag when it's time to cook it. Throw out the marinade.

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Items you will need

  • Kitchen shears or sharp knife
  • Gallon-size sealable plastic bag
  • Basting brush


  • Marinades with acidic ingredients help tenderize and add flavor to poultry but marinating too long in vinegar or hot sauce can cause chicken to become tough.
  • Marinate and cook with the skin on for added juiciness.


  • Do not overheat the barbecue grill before adding chicken. A too-hot grill will burn the exterior before the interior reaches a safe temperature.
  • Cooking poultry with the skin on adds fat and calories to the meat.
  • Do not marinate chicken on the kitchen counter. Always refrigerate meat while marinating.
  • Do not baste cooked chicken with previously-used marinade or use marinade as a sauce without heating thoroughly.
  • Do not marinate legs and thighs for longer than 4 hours as acids in the marinade can break down the connective tissue and cause meat to become mushy.

About the Author

When not working in her family-owned food and bar business, Viola Horne can almost always be found with a cookbook in one hand and a whisk in the other. Horne never tires of entertaining family and friends with both comfort food and unusual delicacies such as garlic cheese smashed potatoes and banana bacon pancakes.

Photo Credits

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