You know that tangy, creamy yogurt is a staple for marinating chicken, but what if you find yourself without any? Don’t worry. As someone with an extensive experience in kitchen experimentation, I’ve discovered a few unconventional ingredients that work surprisingly well as substitutes for yogurt in a chicken marinade. So, what is the best substitute for yogurt in a chicken marinade?
The best substitute for yogurt in a marinade is buttermilk, but you can’t go wrong with some other options like sour cream, coconut milk, and lime juice, or unusual and sweeter options, including white wine and crushed pineapples.
Who knew some of these everyday items could impart such flavor to chicken? In a pinch, you can grab one of these six substitutes from your pantry or fridge and make a just as delicious marinade.
As a substitute for yogurt in chicken marinade, buttermilk is a great choice. I love its tangy, creamy flavor — it adds a nice zingy kick and richness without being too acidic.
To use buttermilk in place of yogurt, simply substitute the same amount. So if your recipe calls for 1 cup of yogurt, use 1 cup of buttermilk instead. You really can’t go wrong.
Buttermilk is naturally high in lactic acid, just like yogurt, so it works well as a marinade tenderizer. It will help break down the chicken and leave it delightfully juicy. Moreover, it adds a slight tang that complements the savory flavor of chicken beautifully.
For extra flavor, you can add some fresh or dried herbs to the buttermilk, such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, or chives. I also like to whisk in a bit of honey, lemon juice, or grated fresh garlic. The possibilities are endless!
Buttermilk may be a bit thinner than Greek yogurt, so you may need to slightly reduce the amount of olive oil or other liquids in the marinade. But other than that, you can swap buttermilk for yogurt cup for cup.
Sour cream has a rich, velvety texture that tenderizes the chicken and infuses it with flavor. It is cultured cream with a tangy, acidic kick, perfect for breaking down tough chicken fibers. It contains lactic acid, the same ingredient that gives yogurt its zing, along with milk fats that keep chicken juicy as it marinates.
I’ve made some of the most succulent barbecued chicken with a subtle creamy undertone using sour cream instead of yogurt. The sour cream helps the chicken stay moist on the grill while also enhancing the flavor of the spices and herbs in the marinade.
To use sour cream, simply substitute the same amount of sour cream for yogurt in your favorite marinade recipe. For every cup of yogurt, I usually just use one cup of sour cream. The sour cream will add a rich decadence to the marinade without compromising its ability to tenderize the meat.
You can even use a sour-cream-based dip to marinate your chicken!
Coconut milk is a creamy, naturally sweet substitute for yogurt in chicken marinades. Replacing the yogurt with coconut milk in my go-to chicken marinade adds a tropical twist that complements the citrus and spices.
Coconut milk provides a rich and creamy base for the marinade without the tartness of yogurt. Its naturally nutty and subtly sweet flavor pairs well with citrus-like lime juice or lemon zest. The coconut milk’s fat content also helps the marinade cling to the chicken, infusing it with many flavors as it soaks in.
For the best results, use full-fat coconut milk — I have found that the light version won’t have the same rich and creamy texture. Making the switch from yogurt to coconut milk is a simple substitution. Just use the same amount of coconut milk as the recipe calls for in yogurt.
Lemon or Lime Juice
Citrus juice adds a burst of flavor that tenderizes the meat and leaves it tasting fresh.
Squeeze the juice from 2-3 lemons or 3-4 limes over your chicken pieces in a resealable plastic bag. The acid in the citrus juice will start to break down the meat’s fibers immediately, leaving it fork-tender.
You can also add a bit of olive oil, garlic, and your favorite fresh or dried herbs like rosemary or thyme for extra flavor. The oil will help carry the flavors into the chicken.
Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavors will become.
Before cooking, make sure you remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the used marinade.
I love how white wine adds a bright, tangy kick and fruity flavor to the chicken. The acidity in wine also helps tenderize the meat. I use a medium-bodied wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio for the best results.
Avoid oaky wines like Chardonnay for marinating chicken, as the strong oak flavors can overwhelm the delicate meat. I also avoid super sweet wines, which won’t provide the same tenderizing effect. You can use cooking wine in a pinch, but be aware it contains added salt, so you may need to adjust other seasonings.
The wine will add moisture to the marinade, just like yogurt. However, since wine is more acidic, you may need to marinate the chicken for a shorter time, checking it after 2 to 4 hours instead of overnight.
Before cooking, pat the excess marinade off the chicken with paper towels. Discard any remaining marinade instead of basting with it or making a sauce, as it could be unsafe due to raw chicken contact.
Using crushed pineapples instead of yogurt adds a burst of sweetness and tropical flavor to chicken marinades. I find that crushed pineapples, with their juicy chunks of fruit, work even better than pineapple juice for marinating chicken.
The natural sugars and acids in pineapples help to tenderize the meat, resulting in an irresistibly soft and juicy finish.
I like combining equal parts crushed pineapples and soy sauce or tamari for an Asian-inspired marinade. The salty-sweet combo is a classic. You can add some rice wine or sherry, grated fresh ginger, and crushed garlic for extra flavor.
What is your go-to chicken marinade? I can’t wait to get inspired by your answers in the comments below!