Ranch-Marinated Grilled Chicken

This quick and simple marinade might just result in the best grilled chicken we've ever tasted. We like to make our own Ranch dressing, but it's not a requirement. What IS a requirement is to make a lot, because it's going to go fast.
Ranch-marinated chicken, grilled and presented on a platter, with a green salad and garlic croutons

Everybody loves Ranch dressing, but did you know it also makes a great marinade? There’s a reason why it’s America’s favorite salad dressing: it’s creamy, tangy and herby. What’s not to love?

Here we use our homemade Ranch Dressing as the base of what might just be our favorite marinade of all time. Ranch-marinated chicken, grilled to perfection, is a summer treat we look forward to all year long. Not even kidding, this combination of flavors is really good.

Making Ranch-Marinated Chicken

The ranch itself contains buttermilk, which is a fantastic tenderizer. Our homemade Ranch has lots of herbs (we like a combination of parsley, dill and chives, but you can use whatever you like best). Along with a little garlic powder and lemon for tang, it’s a great start.

NOTE: We prefer this recipe with homemade ranch, but if you want to save time and start with a bottled dressing, it will still be great. If you can, add some fresh herbs to pump up the flavor a little.

Drizzle a little more Homemade Ranch Dressing over everything.

To the delicious base, we add some ingredients that might sound odd, but trust us, the combination is so good. We start with dijon mustard, for a little tangy kick. Then we add fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chili-garlic paste, a little sugar, and some fresh grated garlic. It’s basically an umami bomb.

what is umami

Sometimes referred to as “the fifth taste”, umami itself isn’t new, though the term only became official in the 1980s. Previously, only four recognized basic taste groups were recognized: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

Umami translates to “pleasant savory taste” in Japanese. It’s often described as savory, brothy or meaty. It naturally occurs in foods that contain a high level of the amino acid glutamate, like mushrooms, tomatoes, many cheeses (like Parmesan), and seaweed. As well as flavorings like miso, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and fish sauce.

Our marinade includes both Worcestershire and fish sauce, which gives the marinade a really deep, complex savoriness. Even if you’re not familiar with it, don’t be put off by the fish sauce. It’s one of those ingredients that disappears into the mix, but adds so much great flavor. We promise, it won’t make the ranch-marinated chicken taste fishy at all. What it does add is a subtle sweet and salty funkiness that wakes up your taste buds. Our favorite brand of fish sauce is Red Boat, though any brand will be great here.

Ranch-marinated chicken on a platter

Why we love chicken thighs

Not too get too science-y but the long and short of it is that the legs of chickens (and most animals) do more work than breasts, so they have a much higher proportion of muscle fibers, connective tissue, collagen and fat in order to support the work they do.

This not only gives the meat a lot more flavor, it takes longer for the fibers to break down which means thighs can be cooked longer without becoming dry and tough. Especially in high heat cooking situations (like grilling, broiling, searing etc), it’s very easy to overcook breasts, while thighs are a lot more forgiving in terms of final temperature. In our tests, chicken thighs are best when cooked to a temperature of around  170°F (77°C), though they can withstand being cooked all the way up to 200°F (93°C) without much loss of moisture and tenderness.

chicken breasts work too (if you cook them right)

Of course you can use chicken breasts if you prefer them. For grilling, we recommend cutting them in half length-wise to make them thinner, and pounding them a little. The pounding does two things, it makes the thickness more even, and it also helps to break down the fibers, making them more tender.

As far as temperature goes, safety guidelines recommend cooking chicken to 165°F (74°C), but breasts tend to dry out at about 155°F (68°C). We split the difference and cook them until about 160ºF, so carry-over cooking will bring them in to the safe zone.

tips for grilling perfect chicken

Prepare a gas grill by making sure it’s fully preheated it on high for at least 10 minutes, though some grills might need ever longer. If using a charcoal grill, pile the coals on one side of the grill, making a hot side and cooler side.

Once the grill is very hot, brush the grates clean, if needed. Ball up a paper towel or clean rag and, using tongs, dunk it in some vegetable oil and rub it all over the grates. Place the chicken on the grill and don’t move it for at least 4 minutes. You can use tongs or a spatula and check to see if the chicken will lift off easily. If it won’t release, give it another minute. You might need to wiggle a spatula under the chicken, especially if your marinade is sugary. Flip the chicken, and use the reserved marinade to baste the chicken. If it’s starting to get too dark, move it to the side of the grill with the lower temperature.

Once the chicken is cooked, take it off the grill and let it rest for at last 5 minutes under loosely tented foil to keep it hot. We like to serve ranch-marinated chicken with a fresh salad of butter lettuce, Persian or English cucumber, baby radishes and cherry tomatoes. We also had some Pickled Red Onions left over from our Halloumi Tacos and they were fantastic with this dish.

NOTE: This chicken can also be broiled or roasted in the oven. If broiling, preheat on high for at least 5 minutes and position an oven rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Place the chicken on a sheet pan and broil until brown on top, about 4 to 7 minutes. Watch carefully as broiler strengths can vary wildly. Turn and broil until cooked through, another 5 minutes or so.

For roasting, preheat the oven on 425ºF and set a rack in the middle. Follow the same directions as broiling, though roasting will take a little longer, approximately 10 minutes a side.

last tip: always make croutons

The last element that gets ranch-marinated chicken over the finish line is our Homemade Garlic Croutons. They’re crunchy, buttery, salty and garlicky. So good.

Garlic croutons
Homemade Garlic Croutons elevate any soup or salad.
Ranch-marinated chicken, salad and ranch dressing
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Ranch-Marinated Grilled Chicken

This quick and simple marinade might just result in the best grilled chicken we've ever tasted. We like to make our own Ranch dressing, but it's not a requirement. What IS a requirement is to make a lot, because it's going to go fast.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Marinating time30 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Course: American, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Chicken, Easy, grilled
Servings: 4 people
Author: Emily Clifton, Nerds with Knives


  • 1/2 cup Ranch dressing, homemade if possible*
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons smooth dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sambal Oelek or your favorite hot sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 large garlic cloves grated or minced
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts


  • In a large bowl, mix together the marinade ingredients until fully combined. Set aside 1/4 cup of marinade in a small jar or bowl and refrigerate.
  • If using chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise, making two thinner cutlets and pound gently to make them even (thighs can be left as is). Add chicken and toss in the bowl with the marinade, making sure every piece is coated. Cover with plastic wrap (or transfer to a sealable plastic bag) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, though best if left overnight.
  • Prepare a grill for high heat and take the chicken out of the refrigerator. When grill is hot, brush and oil grill grates. Grill chicken until well browned on one side (chicken should release pretty easily from the grill, with little pulling), about 5 minutes. Flip chicken and brush top with reserved marinade. Continue grilling until cooked through and brown in spots, about 4 to 5 minutes longer, depending on how hot your grill gets. If using a thermometer, breasts are done when about 150°F (66°C), thighs are best when cooked to about 170°F (77°C).
  • Transfer chicken a platter, cover loosely with foil and let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving. We like to serve Grilled Ranch-Marinated Chicken with a fresh garden salad, topped with homemade Garlic Croutons and extra Ranch Dressing on the side. 


Chicken can also be broiled or roasted in the oven. Place chicken on a sheet tray and broil on high (or roast in a 425ºF oven) until golden brown and cooked through, flipping halfway through.  Chicken should take about 5 to 7 minutes a side, depending on thickness. 
Tried this recipe?Mention @NerdsWithKnives or tag #nerdswithknives!

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