Choose Your Own Adventure: Yogurt Marinades

I know it seems hard to believe, but there are a handful of people out there in the world (OK, the immediate family) who have never heard of Andy’s seminal “grilled chicken for people who hate grilled chicken.” This, in spite of us linking to it so many times on DALS that I actually hear my early readers (Yo Amanda in SF!) thinking what I used to think at my childhood dinner table: “Oh jeez, not the chicken again.”

The secret of course, is the yogurt marinade. Which yogurt marinade? Well, that’s up to you. As long as you have the basic template ingredients (yogurt, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper) you can go in almost any direction that feels good to you. (Remember, this is marinating, which, I believe is Lithuanian for “You can’t screw it up.”) Start with this template:

2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 large onion
1/3 cup olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper

Once you have all that in the blender, you can choose your own adventure:

Option 1 Lemon-Pepper: “The Classic”
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
Juice from two lemons
1 really nice squeeze of honey
Even more black pepper (about 10-15 grinds)

Option 2 Tandoori: “The Crowdpleaser” (from Bon Appetit)
1 cup cilantro leaves (no need to chop since it’s going in the blender)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon garam masala (McCormick now sells this — it’s an Indian spice blend that’s kind of sweet)
1 2-inch piece ginger
juice of one lime

Option 3 Middle Eastern: “The Middle Easterner” (I’m pre-coffee; can’t do better than that at the moment)
1/2 cup fresh oregano, stems removed
1 clove garlic
juice from one lemon
2 teaspoons cumin

Option 4 Mustard and Herb: “The Pantry Special”
½ cup Dijon mustard
leaves from a couple sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Option 5 Chutney: “The Cheater”
1/2 cup your favorite chutney (these are my favorite)
1/2 cup cilantro

Whichever direction you’ve chosen:

Give the ingredients a good whirl in the blender, then pour into a large freezer bag along with your meat — 2 to 3 pounds chicken thighs or breasts  (pounded flat between two pieces of wax paper), drumsticks, or…here’s some breaking news: SHRIMP! I’ve discovered that a good flavorful yogurt marinade is a great way to kick up the sometimes bland frozen shrimp we pick up in the Northeast. (The photo above was made with the tandoori marinade — the dipping sauce is chutney mixed with lime and…more yogurt!)

Marinate your chicken or shrimp (thawed if frozen) in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight. Build a medium fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill grates with oil. Scrape excess marinade off chicken or shrimp. If you are making shrimp, thread them onto skewers. Grill chicken turning once, until browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side. The shrimp will take a little less time, about 2-3 minutes a side.

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Looks delicious, thanks so much! What type of yogurt do you usually use (Greek, fat free, 2%)? Wondering if the fat content causes a noticeable difference in the final product!

Kristin C.

I often freeze meats in a marinade, but I’ve never tried it with a dairy-based marinade. What do you think? It would be awesome to package up some meals of this on the weekend…thaw…and go.


Are you specifying 2-3 minutes a side for frozen raw shrimp or frozen cooked shrimp?


Kathleen – Good question. Thawed, definitely thawed. All fixed in recipe above. Lori: Not sure about tofu. Anyone else care to weigh in?

Patty Burns

I still remember a yogurt-marinated turkey breast that Michel Nissan made when I was working at the FoodNetwork years ago. Thanks for showing us so many other directions to take this simple idea.


We do not have a grill because I’m not a griller and my husband can barely make toast. Is there a way to enjoy these marinades on the stove or in the oven and replicate this sans flames and charcoal?

Vandana Londhe

You can buy a small smoke box now for a grilled like flavor. Just fill with wood chips, put in oven, and bake


We don’t have a grill either but I have found “the grill” in the oven (boiler?) and a barbeque skillet (cast iron) fine substitutes for city living. These are all good ideas and can’t wait to try marinading king prawns with yogurt!! I hadn’t thought about that. Thanks again!


Thanks for the reminder. I like to marinate whole birds before roasting – guinea fowl in yoghurt and Chinese 5 spice, and chicken marinated in mayonnaise, garam masala, turmeric, chili, or other spices, depending on what’s in the cupboard. Both of these sound horribly ‘wrong’, I know, but they are delicious!


I find threading shrimp with 2 skewers rather than 1 makes it easier to flip the shrimp…they don’t spin. 🙂

Or, alternatively, a basket works just as well. The shrimp-spin makes me a little crazy, as you can probably tell.


I just finished reading your wonderful book…I really enjoyed it and recognized my own little chaotic band of four in so many situations. Nobody said it was easy, but still – bring on the quinoa- I say…


I too am wondering if these can be made without a grill. I live in the city and don’t have one…


Much as I love the marinades, just as interested in the side…looks fabulous. Barley? rice? feta? pomegranate? Recipe? Thanks!


Love this post, or any post that gives me one key recipe that can easily morph into other recipes.


My variation on this was to use red onion and Greek yogurt for the base with chile sesame oil, fresh ginger, coriander, and parsley on tofu cubes! Delish!


I love the grilled chicken for people who hate gc, been making it regularly

But am I missing something or is there no onion in that marinade? Don’t see that on that post and I’ve been making it (loving it) without.


I have a nit-picky question… in Andy’s original grilled chicken post the marinade recipe calls for 1/2C yogurt and in this post it calls for 2C yogurt, while all the other ingredients are the same quantity. Wouldn’t using more yogurt in relation to the other ingredients diminish the “potency” of the flavor? I can’t wait to try this, I’m just wondering how much yogurt to use. Thanks!


First, let me say that I have been waiting for this post since Andy’s original post. Thanks! I’m SO EXCITED.
I do have some questions, though. The first two questions I had were actually asked by Robin & Andrea, above.
And lastly… I know I am not supposed to ask this because pounding to an even thickness is important. But. For the last year or so I’ve been buying our chicken from a local far-cry-from-standard-industrial-chicken guy at our farmer’s market, and all of their chicken is bone-in. It tastes notably more flavorful than the TJs organic boneless breasts or thighs, but it has bones, and I am not about to learn how to bone a chicken. Do you have any advice for how long to broil bone-in pieces (or know when it is done)? Pretty please?


I just accidentally bought nonfat yogurt at the store. Visions of it sitting forever in the back of the fridge were haunting me. But this–this is something I can use it for!


Hi, I have newly discovered your book and it has changed the way my family eats. Thank you so much. I came here to ask the two questions asked above, about the Onion and the amount of yogurt. I will say that I used the recipe in your book, with just a half cup of yogurt and no onion and it was fabulous!!! My kids who had recently declared that they will never eat chicken again devoured it!


Hi! For anyone who has tried this with shrimp in the broiler or stovetop – what’s your cooking method? I have a beautiful batch of shrimp marinating now in the fridge & am hoping to cook them up for dinner. If you have done them in the broiler: do you still thread them on skewers, or would wood skewers burn in the broiler? If stovetop, do you pan-fry with a bit of oil? Any advice is appreciated – thank you! 🙂


Try yogurt mixed with asian garlic-chili paste or sriracha. Nice and easy (like your chutney)!!!