Chicken Food Grilling Recipe

Grilled Chicken in Chipotle Yogurt Marinade

The idea of grilling something that has been marinated in yogurt freaks me out. Even after trying it out, playing with various recipes, thicknesses of meat and other ingredients, the notion of slathering chicken (or other meat) in fermented milk product and then throwing the whole shebang on the grill is mildly revolting.

I think part of this revulsion stems from the American conception of yogurt as a sweetened breakfast food. For years I had thought of it only as a slightly acidic delivery system for spoonfuls of slimy fruit-like substance.

Apparently I’d never stopped to think about what was in tzatziki sauce.

Mmmmm... makes me hungry as I'm writing this
Grilled yogurt-marinated chicken: mmmmm… makes me hungry just looking at it

But just the idea of 5 oz. plastic cups of the stuff, complete with a foil lid and fruit on the bottom, led me to believe that putting a cup or two of it (even the plain “it”) on a few slices of chicken would somehow cause the rampant spread of conflicting contaminants, like culinary cooties.


The second element of the process that gives me pause is the idea of slapping anything soaked in milk-product on a hot grill. The idea of combining dairy and flame-heated metal makes my nose-hairs curl. In fact, the first time I tried this out, I made an effort to step back to ensure that I didn’t catch a rancid whiff of instantly curdling greek yogurt.milk steak

Completely tangentially, the combination of meat and dairy also reminds me of milk steak. You know. milk steak, Charlie Kelly’s favorite food, which someone actually made… gross.

For the record, none of these fears were validated. It smelled and tasted wonderful.

This recipe was inspired by Kelley’s recipe for Yogurt Marinated Chicken Tacos with Harissa posted on her wonderful blog ‘Mountain Mama Cooks’. Check it out.

I also made a nearly identical version of her posted recipe, although I replaced the harissa (which I couldn’t find) with a Thai Mushroom-Chili paste from Trader Joes.

TJ’s Thai “Dry” Chili Paste

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 3.5 lbs chicken breast
  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp minced chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger minced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

    Miking up (a version of) this marinade
    Miking up (a version of) this marinade

Mix all ingredients together. Place the chicken breasts in a ziploc bag and cover with the yogurt mixture. Seal the bag, and marinate for up to 24 hours.

Preheat the grill to medium-high, and clean the grate thoroughly.

Grill the chicken for 5 minutes on each side.

It turns out – after a little bit of research – that dairy products are the only marinades that actually tenderize the meat. Unlike acids or enzymes in other marinades, the calcium in dairy products activates specific enzymes in the meat that begin to break down the protein, making for a more tender final product. Check out this article for more information.

Whatever the science says, I will continue to use yogurt as a marinade, as this (and similar recipes) yield tender, juicy meat that radiated the floral and spicy flavors of the herbs and spices which were included in the mixture.



  1. In Southern Germany, we marinade venison overnight in buttermilk (with bay and juniper berries) to tenderise it before roasting it – give it a try sometime, it’s worth it!

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