Brining Chicken

Brining chicken before it's smoked, barbecued or grilled has a big impact on its taste and texture. When the chicken is put in that bath of brine, something magical begins to happen!

The ingredients that transform the chicken are nothing more than salt and sugar. The trick is knowing how much to put in and how long to brine.





Basic Chicken Brine Recipe

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup white sugar



Bring the water to a boil, then add the sugar and salt, stirring until completely dissolved. Remove the brine from the heat to cool. This basic brine recipe is now a blank canvas. You can add a variety of flavorings that will give your chicken the flavor you want. A list of possible flavorings include:

  • soy sauce
  • dried herbs and spices
  • fresh herbs
  • garlic
  • onions
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • wine
  • brandy
  • beer
  • pepper of all kinds (black, red, cayenne, chipotle)
  • honey
  • fruit juices



As you can see, brining can be used to add all sorts of flavor combinations to chicken. When adding liquids to the brine, like wine or fruit juice, decrease the amount of water by the amount of liquid you'll add. Add liquids after the hot brine has cooled.

Add the spices and herbs right after the brine is taken off the heat. Keep the brine covered as it cools. When it reaches room temperature, pop it in the fridge. (I make mine in the evening, and let it cool on the counter overnight before putting it in the refrigerator.) It needs to be below 40°F before adding the chicken, and ideally at 34-36°F. When cold, strain the brine if want - I don't.

Brining Chicken

Now it's time to brine the chicken. Larger pieces need to brine longer than smaller ones. Skin-on longer than skinless. Whole and half chickens should be brined 8 to 12 hours. Individual bone-in pieces with skin on 4 to 6 hours. Boneless, skinless breasts need only 2 to 3 hours in the brine.

Brine your chicken in a non-reactive container. Plastic, glass, ceramic and stainless steel are all good. Aluminum and copper are not! The brine ingredients can react with those metals, adding off-flavors to the meat. Place a weight on top of the chicken to hold it complete submerged. A heavy bowl or plate will work. If not, wrap a brick in foil and use that.

Time's up! Remove the chicken and rinse it well in cold water. 30 seconds under running cold water will do the trick for smaller pieces. For a whole or half chicken that's been in longer, rinse for a minute or so. Dry with a clean towel.

You're done! Brining chicken may seem like a complicated process, but after you've done it a few times it'll become a lot easier. And after you've done it once, you'll know that brining chicken is worth the effort and time.


Try this recipe for herb garlic brine. It's great for smoked or grilled chicken.


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