Why is some barbequed chicken tasty and moist while others are tough and stringy? The answer may be that a meat brine was involved. A meat brine is a culinary tool that many barbecue chefs utilize to bring out the true flavors of meat while at the same time maintaining a high level of moisture.
This guide will explain how to brine chicken to achieve great flavor and moist chicken.
What is brining?
Brining is the process of soaking meat, poultry, or seafood in a salt-based solution. The salt chemically reacts with the meat in a way that causes it to absorb water which it retains during the cooking process. This process works best with whole chickens or turkeys where longer cooking times have a tendency to dry out the meat. Individual pieces of chicken will also benefit from a brine.
Along with the salt, other ingredients are often added to enhance the flavor. Herbs, juices, sugar and spices are just a few examples. These flavors will also be drawn into the meat during the brining process.
How to brine chicken
Without getting into the basics of salt composition, use non-iodized salt. Preferably, Kosher salt. It is a cleaner salt and contains less sodium than table salt. Kosher salt also weighs lighter than table salt because it is more course. When choosing brine recipes, be sure to check whether it calls for table salt or kosher salt. If not, kosher salt is a safe bet.
Typical brines start out with a cup of water mixed with a cup of salt. I find the end result to be a bit on the salty side when brining chicken. Use 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water until you become more comfortable with the brining process and end results. Then adjust the ingredients to your personal tastes.
Add the dry ingredients and some water in a pot and bring to a boil, while stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer while continuing to stir. This will help dissolve the salt and sugar as well as bring out the flavors of any herbs and spices you may have added. Allow to completely cool before finishing the brine mixture.
Brining should be done in a non-reactive container like glass or plastic. A zip lock bag works well for small pieces. Always keep the meat refrigerated. A five gallon paint-type pail can be used with larger cuts of meat. Pack the top with ice to keep the meat cold and submerged.
Brine whole chickens for 3 hours and chicken pieces for 1 hour. Again, you’ll adjust the times per your liking once you become more familiar with brining. Go easy at first. You can’t remove the salt once it’s in the bird.
Once complete, remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry with a paper towel. If you’re a fan of crispy skin on poultry allow the meat to dry uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.
Proceed with a dry rub and you are ready to cook. You’ll be amazed at the juiciness and added flavor the brine has given your meat.
Here’s a great recipe to get you started.
- 1 gal water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 teaspoons each, tarragon, ground sage, ground black pepper, oregano and basil
Also try Citrus Chicken Brine.
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Your next step…build your own recipes. Good luck and Happy Grilling!