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How to Brine Chicken

by Victor @ Taste of Artisan

Most meats when overcooked will have an inferior texture and taste. This is especially true with the lean chicken breast meat. Fortunately, soaking chicken in brine will help to achieve a moister and juicier product.

Chicken soaking in brine flavored with vegetables and spices.

What is brine?

At its core, a brine is a strong solution of water and salt. To give the brine more flavor sweeteners (such as brown sugar, maple or corn syrup, molasses, etc.) and spices are usually added.

What does brine do to chicken meat?

The verb “brine” means to treat with or steep in brine.  The salt has two effects on poultry: “It dissolves protein in muscle, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking. This makes the meat juicer, more tender, and improves the flavor. The low levels of salt enhance the other natural flavors of poultry.”

Another benefit of brining chicken is that it allows even flavor distribution. If you just rub chicken meat with spices or put sauce on it, it will be flavorful on the outside, but bland on the inside. Brining makes meat have the same flavor from surface to center. Brining is also known to improve browning of the chicken meat.

Making the chicken brine

Echoing USDA’s guidelines on brining, Stanley Marianski in his well-known book titled Home Production of Quality Meats and Sausages recommends the following brine formula:

A typical brine solution (no Cure #1 added)

  • 1 gallon of cold water
  • ¾ cup of salt
  • 3 oz (85 g) sugar (brown or white)

A typical brine solution (with Cure #1)

  • 1 gallon of cold water
  • ½ cup (146 g) of salt
  • 3 oz (85 g) of Cure #1 – corresponds to 79 g of pure salt
  • 3 oz (85 g) sugar (brown or white)

Note: Cure #1 is required for brining products that will be smoked at low temperatures (below 200F).

To prepare a brine dissolve salt in cold water by mixing it thoroughly (salt dissolves much faster in hot water than in cold water). Cover and refrigerate before adding the chicken.

The above formulas are a good start, but they lack in flavor. My improved formula for chicken brine inevitably includes vegetables and spices to add complex flavor to the otherwise bland chicken meat, especially the breast meat. The chicken brine recipe below is what I have been successfully using and perfecting over the past 10 years. It’s exceptionally flavorful and reminds me of a tasty homemade chicken stock.

Poultry Brining Time

Brining time depends on the size of the product. Stanley Marianski’s , a well-known authority on the subject of smoked meats and sausages, recommends the following brining times for poultry:

Cornish Game Hens 1 – 2 hours
Chicken Pieces 2 – 4 hours
Whole Chickens (2 lbs.) 1 day
Whole Chickens (4 lbs.) 1 – 2 days
Turkey Breast 4 – 8 hours
Whole Turkeys (up to 10 lbs.) 1 – 2 days
Whole Turkey (over 10 lbs.) 2 – 3 days

It is safer to brine on the low end of the time range on the first attempt and keep notes for future reference as it’s easy to fix an under-salted product than over-salted one. You can always brine longer the next time if required.

Be especially careful when brining chicken wings. I find that wings need no more than 1 1/2 hours. Longer brining makes them too salty.

Safety considerations

Brining should be done at a refrigerator temperature (below 40F), with the starting brine temperature also being below 40F.

Whole chickens inside a pot with brine.

Improved Chicken Brine Recipe

A recipe and instructions for brining chicken and poultry in general.
5 from 10 votes
Print Pin Rate
Author: Victor

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon water ice cold
  • ¾ cup kosher salt (219 g)
  • 3 oz sugar (85 g); brown or white
  • 2 large carrots peeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 medium onions peeled and cut into pieces
  • 8 cloves garlic peeled and cut in halves
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns

Instructions

  • To prepare the brine, bring 1 quart of water to boil, add salt and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add chopped vegetables and spices and remove from heat. Cover and let cool. Mix with the rest of the water and refrigerate to cool below 40F before adding the chicken.
  • Add the chicken an brine in a refrigerator according to the table above.
  • After brining, rinse the chicken in cold tap water for 5 minutes to remove any crystallized salt from their surface, then leave it to drain.

Dry chicken brine

Brine does not have to be liqiud. Dry brining is simple yet  just as effective alternative to traditional wet brining methods. Dry brining involves seasoning the meat with salt and spices and refrigerating for two days. This two day process drains moisture out of the poultry, creating a flavorful brine, which is then reabsorbed into the meat without adding additional water.

Poultry is typically brined by a wet method as it is very easy to end up with a product that is too salty. My solution for dry brining is to use the exact amount of salt that is needed to make the meat perfectly salted. This way the chicken meat will never get over-salted. Let’s say I am going to brine 4 lbs of chicken breasts. My definition of perfectly salted meat is 6 grams (1 heaping teaspoon) of kosher or sea salt per pound of meat. With that in mind, I will dry brine my chicken breasts by rubbing them with exactly 4 heaping teaspoons of kosher salt.

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22 comments

neng January 18, 2020 - 8:54 am

thank you

Reply
Jay December 17, 2019 - 8:42 am

Brining makes a huge difference. Love this brine, very good flavors. I also added a little bit of celery and fresh parsley to the mix.

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Chuck (Charles) Payne September 22, 2019 - 6:32 pm

Did your basic brine last night. Absolutely love it. Even over cooking results in a tender close grained chicken breast that is tender beyond imagination.

The first one I did with my flavor wave was perfect. Juicy, tender with just the basic chicken flavor. Will repeat the with the improved. Thank you for posting.

-Chuckwagon Seasonings

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan September 22, 2019 - 7:02 pm

You are very welcome, Chuck. Glad to hear that and thanks for posting your feedback here.

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Dan R Cassidy October 27, 2018 - 10:58 am

how many breasts will this brine?

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victor October 27, 2018 - 1:55 pm

Dan, that’s a very good question. I’ve never seen anywhere where it would talk about how much brine you need per specific amount of meat. Personally, I always go for the optimum amount of brine to cover all the meat. For example, for 4-8 regular size chicken breasts I normally make half the recipe given here, or 1/2 a gallon. I put the breasts and the brine in a large Ziploc bag and squeeze most of the air out. That does the trick. When I brine a couple of chickens, or a turkey, I make a full gallon of brine.

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Kathryn September 20, 2018 - 2:23 am

Amazing! And so flavorful!

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Ashley April 10, 2018 - 6:49 pm

I’m assuming you would just cut the brining recipe in half if your only going to be bringing like two skin on bone in chicken breasts hey?

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victor April 10, 2018 - 6:52 pm

Yes. When brining, I make sure I have all the meat covered with brine, that’s all.

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Silver W October 28, 2017 - 7:40 pm

Lovely. I utilized the “un-bringed” version of baked chicken. Followed your directions for a large, split-breast and left the skin on as it gave a really crispy finish. Perfect on the suggested coking temperature and resting time. So delicious, great recipe, thank you!

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victor October 28, 2017 - 10:02 pm

Great to hear. Glad it helped.

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Hal Connaughton August 5, 2017 - 9:05 am

Hi. If I want to poach my chicken breasts after the improved solution, do I have to use fresh aromatics again? Will the flavor be to intense if I do because they were already used in the brining process?

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victor August 5, 2017 - 2:52 pm

Hi, I would definitely add a little seasoning on top if poaching. Probably best to try one first and then season the rest.

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Robert Toree July 22, 2017 - 12:53 pm

How much kosher salt do I use for the improved version?

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victor July 25, 2017 - 12:15 pm

¾ cup or 219 g of kosher salt

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suzanne July 7, 2017 - 12:24 pm

Tried this for the 4th, WOW this was good!

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victor July 7, 2017 - 1:09 pm

Thank you for the feedback. This has been my go-to brine recipe for many years.

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Ken Kraus December 4, 2016 - 3:07 am

I brine almost all my meats.

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Joe September 5, 2016 - 11:50 pm

I tried your chicken improved brine. I cooked chicken thighs on my outdoor rotisserie and they were smashing! Thank you for sharing.

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victor September 6, 2016 - 12:03 am

You are very welcome and thank you for your feedback.

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Vicki April 10, 2016 - 2:00 pm

I have found brining to be totally worth the extra preparation/time.

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victor April 10, 2016 - 4:09 pm

Totally! I even brine chicken wings. It helps all the flavors get deep inside the meat which makes it more enjoyable to eat.

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