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A Complete Guide
To Brining Chicken



Let's talk about brining chicken. I've said it before and I'll say it again... I love chicken. Fried, roasted or grilled, hot or cold, it's always good. And it's pretty easy to cook and get good results.

But what if you're looking for great results? Well, brining chicken is a good start.

Brining is a cooking technique that can actually make a huge difference in the quality of the meal you end up with. And it's actually really simple: you just need to soak your chicken in a brine (salted water)! There are ways to dress it up a little, but that's basically it.Roast Chicken

It actually took me a while to start brining chicken. I knew about brining, but I kept telling myself that it probably wouldn't make that much of a difference, and that it was just too much of a bother.

Boy, was I wrong. Even just trying it out for the first time, the results were amazing. Not only is it surprisingly easy to do, but the chicken I roasted was hands down the best tasting roast chicken I ever made or had.

If you haven't tried brining chicken yet, read on. It's absolutely worth a try!

In this article, I'll tell you all about brining chicken. First, I'll go over exactly how brining improves your chicken — the reasons why you want to use a chicken brine! Next, I'll talk about how it works: the science behind the brine. Finally, I'll go over how to actually do it in a easy to follow guide on brining chicken.

Here we go!


Learning More...

Learning to cook can be a lot of fun. Making tasty, homecooked meals for you and your family can have a huge impact on your life. But you can take it one step further. If you're really passionate about cooking, you might want to check out some culinary schools. These culinary arts schools can help you earn a culinary degree, and turn your love of cooking into a great career.



Why Brine Chicken?


First things first: the motivation. There has to be some reason to add an extra step to making dinner, right? Well, there are a few good reasons to brine chicken:

  • Brining chicken not only adds moisture to the chicken, making it nice and plump, it also helps prevent it from drying out when you cook it. The result is a delicious, moist and juicy chicken.

  • Brining not only affects the texture and juiciness of your chicken, it also affects the taste. A few hours in a brine will let salt penetrate deep into the chicken meat, enhancing its natural flavor.

Of course, there is one disadvantage. All the extra water that ends up in the chicken can make it harder to get a crispy skin. Luckily, that's easy to fix.

If you're going for crispy skin, just let the chicken air dry in the refrigerator for an hour or so. I'll go over that in a bit more detail in the last section of this article, how to brine chicken.


Notes

Now, a word of warning. Personally, I find brining chicken makes a huge difference in the taste. But everyone is different, and not everyone tastes things the same way.

For example, papaya tastes like nothing to me. I'll be sitting there with my family as they rave about how delicious it is, and I'll try a piece and... nothing. It's strange, but there it is.

Most people like the taste of brined chicken, but there's always a chance that's it's just not right for you.

So here's my advice. Try brining chicken a few times. But if you don't taste the difference, or don't care for it, then don't bother! Cooking is all about enjoying the meal, and that should be your goal.



How Brining Works


Brining is a neat little bit of science at work. In this section, I'll talk about what goes on when you brine chicken. If you understand what's going on, it's easier to modify the technique a little bit to suit your taste, or apply it to a new situation.

There are two major processes at work during brining:

  • Diffusion. This is when particles move from a region of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. For example, when you're brining chicken, the brine has a lot more salt in it that the chicken. To balance things out, the salt gets absorbed by the chicken — not just on the surface, but all through the meat (although it does take a bit of time).

  • Osmosis. This is when water (or another liquid) moves through a membrane from one region that has more water to another region that has less water. When you brine chicken, you're creating just that situation: the brine has a lot more water than the chicken, so the water moves through the chicken cells, from the brine to the chicken. The result? Moister chicken!

It's all about keeping things in balance!

On top of diffusion and osmosis, there's another neat thing that happens when you brine chicken. When the salt gets inside the chicken flesh, it makes some of the proteins molecules unravel. Then, when you cook the meat, the unraveled proteins interact and create a kind of shield that holds the moisture in.


Notes

You can also add some other seasonings to your chicken brine, and they'll work the same way and diffuse into the chicken.

But salt is the most important ingredient when brining chicken. Not only does it help keep the moisture in the chicken, but salt is special. It doesn't just add saltiness — it enhances the chicken's natural flavor.



How To Brine Chicken


Brining chicken is really easy. Here's what you need:

  • One container large enough to hold all your chicken and the brine. It should be made of a non-reactive material like glass or stainless steel.

  • Cold water. Depending on the shape of your container, you'll need more or less water, but you can probably count on using at least half a quart of water (half a liter) per pound of meat.

  • Salt. You can use either kosher salt or table salt to brine chicken.

      Salt
    • Kosher salt: use about 1/4 of a cup salt per quart (liter) of water.

    • Table salt: use only 1/8 of a cup per quart (liter) of water — you can fit a lot more table salt than kosher salt into a measuring cup!

    • If you don't have a whole lot of time, you can add more salt to the chicken brine. It'll help the brining go faster, but the results won't be as great: the outer part of the chicken might be too salty.

  • Sugar. Sugar is a pretty common ingredient in a chicken brine. It can help moderate how salty the brine tastes, and it also helps the meat caramelize, which will give you a nicely browned chicken.

    • Use at most 1/8 of a cup per quart (liter) of water. You can use less, but any more and it'll probably be too sweet.

    • If you're planning on cooking your chicken quickly at high heat, use less (or no) sugar. It tends to make the chicken burn more easily.

    • If you're planning on roasting the chicken, sugar will make the drippings sweeter, and you'll end up with a sweeter gravy. It's up to you whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but you should be aware of it.

  • Sage LeavesOther seasonings. You can add anything you like to your chicken brine! Garlic cloves, coarsely chopped to release their flavor, sprigs of rosemary, thyme, sage, slices of lemons or oranges, coriander or fennel seeds, bay leaves... the list goes on and on.

    There's no right amount for these. Just use whatever tastes good to you. But if you add extra seasonings, you'll probably have to use the boiled brine method, otherwise it won't flavor the meat much.

Now that you have all your ingredients and equipment for making your chicken brine, it's time to put it all together. I'll go over two ways of making the brine: a cold brine and a boiled brine.


Cold Brine

This is the method to use if you're planning on brining chicken using only cold water, salt, and sugar. Here's what you do:

  1. Mix the water, salt and sugar (optional) until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

  2. Add the chicken to the brine so that it's completely submerged. If you need to, place something heavy over it to keep it from floating to the surface.

  3. Soak the chicken in the brine for about an hour per pound of meat. The chicken should soak for at least an hour, but not much more than 12 hours.

    • If you have several smaller pieces of chicken, the weight of each piece determines how long it should soak for. So, a 2lb chicken would soak for 2 hours. 4 2lb chickens would also soak for two hours, but a 4lb chicken should soak for 4 hours.

    • Keep the chicken cold while you brine it! It should be in the fridge or in a cooler, or at the very least in a tub of cold water. You can add ice to the water to make sure it stays cold.

  4. Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse it thoroughly, then pat it dry.

  5. (Optional) Let the chicken air dry in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about an hour. This will help the skin get crispy when you cook it.


Boiled Brine

Black TeaIf you're planning on using extra seasonings in your chicken brine, you're going to need to boil it. Otherwise, the flavors just won't penetrate the chicken.

Why? Well, imagine that you're making tea. If you're making it with hot water, the tea comes out beautifully. As soon as you add the water, the flavor from the tea leaves goes into the water. If you try making it with cold water, well... not a whole lot happens. You need the heat to leech the flavor out of your seasonings.

So, if you have extra seasonings to add to your chicken brine, here's how you do it:

  1. In a large pot that goes on the stove, mix the water, salt and sugar (optional) until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Add the extra seasonings.

  2. Over high heat, bring the brine to a boil. Continue to boil for about a minute. Remove the brine from the heat.

  3. Allow the chicken brine to cool completely. Never try to brine chicken in warm water or you will create a bacteria farm that could make you sick. Here are a few ways to cool the brine:

    • Let it cool off to room temperature and then place it in the refrigerator until it's cold.

    • Add ice cubes to the brine until it's cold.

    • Instead of boiling the whole amount of water, you can boil only a small amount (maybe a quarter of it), and then add the rest of the cold water after it's boiled. You still get all the flavor out of your seasonings, but it won't be as hot.

  4. Soak the chicken in the brine for about an hour per pound of meat. The chicken should soak for at least an hour, but not much more than 12 hours.

    • If you have several smaller pieces of chicken, the weight of each piece determines how long it should soak for. So, a 2lb chicken would soak for 2 hours. 4 2lb chickens would also soak for two hours, but a 4lb chicken should soak for 4 hours.

    • Keep the chicken cold while you brine it! It should be in the fridge or in a cooler, or at the very least in a tub of cold water. You can add ice to the water to make sure it stays cold.

  5. Remove the chicken from the brine. Rinse it thoroughly, then pat it dry.

  6. (Optional) Let the chicken air dry in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about an hour. This will help the skin get crispy when you cook it.


A Few Final Notes

  • Once you're done with the chicken brine, throw it out. Don't keep it to reuse it for anything. It had raw chicken floating in it and it's not safe to use.

  • Always keep the brine cool when brining chicken. If you can't keep it in the refrigerator, it should at least be kept cold by adding ice cubes, and possibly keeping it in a cooler.

  • The proportions and times I gave should give you good results, but everyone has different tastes. The main point of brining isn't to make the chicken salty - it's to enhance the chicken's flavor. If it tastes too salty, just soak the chicken for less time, or add less salt to the brine.

Well, that's all about brining chicken. It may seem like a lot, but it's one of those things that's much easier to do than to write about! You can make your chicken brine in less time than it took you to read this page.

Enjoy!


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