Everyone loves a hot plate of chicken wings, but it’s easy enough to get them wrong. Have you ever had a dry, flavorless, and tough wing before? Trust me, it happens. Usually when wings fall flat, it’s because the cook has omitted one essential step in the process. It’s brining, and we will talk all about it here.
The term “brining” may intimidate novice cooks, but it’s actually a very simple process. In a nutshell, all that you have to do is soak the chicken in a solution of salt and water. Now, before you take off with a box of your favorite table salt and a garden hose, take a minute to read the rest of this article to understand the hows and whys of this crucial step in your Superbowl cookery.
What is Brining? & Brining Benefits?
Basically, brining is soaking the meat, in our case the chicken, in a flavored solution and leaving there for a couple of hours to enhance the meat flavor, make it tender and more juicy. (Brining - Wiki)
Chicken Brining Benefits
Let’s begin with the fundamentals. What does brining a chicken do? First of all, chicken meat is very lean and is prone to drying out very easily. So, brining saturates the meat with water. Chicken with a higher water content will be juicier when fully cooked because moisture from the inner part of the wing will filter out to the edges as you fry or grill it.
In the second place, brining a chicken breaks down the proteins in the meat, meaning that when it’s fully cooked it will be more tender. Chicken meat is normally very lean and low in fat, so adding moisture to it will do wonders to its texture.
If you properly brine the chicken, you can even overcooked it a little bit, somewhat without ruining it, thanks to the water and moisture absorbed by the skin. Just make sure not to burn it or you will deserve whatever response your critics dish out in return.
- Also Read: Advantages of Brining - TasteofHome
Preparing the brine
Chicken should be soaked in a solution resembling ocean water for the best results – which is to say, water with roughly a 3.5% salt content. The solution can be made saltier however, and a solution with up to 6.25% is common. One of the nice things about brining is how permissive it is in variations like this.
You don’t need to stop at salt and water to make a delicious brine. For example, as a liquid there are many alternatives to water. Consider adding vinegar, beer, or citrus for flavor. Many cooks will add sugar to the solution to caramelize the chicken when you fry or grill it.
Honey is an acceptable alternative to sugar, and you can add whatever seasonings you like to the brine to flavor your wings before they hit the heat. Try using spices like whole peppercorns, cumin seeds, herbs, fresh or dry chili peppers, garlic, onions and other aromatics. If you quit seasoning at the brining stage, you’ll be cooking what’s known as a “naked” wing – that is, a wing without any rubs or sauces.
Remember that different kinds of salt will be more or less salty when measured by volume, so it’s best to weigh your salt if possible. A good rule of thumb is to start with 10 ounces of salt to a gallon of water. When you’ve tried this and taken note of the results, you can adjust your recipe according to your taste later.
How Much Brine for How Much Chicken?
As a rule of thumb, you should have around 2 cups of brine for every 1 pound of chicken wings.
You can add or reduce the ingredients based on how much chicken wings you are going to cook.
In our recipe shown below, we are using around 3 pounds of chicken, so 6 cups of brine should be more than enough to cover all the meat.
Measuring the brine
You can measure your water by placing your chicken wings in a large bowl and covering them with liquid. Once they’re covered, add another 3 inches of liquid, then measure the total to see exactly how much salt you’ll need for the final brine. Boil it until the salt (and, optionally, sugar) is dissolved. Then cool the solution in your refrigerator and submerge the chicken in it.
Remember that if you don’t cool the solution, the meat may go rancid. Having cooled the brine and added your wings, let them sit in your fridge anywhere from 4 to 48 hours. Of course, the longer the better.
How Long Should You Brine Chicken Wings
Since chicken meat is very lean, it will require a little bit more time to brine than other fattier meat types, such as pork.
You can let skinless chicken wings brine for just a few hours but to get the best results, I would suggest to leave them longer.
It is recommended to brine chicken overnight (around 8 hours) at minimum, with 12-24 hours being the best option.
Anything less than 6 hours I think would have tiny or no impact to the meat.
- Also Read: How Long to Brine Chicken
Drying the wings
After brining your wings, it’s important to make sure that they dry before you try to cook them. If you don’t, you might end up with a sticky mess instead of a tender and satisfying pull.
To dry your wings, pat them with a towel and then return them to the fridge for a few hours. Make sure they’re separated, or some water will be retained around the edges, and they will cook unevenly as a result. You can buy racks specifically made for drying wings for a reasonable price. New equipment is always a great way to impress your friends, too.
Simple Chicken Wings Brine Recipe
At this point, you can do pretty much anything you want with with your chicken. Season it with a rub or sauce, if you like. Fried wings are a great choice, and having brined them, they will take much less oil to heat to a delicious crisp. You can also bake or grill them. Another option is to smoke them on your grill. Just add applewood chips on top of hot coal and cover your grill until they’re cooked through.
As an example, here is a simple recipe to get the ball rolling for your own variations and additions.
Basic Brined Chicken Recipe
Dry Brine Chicken Wings
One technique that I did not mention in the upper sections of this article is the dry brine, which is similar to the recipe described above except that there is no water added. The advantage to this method is that you will not have to dry the wings after they have finished brining. The major disadvantage is that it takes a lot longer to get the desired result.
You can just directly apply the brine ingredients to the skin of the meat and since there is direct contact, the ingredients will quickly be absorbed into the meat.
You can use the ingredients below to make a dry brine. Just mix them all into a bowl until the mixture is even and homogeneous, leaving out the wet liquid ingredients.
Apply the mixture to the bird and then put it into the fridge. Just like the wet brine, you need to leave the meat to tenderize for a few hours.
Once a few hours have passed, rinse off the mixture from the meat using clean water and pat dry it before cooking.
The dry brining chicken wings is faster and easier, resulting in a crispier skin since there is no liquid to submerge the meat.
The wet brine in the other side, makes the chicken more favorable since the liquid is absorbed and increases the moisture in the meat.
Things to Have in Mind
As you can see, although brining chicken wings sounds like a difficult process, the underlying principle is very simple. You soak your chicken in water and salt, then otherwise do whatever you like with it.
Sugar is not strictly necessary to brine chicken, but you would do well to add it almost every time. Having sugar in the brine will caramelize the chicken and improve the texture texture that much more. I use it every time I cook poultry, and I recommend it across the board.
One of the beautiful things about a good brine is the flexibility it allows. The recipe above is for a naked wing, but you can apply a rub to the wings just as easily. Sauces are also fair game, allowing for so much variation that it is difficult to rein oneself in describing them all.
The manner of preparation is also subject to a lot of variation. As you can see, you don’t need a much oil for a well-brined wing to crisp perfectly. Grilling wings is one of my favorite alternatives, and a great option for the summer (or anytime the weather allows). Smoking wings brings out sublime flavors in the meat, and it’s also not a difficult process.
The amount of time you’ll want to brine the chicken for varies also. If you’re in a hurry, only a few hours will do the trick, but the longer the better. You can brine the chicken for up to 48 hours, and this is optimal. Start preparing your brined chicken in the morning or allow it to soak overnight. Anything is possible here.
The science of brining is worth a short mention. How does the chicken absorb salt and moisture all the way through? Over a period of several hours, the brine will seep through the muscle fibers through osmosis and break down some of its proteins, leaving you with a tender and juicy product.
Eat very well!