Chicken seems to be everyone’s favorite protein. It comes in assorted sizes and parts that can be boneless and skin-less or not. It fits into everyone’s budget even in the most inflated of times. It is extremely versatile and is at home on the stove, in the oven, and on the grill.
I cook a lot of chicken. I have planked it, sautéed it, diced and sliced it, I’ve even stuck a beer can up it’s butt. Chicken is easy to cook, but can go south just as easily, especially on the grill. That’s where brining comes in.
A brine is a liquid that has a lot of salt in it. It may have other ingredients, but salt and liquid are in the majority. Brine imparts moisture to chicken which can go a long way to keeping it juicy and tender when grilled. Traditionally the liquid is water, but when it comes to chicken I’ve found that other liquids can work magic when combined with salt.
Number one on my hit parade is buttermilk. It gives flavor and the acidity tenderizes the chicken. Chicken breasts brined for several hours in a mixture of buttermilk, salt, onion, garlic and smoked paprika will hit the grill and come off of it juicy and flavorful.
To this basic brine you can add herbs and spices of your choice or leave anything out that doesn’t float your boat. Just keep in mind that the acidity in the buttermilk can begin to break down the chicken if it is left on for too long (keep it to 4 hours or so)
Beer can be an excellent brine base as well. Again, the flavor of the beer will soak into the chicken, give it a moisture boost and result in a tender and juicy piece of poultry. Chilis, onions, garlic, sugar, even a little lime (remember limes are acidic so keep brining time within that 4 hour limit).
Last but not least there’s water. I guess you could call it the traditional brine ingredient. Anything you put into beer or buttermilk can also be added to water, but don’t stop there. No ingredients are off-limits. Use your personal favorites and let your imagination run wild.
Now for the how to’s:
You will need a container that will hold the chicken ( whatever pieces you use) and enough brine to cover it completely. Oh, and it should seal tightly. Brine is not fun to clean out of the nooks and crannies in your refrigerator. Zip top plastic bags work well for breasts and thighs. For whole chickens and even turkeys, trash bags can get the job done.
The amount of salt also depends on how much chicken you’re brining. One tablespoon will do the trick for 3 -4 boneless chicken breasts. You will increase the amount according to how much liquid you need to cover your chosen poultry. Use Kosher salt if you can, it is additive free.
Brining time for non-acidic mixtures can be up to 24 hours…whole chickens and turkeys can soak even longer.
When you are ready to grill, remove the chicken from it’s salt bath and pat it dry. Throw the bath water away. Powder the chicken with your favorite seasoning and grill. One more thing…because the chicken has absorbed some of the salt in the brine go easy on any salt you add before grilling.
There’s still a lot of grill time left this summer, so dive into brine and come up with delicious chicken