When To Brine Chicken (And When Not To)


A simple wet or dry brine can go a long way when it comes to your chicken’s flavor and juiciness. But how do you make a brine, and when should you brine your chicken before cooking?

You should brine the chicken for several hours before cooking, as it is a fast and simple way to draw out the perfect amount of moisture and flavor while also preventing the meat from becoming too chewy, soggy, or salty. Both wet and dry brines are effective for many different preparations.

Keep reading to learn more about brining the chicken for every occasion. We’ll cover everything you need to know no matter how you’re preparing your chicken, whether it’s for grilling, roasting, frying, or even barbecue.

Why Brine Chicken

Brining chicken causes the meat to retain more moisture by breaking down the proteins inside. As a result of the proteins breaking down, the chicken won’t shrink or contract while cooking as it would otherwise, meaning much less moisture is lost during the cooking process than if the meat weren’t brined at all.

As a result, your chicken will be juicier and more flavorful. 

The great thing about brine solutions is they are incredibly versatile and simple to create. 

Since brine is just a saltwater solution with herbs added for extra seasoning, you can use it for all types of dishes and several different kinds of meats, with chicken being one of the most commonly brined meats. 

There’s also dry brining, which is essentially salting and seasoning your meat prior to cooking without the water.

For chicken and other poultry, regardless of whether you’re brining or dry brining, it is best to coat the chicken you’re preparing in your brine well ahead of cooking, the day before if possible. 

Pro Tip: The exact amount of time needed for the brine will vary somewhat depending on how you’re preparing and cooking the chicken, but overall, the best-tasting brines take around 12 hours to soak into the meat properly.

As a general rule, you need to brine your chicken for at least one hour per pound (0.45 kg) of meat at the very least to produce any flavorful results.

Next, let’s get into exactly when and how to prepare your brine solution based on how you’re preparing your chicken.

When To Brine Chicken for Frying

Chicken Frying in Oil

You should soak the chicken in your preferred brine for around 24 hours before frying, and refrain from rinsing off the brine before cooking. Leave it on when battering and frying the chicken for a perfectly juicy yet crispy result.

A great brine solution on your fried chicken will bring out the delicious flavors of the crispy batter and the chicken inside is a combination of saltwater and brown sugar. The ideal ratio is:

  • 1 qt (0.94 L) of water 
  • ½ cup (0.12 L) of kosher salt
  • 2-4 tbsp (29.6 ml) of brown sugar

Alternatively, a buttermilk brine is also great for fried chicken. Combine the following:

  • 1 qt (0.94 L) of buttermilk
  • 3-5 tsp (14.8-24.6 ml) of kosher salt
  • 1-2 tsp (4.9-9.9 ml) of black pepper. 

When To Brine Chicken for Smoking

You should soak the chicken in brine for at least 12 hours before smoking. This will help maintain the meat’s tenderness and moisture throughout the smoking process. 

For smoking, a simple saltwater solution is ideal. Combine the following:

  • 1 gallon (3.8 L) of water
  • 1 cup (0.24 L) of kosher salt
  • ½ cup (0.12 L) of sugar 

You can add other herbs for taste if you choose, but a basic salt, sugar, and water solution is ideal for preventing the chicken from becoming too dry during the smoking process.

When To Brine Chicken for Grilling

Even if you marinate your chicken before grilling, a brine solution can help take the flavor to the next level. Brine before marinating with the most basic yet effective brine solution around four cups (0.95 L) of water with ¼ cup (0.05 L) of kosher salt.

You should brine chicken for grilling for at least one hour before cooking. Less time is required with this method because you’re also adding a marinade to the meat. However, the brine can enhance the marinade’s flavors, so the longer the chicken rests in the mixture, the better. 

When To Brine Chicken for Roasting

Chicken Cooked Inside Foil

When roasting chicken, a good, simple brine solution is essential. You’ll also need to leave the brine on much longer than you would for most other common preparations, as roasting is quite slow.

A basic saltwater brine is perfect for roast chicken, but you can also add other flavors and spices of your choice, such as rosemary, thyme, and garlic. 

You should brine chicken for at least four hours before roasting. However, the longer the brine, the better your results, with a 12-hour brine being ideal. It’s important to ensure the chicken is submerged and coated completely in the chosen brine for maximum flavor.

When To Brine Chicken for Barbecue

When barbecuing chicken, a brine solution with brown sugar and garlic is perfect for bringing out the flavors of the chicken and the barbecue marinade. 

It’s best to brine your chicken using a wet brine solution for at least three hours prior to barbecuing. Then, add any other seasonings of your choice and proceed to barbecue as usual. Always brine before adding any additional seasoning or marinade.

When To Brine Chicken for Rotisserie

For rotisserie chicken, a wet salt and sugar brine left on the chicken for around 12 hours prior to cooking is ideal. Rotisserie cooking takes a long time, so your brine should be left on the chicken for no less than six hours for the best, juiciest results.

To really bring out the chicken’s flavor, stuff it with herbs of your choice before cooking.

When To Brine Chicken for Chicken Tenders

You should brine chicken for chicken tenders for at least two hours before adding any other seasonings or your batter. Similar to a fried chicken brine, either a brown sugar and saltwater brine or the standard saltwater brine is best. 

Dry brines also work quite well for chicken tenders, and they don’t require as much time. For dry brine, simply pat the chicken down with kosher salt and leave it to refrigerate for around an hour before cooking.

Can You Brine Chicken the Night Before Cooking?

You can brine chicken the night before cooking. While most brine fares best when left to soak into the chicken for up to 24 hours, it is also acceptable to brine your chicken for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours the night before cooking in a pinch. 

Even if you only have an hour or two, go ahead and brine the chicken anyway, as any amount of time in the solution will help produce juicier and tastier chicken.

As a general rule, the longer the brine, the better the results, so try to set aside as much time as you can before cooking to allow either the wet or dry brine to saturate the meat thoroughly. Remember, it takes a while for the salt to break down those proteins in the chicken, so if you can brine it for longer, it is always a good idea to do so.

Can You Brine Chicken Too Long?

You can brine chicken too long. Although most brines do better the longer they’re left to soak into the meat, it certainly is still possible. If you leave your chicken in a dry or wet brine for too long, it can become mushy, chewy, and far too salty.

For most preparations, brining the chicken for up to 24 hours at most is best. Anything longer can result in oversalted meat. There are a few preparations where brining for a bit longer is fine, such as dry brining crispy, fried chicken, but otherwise, 12 to 24 hours is more than enough.

How Long Should You Dry Brine Chicken?

You should brine the chicken for 24 hours. Dry brines are a bit more flexible in that they can be left for just a few hours if you’re short on time or as long as 20 or more hours, but 24 hours is perfect for drawing out just enough moisture for juicy, delicious chicken every time.

Dry brines are especially great for chicken preparations where you want the skin to be crispy. The brine prevents the chicken’s exterior from becoming too chewy or moist while also keeping the inside from becoming too dry and salty.

Types of Brines

There are two types of brines: wet and dry. The classic wet brine solution is a mixture of salt and water, but you can customize it with various herbs, spices, and garlic. A dry brine, on the other hand, is essentially just a salt rub, but it is also often modified by adding herbs and spices. 

Rosemary, thyme, and oregano are very commonly used in both wet and dry brines.

When it comes to wet brines, you can make a buttermilk brine, which is very popular with fried chicken and other preparations where crispiness is important. Instead of water, buttermilk is substituted. 

Some people also opt to use pickle juice instead of water, as it helps to tenderize the meat and adds a nice, tangy saltiness to the final product.

At its core, a brine is just salt, herbs of your choice, and, if it’s a wet brine, a liquid such as water, buttermilk, beef or chicken broth, or even apple cider to help the salt penetrate the meat and make it especially juicy and flavorful.

When Not to Brine Chicken

While brining certainly adds a lot of juiciness to your chicken, it also adds quite a bit of salt. If you’re watching your sodium or caloric intake, it might be best to avoid brining chicken regularly.

Additionally, you should avoid brining your chicken if you won’t be able to keep track of roughly how long the chicken has been in the brine solution. 

Important: Even though brining your chicken for a long time results in more flavorful chicken, if you leave it in the solution for over 24 hours without checking the chicken’s tenderness, it can sometimes result in meat that falls apart and is too salty and mushy to eat.

Similarly, if you’re preparing chicken to be placed in a broth, sauce, or soup, brining for any amount of time could cause the meat to become too tender and moist. It will absorb some of the liquid from the broth later anyway, so you may not want to brine chicken for this purpose. 

If you do insist on brining your chicken prior to placing it in a more soupy preparation, you should only brine the meat for an hour or two at most.

Overall, there aren’t a lot of situations where brining isn’t recommended for chicken. 

Pro Tip: While fattier meats like lamb or beef aren’t very well suited to brining since they are already quite tender, chicken is very lean meat that fares extremely well in brine solutions because they tend to break down the firm muscle and proteins within to make the meat more tender and moist.

What is the Formula For Brine?

The formula for brine is 4 tbsp (19.7 ml) of salt to 4 cups (0.95 L) of water. This ratio can be modified to taste depending on how much chicken you’re preparing and how you plan to cook it. For saltier meat, a higher ratio of salt to water should be used. 

But if you use more water or other spices, it will dilute the saltiness and produce different flavors.

Feel free to try other types of liquid for your wet brine instead of water. You can also experiment with various spices and herbs to give your chicken a less salty and more robust, complex flavor. 

What Does Brining Do to Chicken?

Usually, when cooking meat (in this case, chicken), the meat naturally contracts and pushes out moisture as the heat slowly dehydrates it. 

Brining weakens and breaks down proteins in the chicken to prevent it from contracting and dehydrating as it cooks, thus helping it absorb and hold more moisture. As a result, you’re left with far juicier, more tender, and more flavorful meat than you would have had without the brine.

Is Brining Chicken Healthy?

Brining chicken is not as healthy as it could be. While brining results in very flavorful, juicy meat, it also increases its overall sodium content. If you’re watching your salt intake, it might be best to slightly lower the amount of salt in your brine solution.

Otherwise, there are no significant health risks with brining chicken. Just be sure to keep the brined chicken refrigerated to prevent harmful bacterial growth.

Do You Wash Chicken After Brining?

You don’t need to wash your chicken after brining it unless you’re worried you’ve left it in the brine for too long and want to eliminate some of its saltiness. You could pat it dry with a towel after brining, but in most cases, it’s best to leave the brine on the chicken prior to cooking.

That being said, depending on your preference, you may opt to rinse the chicken in cold water just before cooking to prevent it from becoming too salty for your taste. Some people wash their chicken off, and some don’t; it just depends on how salty you want your meat.

Does Brining Meat Kill Bacteria?

Although brining meat slightly slows the growth of bacteria, it does not actually kill off any harmful bacteria or pathogens. Bacteria can still grow in meat even if it has been brined, so be sure to always refrigerate your meat and brine solution before cooking.

Does Brining Chicken Make It Salty?

Brining chicken adds juiciness and a bit of saltiness. For most chicken preparations, though, salt helps to draw out other flavors in the meat. Overall, you won’t have to worry about your chicken becoming too salty unless you leave it in the brine for too long or more than 24 hours.

Conclusion

Both wet and dry brines have been used to prepare meat for centuries, and brining remains a fast and simple way to make chicken, turkey, pork, and other meats more moist and flavorful. 

Brines are also highly customizable, as you can add whatever herbs and spices you wish, with buttermilk and pickle juice brines being quite popular. However, the most effective and commonly used brine is a simple saltwater solution, as it is the easiest way to add moisture and flavor to your meat before cooking.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, check out How to Keep Chicken From Sticking to Foil | 2 Methods.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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