Easy Chicken Wing Brine Recipe

Chicken wing brine recipe

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  • Total: 5 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Servings: 16 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
219 Calories
11g Fat
5g Carbs
23g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 219
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 15%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 71mg 24%
Sodium 2430mg 106%
Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Protein 23g
Calcium 28mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

While brining chicken wings is not necessary, if you do it right, it always results in more tender, juicier, flavorful meat. First, let's define what a brine is. It's simple really: A brine is just salt and water. Anything else is extraneous to the definition of a brine. Now, how much salt? It varies. Technically a brine is at least as salty as ocean water, or about a 3.5% concentration of salt—but it could be even saltier. A pretty common brine ratio for meat is 1 cup of salt into 1 gallon of water, or about 6.25% salt.

Why salt? Salt helps to tenderize meat in two ways. First, soaking meat in a saltwater solution helps the meat to absorb water. (It has to be a saltwater solution; soaking meat in water without salt will not cause it to absorb as much water, due to the laws of osmosis.) Brined meat will lose the same amount of water when cooked as meat that is not brined. (Muscle fibers contract when heated, sending water to the outer edges of the meat. This is why your meat sizzles when you fry it.) However, because the meat starts with more water to begin with, you end up with a juicier product. Secondly, the salt in the brine works to break down the muscle fibers of meat. (This is why a dry brine works, even without water.) The salt causes the tightly coiled muscle fibers to unwind, resulting in more tender meat that is easier to cut and chew.

You will notice that there are other ingredients in this brine, like sugar and spices. While sugar is not necessary in brines, it helps create more crispy, caramelized meat thanks to the Maillard reaction, a fancy term for the process of browning. (It is very important, however, that you pat dry your wings after brining, or they will not caramelize.) Sugar also contributes a more subtly rounded flavor to brined meat, since only salt can be a little harsh. You don't have to worry about your wings tasting sweet, however, since you will be rinsing off the brine before cooking them. As for the spices, they are just there for flavor and don't affect the juiciness or texture. Feel free to tweak them to your liking. The vinegar in the brine serves to tenderize the meat further, but is not inherent to the definition of a brine.

This recipe calls for you to brine chicken wings for 2 to 4 hours, so it does need some advance planning. If you run out of time and can't make this recipe the same day, don't worry—you can leave the brined wings in the fridge for up to 48 hours. However, be sure not to leave it any longer than that, or else you'll risk spongy, soggy, and overly salty meat. (However, overly salted meat can be fixed, to some degree. Read below the recipe for tips on how to do that.)

If you are starting with frozen wings, it is permissible to brine them without defrosting them first. However, defrosting before brining is ideal, and quick and easy due to their weight. Just make sure you are truly defrosting the wings and that they don't begin to cook.

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Click Play to See This Easy Chicken Wing Brine Recipe Come Together

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup table salt (or 1/2 cup kosher salt)
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 6 cups water (cold)
  • 2 tablespoons white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken wings

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this wing dish is broken down into workable segments to help you better plan for preparation.

Prepare the Brine

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for brine
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Combine vinegar and pepper flakes.

    Season
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Thoroughly dissolve the salt and sugar in water.

    Mix in bowl
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Add the vinegar mixture, white pepper, and black pepper.

    Brine
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Stir to mix, cover, and store in the refrigerator overnight.

    Cover brine
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Brine Your Chicken Wings

  1. Place chicken wings in a large nonmetal container.

    Chicken in bowl
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  2. Pour the brine mixture over the wings, making sure they are completely covered.

    Brine chicken
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Cover and place in the refrigerator. Allow the wings to brine for 2 to 4 hours.

    Cover brine
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Remove wings and rinse well. Discard any remaining brine.

    Remove wings
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck 
  5. Pat chicken dry with a paper towel.

    Pat chicken
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  6. Apply a seasoning or rub if you like and cook as desired.

    Chicken wings
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  7. Serve and enjoy.

Tip

  • Though the brine is easy to prepare, it is best when it's mixed up the night before. This allows the flavors to marry fully and ensures it's ready for your wings. 
  • While it may seem counterintuitive to pat your wings dry to remove the flavorful brine, this is an important step to ensure that your wings get crispy. Otherwise, surface moisture will cause the skin to steam, instead of caramelize and crisp up. The purpose of brining for at least 2 hours (ideally longer) is that the brine actually penetrates throughout the meat, so that you're not actually losing any flavor when you wipe off the surface brine.

Ideas for Cooking Your Brined Wings

Now that you have brined wings, it's time to decide how you want to serve them. They can be cooked as is and served with a variety of dipping sauces, or you can add a little more flavor.

There are many great chicken wing recipes that you can use for inspiration. For example, a dry rub of pepper, onion, chili powder, and garlic can really give them a nice kick. You can also grill your brined wings and serve them with a zesty lemon sauce.

When it comes to sauces, the possibilities are endless. Maybe you want to try a homemade barbecue sauce before broiling your wings. Then again, a tasty teriyaki sauce and some time in the slow cooker is a good option as well.

Can You Brine Frozen Meat?

Yes. You do not have to defrost before brining. In the case of frozen chicken wings that are easy and quick to defrost, however, defrosting before brining is ideal. In the case of larger pieces of meat that take longer to defrost, like whole turkeys, it is completely permissible to brine them in the fridge, thereby letting them defrost at the same time.

Can You Brine Meat For Too Long?

Yes. If you brine meat for too short of time, nothing will happen. However, the dangers of overbrining are severe. In the case of chicken, that can include spongy, overly salted meat. In general, aim not to brine meat for longer than 48 hours.

How Long Does It Take to Brine Meat?

The general rule of thumb is 1 hour per pound, although this is affected by the grain of the meat and how thinly it is cut. One pound of chicken that is cut into 2-inch cubes will take less time to brine than 1 pound of pork that is cut into 2-inch cubes, due to the grain of the pork.

Do You Have to Cook Immediately After Brining?

No. In fact, after you rinse off the brine and pat your meat dry, leaving your meat to rest for a couple of hours in the fridge—with a rub or seasonings on it—can result in even more flavorful and tender meat.

Can I Skip The Sugar In My Brine?

Yes. Sugar is extraneous to the definition of a brine, which is simply salt and water. However, sugar does contribute to a more rounded flavor, since simply saltwater can be a bit harsh or flat-tasting. Moreover, however, sugar helps to caramelize the surface of meat, helping to lead to the most crispy chicken wings possible. If you do choose to forego it, however, you can still make excellent chicken wings.

What Happens if My Meat Is Too Salty After Brining?

Don't worry, you have some options. You can rinse off your meat and stick it in plain, cold water for at least an hour. Osmosis will help water flow into your meat and the salt to flow out of it at the same time. Both will help dilute the saltiness. Once you cook it, if you find it is still too salty, you can shred the meat finely and incorporate it into tacos, soups, stews, or even something like chicken salad. The more finely you shred the meat, the better you'll be able to compensate for the saltiness.

I Don't Have White Pepper. Can I Use Black Instead?

Yes. White pepper has a milder, softer, rounder flavor than black pepper, and is often used in French white sauces where a homogenous color is considered more elegant. White pepper is also used in Chinese cuisine. For this recipe, because color is not an issue, and the quantity of pepper is relatively small, the switch will not be noticeable. If you're concerned about the heat, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of black pepper for 2 tablespoons of white pepper.