How to Brine a Chicken

how to brine chicken
Ingredients for brining a chicken. Natasa Mandic / Stocksy United

Roasting a chicken is relatively simple and straightforward. It doesn't require a whole lot of fussing, advanced skills or complicated math. For the most part, you place the bird in a hot oven, time passes, and then you take it out of the oven.

Still, it's worth bearing in mind that a chicken is a jumble of dark meat, light meat, bones and cartilage, all tightly enclosed in a flexible yet resilient outer skin. Compared to a homogenous beef roast, a whole chicken is fairly complex. The breast meat is leaner and less juicy, but you can't take it out before the dark meat is cooked through, which takes longer. Nowhere is this problem more apparent than with turkeys. Because they're so big, by the time the leg meat is done, the breasts are inevitably way past overcooked.

Why Brine?

The fact that roasting a chicken is in any way foolproof is mainly to do with its comparatively small size. But that doesn't mean it couldn't use a bit of help. And that's where brining comes in. Brining adds moisture to the meat as well as flavor. Because a chicken is so small, you don't need to brine it for days or even overnight. Drop it in the brine in the morning and it'll be ready to roast for dinner that night. The key is to make sure you thoroughly dry the skin. If it goes in the oven wet, the skin won't crisp up properly. You also can brine chicken wings.

Brine Safely

Once you prepare the brine, be sure to let it cool completely and THEN chill it thoroughly by adding ice. If the brine isn't icy, you'll have a food safety hazard on your hands. The reason the brine is initially boiled is to unlock the flavors in the peppercorns and allspice.

Steps to Brine a Chicken

Follow these steps for a tasty (and safe) brine:

  1. In a large stock pot, combine a gallon of cold water, a cup of Kosher salt, and half a cup of brown sugar.
  2. Stir to dissolve, then add a tablespoon of whole allspice and a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns.
  3. Heat the liquid to a boil, then take it off the heat and let it cool completely.
  4. When the brine is cool, add four cups of ice and swirl it around to ensure the liquid is thoroughly chilled.
  5. Rinse the chicken and then add it head-first into the brine. You might need to weigh it down with something heavy so that it stays submerged under the water.
  6. Cover the pot, transfer it to the refrigerator and refrigerate for anywhere from 8 to 24 hours.
  7. When you're ready to roast the chicken, take it out of the brine, rinse it in cold water, and pat it dry with clean paper towels. Discard the brine and proceed with roasting your chicken.