Wednesday, March 6, 2013

To Brine A Chicken: Quick Method

Brinning a chicken (whole, cut or boneless) is a great way to help your bird retain some of it's natural moisture but more importantly heighten flavor. Let me put the notion to rest that a brined bird will survive poor cooking methods. An un-brined bird can be cooked to juicy and flavorful perfection just as much as a brined bird can yield the flavor and texture of sawdust if cooked carelessly. However, taking the time to prepare a brine and appropriately cook a chicken will give you an obvious results that will have you and your guests satisfied with your efforts.

The recipe I have listed here is a Quick Brine (10% salt) taking less than half the time of traditional brines (5% salt). Now I will admit there is no substitution for tradition, however a recipe such as this will allow you to yield great results if you have not planned your roasted chicken dinner 24 hours in advance.

This brine is great for chicken (whole, quartered, bone-in and boneless pieces) and pork (loin, chops, tenderloin, bone-in or boneless).

What Does a Brine Actually Do

Salt is made up of oppositely charged sodium and chloride ions. The large  molecules of protein found in meat contain a variety of charges both positive and negative. When proteins come into contact with a salt solution (brine) they rearrange their shape to accommodate the opposing charges. The rearrangement of these protein molecules weakens the structural integrity of the meat. Gaps are are created which not only promote tenderness but fill up with the water and salt solution. The salt which has been absorbed into the meat makes the water less likely to evaporate during cooking. So increased tenderness, absorption of moisture (water) and salt (seasoning) results in a cooked meat that is both juicy and tender.....if you cook it right. Check out my post on roasting a chicken.

Before You Get Started

  • Plan to make this ahead of time. Although I focus on a high salt concentrated brine and short brine time in this post it helps to have the time set aside for this project as well as all your ingredients.
  • I like to buy my chicken the night before I brine or early in the morning the day of. Although once your chicken has been brined, rinsed and air dried you can return it to the refrigerator for another 24 hours or so, you are ultimately changing the overall outcome which will vary and risking of potential bacterial growth. 
  • Choosing the right chicken: I like to eat as fresh and natural as possible. Not only is it better for you and the quality and flavor obvious, but you will tend to support smaller, independent and local businesses by doing so.                                                                                                                                       
Note: As a general rule when serving a whole bird for dinner guests approximate 1 pound per 1 person. Remember your bird has bones which will not be eaten. After subtracting the weight of the bones you will easily plenty of meat to serve a portion of 6-8 ounces per person.
  • Get the right ingredients. Like this recipe and most of popular interest, the ingredients called for should NOT be considered extras or luxuries, rather they should be filling up your cupboards replacing the inferior products you may be using. If you want to learn to cook right you need to shop right.
  • Make sure you  have a stock pot with a lid, a food grade plastic container or a bowl large enough to hold your chicken leaving enough room for brine. I used an 8 quart stock pot with lid fro this recipe.
  • Get an instant-read thermometer. If you do not already have a thermometer such as the Pro Accurate Instant-Read Thermometer (Google Affiliate Ad) or similar product, you should consider getting one. Although one may think it will only be used once in a great while, it is relatively inexpensive compared to the money which could be wasted on an overcooked chicken or roast. Once you have a thermometer you might also find yourself using it more than you previously thought due to the fact that you will be able to achieve more technical or intimidating dishes. This instrument is not used in the brining process but the cooking process (which I cover in a later post after 'how to calibrate..') but if you are going to brine you are going to cook, right?
  • Consider if you will be getting creative with your brine by adding other seasonings. I do not cover much of this in my post however there is a lot of information out there. Look it up and have fun  however DO NOT use a spice blend it is already contains salt. Make your own or purchase a blend without salt. Sugar is fine as this brine does not contain any as some brine do.

Quick Method Brine or 10% Salt Brine
Perfect for chicken and pork
Brine time 2-3 hours.

4 to 6 pound chicken (whole, quartered, pieces or breasts)
30 ounces water (3 3/4 Cups)
6 ounces Kosher salt (1 Cup)
30 ounces ice cubes (roughly 2 quarts of loose packed ice)
5-7 pound chicken (Smaller will be better submerged)
2 lemons, halved and squeezed, put the juice and lemons in brine
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced
4 gloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tablespoons spice blend or seasoning (be sure to use a seasoning or blend without any additional salt.     Sugar is fine).


  • Combine the water and salt and aromatics (spices if using) in the pot you will be brining the chicken in.                                                                                                                                                    
Note:If you will be using another container or bowl for brining then a smaller pot big enough to hold these ingredients will do.                                                                                                                       
  • Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat then turn the heat down to med-low and simmer for 5 minutes.  
  • After 5 minutes turn off the heat and throw in your ice.
  • Remove your chicken from packaging. Remove the giblets and any other items inside your bird. Rinse thoroughly under cold water, rinsing the exterior and interior of the bird.
Removing the excess fat found inside the chicken.
  • Once the ice has cooled the brine place the chicken into the pot and cover with a lid. If not using the same pot for brining, pour the cooled brine from the pot into your container or bowl, add the chicken and cover.                                                                                                                                         
Note: If you are using a larger chicken and find that the brine does not cover your bird completely simply add more of the brine solution to cover. The ratio is 2 Tablespoons kosher salt to 1 Cup water. Make sure to fully dissolve salt in water before adding to your brine.
  • Keep your brine and chicken out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. Alternately if you are not planning to use the chicken shortly after brining then you will want to refrigerate your chicken as it brines for 2 to 3 hours.

Chicken, lemons, ice cubes and brine.
My 7 pound chicken was to large to be submerged
in the brine, so I kept it breast side down
to ensure most of the meat was in the brine. 

  • After 2 to 3 hours in the brine remove the bird from the brine and gently rinse under cold running water. Gently shake the chicken holding it upright so that any excess water can drain out of the cavity.
  • Place your chicken in the roasting pan you will be roasting it in and let it air dry, out on the counter at room temperature for an hour before cooking. This time allows the skin to dry, salt to equalize in the meat and your chicken to enter into the oven at a warmer temperature ensuring even cooking in less time.                                        
Air drying after the brine.

Note: If you are NOT going to cook you chicken after brining then DO NOT leave your chicken out at room temperature for an additional hour. Instead, after rinsing return your chicken to the refrigerator until you are ready to cook. At that time you may remove your chicken from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to allow it to raise in temperature.                                                                                                            

My Experience While Using This Recipe

  •  For this recipe I used a 7 pound chicken. This brine recipe was just shy of covering my bird. As noted in the method above I could have added to my brine (2 Tablespoons of kosher salt to 1 Cup of water ratio) until my chicken was fully submerged. Instead I chose to brine my chicken breast side down, submerged in the brine while the back side (spine) of the chicken peeked above the brine. I figured that by doing this at least most of my bird was submerged which included almost all of the edible meat. I do suggest submerging the whole chicken, however this worked very well and I did not notice any  inconsistencies.
  • I have used this Quick Brine recipe many times before, however I did test it again before posting it on my blog. During my last run through I decided to add some of the optional spice as mentioned in the ingredients list above. I mixed in 2 Tablespoons of Tango Mango Hot Habanero spice blend from Kitschy Chic, a terrific shop on Etsy. This spice blend did not have any additional salt (as mentioned to avoid) but a lot of flavor. I usually do not infuse spices and/or blends in my brines, rather add these during the cooking process, however after this experience I think I may have been converted.
  • A great brining tip: You can use a heavy duty, food grade plastic bag when brining your protein (chicken, pork). Using a bag will allow you to use less brine for a larger piece of protein by means of reducing the air space ensuring even coverage on the surface of your item. Whether an open top with a twist tie or a more advanced bag such as a Ziploc Double Zipper Bags, Plastic, 2 gal, Clear w/Write-On Panel, (Google Affiliate Ad) make sure it is large enough and strong enough to hold the liquid without leaking. I suggest using shallow dish when using a bag just in case of leakage. 


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