This quick and easy chicken brine recipe is made with onions, fresh herbs, carrots, and celery. These classic flavors are well suited for baked and smoked whole chickens, chicken thighs, or chicken breasts. Believe us when we say that this brine is your best odds of producing a moist, juicy, and tender cooked chicken!
If you are new to brined chicken, you’re in for a treat. We all love grandma’s Sunday chicken recipe, but even grandma couldn’t guarantee a juicy chicken every time. Our chicken brine recipe will help you manage that risk. Remember that each chicken cooks differently. This brine will infuse wonderful flavor and plumping action that helps keep the bird moist and juicy, especially while baking and during low and slow cooking.
While this might seem like an extra step in the cooking process, it is well worth it.
Why should I brine chicken?
Chicken meat is quite lean, especially the breast which makes up a large portion of the surface area. That means that it’s prone to drying out. When a whole raw chicken is placed into a brine solution, some of it is absorbed right into the meat, plumping it up and infusing it flavor and moisture. This is especially important if you plan to cook your chicken at low temperatures on a smoker.
- 2 quarts cold tap water
- Kosher salt
- Dark brown sugar
- A yellow onion
- Bay leaves
- Black peppercorns
- Fresh thyme
- Cinnamon sticks, optional
How do I make a chicken brine?
A chicken brine recipe consists of 3 main items: water, coarse salt, and sugar. The salt and sugar are simmered with 2 cups of water in a large stockpot until dissolved. The chicken brine is then removed from the heat, diluted with more cold water, and other ingredients are added to the pot like halved onions, bay leaves, fresh herbs, peppercorns, sliced carrots, and celery. Some cooks add halved lemons, oranges, and cinnamon sticks to the pot. The chicken brine MUST be cold before submerging the chicken. Let the brine cool at room temperature for 40 minutes, then place the stockpot into your refrigerator for 1-1 1/2 hours more before using.
How do I brine a chicken?
First and foremost, make sure you have a large enough stockpot to accommodate the brine and a whole chicken. Submerge the chicken in the solution, cover the stockpot, and place it into your refrigerator for 8-12 hours. Unlike turkeys, chicken will brine fairly quickly, so you do not need to keep them in the solution for more than 12 hours. Any longer, and it might cure them and produce a salty chicken!
Use our chicken brine recipe for smaller items like breasts or cut-up pieces like thighs and legs. Brine boneless breasts for 2 hours and thighs and legs for 4 hours. If you’d like to brine some chicken wings, please see our Wing Brine recipe.
What do I do after I’ve brined the chicken?
- Remove the chicken from the solution and gently blot dry with paper towels. Place it onto a plate, and place it into your refrigerator, uncovered for two hours to “dry.”
- Remove it from the fridge and season, season your chicken with a low-sodium or salt-free rub, and cook as directed.
- Our chicken brine recipe works best for a 3 1/2-4 pound chicken. Please refer to one of our turkey brines for any larger or if you are cooking more than one chicken.
- Always use coarse salt like kosher salt for brine recipes.
- As mentioned above, make sure the brine has cooled properly before using. Do not submerge chicken in warm or hot liquids.
- Add your favorite herbs, spices, and savories to this chicken brine recipe.
Chicken Brine Recipe
- 2 quarts cold tap water
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 medium yellow onion halved
- 2 medium carrots peeled and sliced
- 2 stalks celery quartered
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 cinnamon sticks optional
- In a medium stockpot, simmer for 1 minute over medium heat, 2 cups of water with sugar and kosher salt.
- Once they have dissolved, remove the stockpot from the heat.
- Add remaining brine ingredients to the pot, stir through, and add the remaining cold water.
- Let the chicken brine cool for 40 minutes. Then place the stockpot into the refrigerator for 75-90 minutes.
- Once it is sufficiently cold, submerge the whole raw chicken into the brine liquid. Cover the pot and place it back into the refrigerator for 8-12 hours.
- Once brined, remove the chicken from the solution, blot it dry with paper towels, and let it air dry in your refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Season with low salt or no salt rub, and cook as directed.
- Brine boneless chicken breasts for 2-3 hours
- Brine bone-in pieces like legs and thighs for 4 hours.