Brining Chicken: The Science and Benefits

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Brining Chicken: The Science and Benefits

Brining is a popular technique used by many home cooks and professional chefs to enhance the flavor and moisture of chicken. By soaking chicken in a saltwater solution known as a brine before cooking, you can achieve incredibly juicy, seasoned meat that is difficult to overcook.

But why does brining work so well, and what exactly does it do to the chicken? Read on to learn the science behind brining and its many advantages when cooking chicken breasts, thighs, wings, and more.

What is Brining?

Brining refers to submerging meat in a saltwater solution for a specified time before cooking. The brine is made by dissolving salt and sometimes sugar in water or another liquid like milk or fruit juice. Additional flavorings like herbs, spices, and aromatics are also commonly added.

Meat is placed into the brine and left to soak anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. The salt in the solution begins to break down muscle proteins on the surface of the meat, allowing the brine to get pulled deeper into the tissue through osmosis.

The Science Behind Brining Chicken

To understand the benefits of brining chicken, it helps to look at the science behind this process:

NaCl Interaction

Common table salt used in brines is sodium chloride (NaCl). When salt interacts with the muscle proteins in meat, the proteins start to unwind and allow water to get inside. The salt also dissolving in the water creates a “saline solution” with a lower concentration of water molecules than inside the meat.

This discrepancy in water concentration causes the moisture inside the meat to get drawn out into the brine, while the salt and other flavor molecules from the brine get absorbed into the meat – all through the process of osmosis.

Increased Moisture

The result is a net increase and retention of moisture within the chicken. Even after cooking, the extra moisture helps the meat stay juicy and prevents it from drying out.

Tenderized Texture

The salt also breaks down tough collagen in the connective tissue, beginning the process of tenderizing the chicken.

Enhanced Flavor

Along with moisture, the salt, sugar, and aromatics infuse the chicken with seasoning that gets locked in during cooking. This amplifies the flavor compared to unbrined chicken.

Benefits of Brining Chicken

Let’s look closer at the many advantages brining can offer over simply seasoning and cooking chicken:

Juicier Meat

The biggest benefit is undeniably a juicier end result. The extra moisture from brining keeps lean chicken breasts from drying out and becoming tough.

Tender and Soft

Along with increased moisture, brining also tenderizes the chicken. The salt helps break down tough muscle fibers and connective tissue through denaturation of proteins.

Holds Seasoning Better

The brine delivers flavor deep into the meat, rather than just coating the exterior. This allows the chicken to hold and absorb seasoning better than just salting the surface.

Forgiving if Overcooked

Higher moisture content means brined chicken is much harder to overcook. The meat stays tender even if left in the oven or grill slightly too long.

Uniformly Seasoned and Flavored

Every bite of brined chicken will have well-distributed seasoning instead of random salty or spice bursts.

Locks in Savory Flavors

The salty brine brings out and enhances the chicken’s savory umami flavor before cooking.

Infuses New Flavors

You can give typically bland chicken exciting new flavors like citrus, smoky spices, or herbs through the brine.

How Long to Brine Chicken

To fully benefit from brining, the chicken needs to soak long enough for the salt solution to sufficiently penetrate into the meat. Here are general brining times based on the thickness and bone-in or boneless cut of chicken:

Chicken Breasts

– Boneless, skinless breasts: 30 minutes to 1 hour

– Bone-in, skin-on breasts: 1 to 2 hours

Chicken Thighs and Legs

– Boneless thighs: 1 hour

– Bone-in thighs: 2 to 4 hours

– Bone-in drumsticks: 2 to 4 hours

Whole Chicken

– Broiler chickens: 2 to 6 hours

– Roasting hens: 6 to 8 hours

– Capons: overnight, 12 to 24 hours

Chicken Wings

– Flats or drumettes: 30 minutes to 1 hour

– Whole wings: 1 hour

Brine Ingredients

At its most basic, a brine just needs water and salt. Often sugar is also added to balance out the saltiness. Beyond that, you can incorporate various seasonings and flavors based on the type of cuisine.


Table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt are common options. Use 1/2 to 1 cup per quart of water. The salt penetrates the chicken and provides a cleaner, more savory flavor.


Granulated white sugar is commonly used at 1/4 to 1/2 cup per quart of water. The sugar balances and mellows out saltiness.


Use enough cold water to fully submerge the chicken. Tap water works, but distilled or filtered water can prevent any off-flavors.

Herbs and Spices

Dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc. or spices like garlic powder, paprika, and pepper can provide flavor.


Ingredients like lemon, onions, garlic, and peppers add aroma and flavor to the brine.

Other Flavorings

Get creative with ingredients like wine, fruit juice, vinegar, soy sauce, broth, or hot sauce to complement the dish.

Brining Methods

Here are some easy methods for brining chicken at home:

Bucket or Pot

In a large container, mix together salt, sugar, and seasonings with cold water until dissolved. Submerge the chicken fully in the brine. Cover and refrigerate.

Resealable Bag

Combine brine in a large resealable bag, squeeze out excess air, and seal. Turn occasionally to distribute brine.


A briefly marinated chicken can have benefits of a quick brine. Keep the salt and sugar quantities lower.

Injection Brining

Inject brine deep into thick cuts like a whole turkey using a flavor injector tool.

Dry Brining

Rub chicken thoroughly with a salt and herb mixture without liquid. Chill to allow salt to penetrate.

After Brining

Once chicken has brined, here are some steps for best results:

Rinse and Pat Dry

Rinse the brined chicken with cold water to prevent excess saltiness on the surface, then pat very dry with paper towels.

Let Air Dry

Let chicken air dry uncovered in the fridge for up to an hour to allow the surface to dry further.

Cook Immediately

For food safety, cook brined chicken right away rather than letting it sit out after brining is complete.

Season Exterior

Brush or rub spices, herbs, oil, etc. on the surface for flavor, browning, and texture.

Brined Chicken Recipes

Brining works great with all chicken recipes, but here are some delicious ideas:

Brined Roast Chicken

Season a whole bird in and out after brining for incredibly moist meat.

Brined Grilled Chicken

Brine helps lean chicken breasts or thighs stay juicy on the grill.

Brined Fried Chicken

The brine amps up flavor and ensures tender, non-dry chicken even when fried.

Brined Chicken Wings

Brined wings are super juicy and hold sauce extremely well.

Brined Chicken Soup

Use brined shredded chicken or chunks in soups and broths.

Brined Chicken Salad

Tender brined chicken makes an excellent base for chicken salads.

Get creative with the brine flavor combinations, and brining will take your chicken dishes to new heights!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does brining chicken make it salty?

Properly brining chicken should not make it overly salty. Use the recommend amount of salt (1/2 to 1 cup per quart of water), rinse off the chicken after brining, and season additionally after brining if needed.

Is brined chicken safe to eat?

Yes, brining is completely safe when food safety guidelines are followed. Refrigerate chicken at 40°F or below while brining. Cook brined chicken thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F.

Can you brine chicken too long?

It is possible to over-brine chicken if left soaking for far longer than recommended. This can result in overly salty flavor and a mealy texture. Stick within the suggested brining times.

What happens if you don’t rinse brined chicken?

Skipping the post-brine rinse can sometimes leave excessive salt on the chicken’s exterior and skin, leading to overly salty flavor. Rinsing helps wash away surface salt.

Can you freeze brined chicken?

It’s best not to freeze brined raw chicken. The salt content and introduced moisture can cause poor freezing. Cook chicken immediately after brining for freezing.

With its power to turn bland, dry chicken into succulent, flavor-packed meat, it’s easy to see why brining has become such a popular preparation technique. Experiment with brines and enjoy super juicy chicken at home.

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About the Author: Staff Reporter