How to brine a chicken (and why you should)

How to brine a chicken (and why you should)

I remember when I was talking to a friend about buying a local chicken for the first time.  She mentioned that you had to brine fresh chicken and she just didn’t have the time to do that.

That got me to wondering…why do you have to brine a fresh chicken and why don’t you have to brine a store-bought chicken?

Turns out there is a great misconception.

Let’s start with store bought chicken.  Store bought chicken is much cheaper than fresh, locally raised chicken, which made me wonder why?  There is a whole story that goes with store bought chicken I won’t go into here. I suggest you do your own research.  The big thing to note is that store bought chicken is injected with salt water (or…brine) before you buy it.  (If you don’t believe me, read the package.) Therefore, you are paying for salt water along with your chicken.  This injected brine is what makes those store-bought chicken breasts so “plump.” 

It also makes the chicken tasteless.

Here’s the thing.  Once you taste fresh chicken, you will never go back to store bought.  And once you taste your own brined chicken, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing this all your adult life.

I want to point out that you do not HAVE to bring a fresh chicken.  Fresh, locally raised chicken is delicious no matter how you prepare it.  I liken it to “old-fashioned” chicken.  It reminds me of when I was a child (a very long time ago before gas grills were invented) when we would cook a cut up chicken on a charcoal grill for (what felt like) hours and baste it slowly with barbecue sauce.  (A little potato salad, corn-on-the-cob…oh yeah, now we’re talking!)

I digress…

It wasn’t until I bought that first locally raised chicken that I decided to give brining a try.  I looked up a ton of recipes, but I’m not really a stick-to-a-recipe kind of gal.  I like to understand the basics and then experiment.

The basics to brining is this:  Water and salt.  That’s it.  But that doesn’t really give the chicken flavor.  It’s what you add beyond that.


The herbs.

What herbs you use is totally up to you and what flavors you want to add.  I add herbs based on aroma.  I figure if I like the smell, I’ll like the taste.

To brine a chicken here is what you need to do.  I do this the night before I want to cook the chicken so the flavors of my herbs are well mingled with the meat, but you can also do it the morning of.  Just make sure to give your chicken a minimum of an hour to absorb the flavor.  Keep in mind, the longer it sits in the brine, the more flavor the chicken absorbs.

Dissolve 1 cup kosher or sea salt in one gallon of water.  Bring to a boil.  Add your herbs.   I typically add ¼ cup of sugar or honey to add a little sweetness. Simmer for a few minutes then turn off heat.  Bring water back to room temp or colder.  Submerge your chicken in the brine and refrigerate until you are ready to use.  Turn your chicken a couple of times if it isn’t completely covered by the water.

When you are ready to cook your chicken, remove from the brine, rinse, and pat dry. Toss the remaining brine. Do not reuse. Cook chicken as directed.

That’s it.

The best part of brining are the herbs.  You can use as many or as little as you like.  Remember, the longer you brine your chicken the more flavor it will have.  If you use a lot of strong herbs, it will be reflected in the flavor. You won’t have to use a lot of seasoning when cooking the chicken.

Here are a few herbs you can use in your brine.  These are my favorites, however feel free to experiment.  Fresh herbs are better, but dried herbs work too. Try making your own brined chicken and let me know what you think.

• Lemon Thyme

• Sage

• Bay leaves

• Tarragon

• Juniper Berries

• Oregano

• Basil

• Parsley

• Rosemary

• Peppercorns

• Lemons

• Garlic

• Lemon grass

• Lovage

• Marjoram


Here are some combinations you might like:

Citrus Herb Chicken

2 tbs – Peppercorns

2 tbs – Lemon Thyme

1 tbs – Sage

1 tbs – Juniper Berries

1 tbs – Rosemary

1 tbs – Lemon Zest

1 tbs – Orange Zest

(Or use sliced lemons and oranges.  This is a great time to use your dehydrated lemons and oranges)

2-3 Bay Leaves


Italian Chicken

2 tbs – Peppercorns

2 tbs -English Thyme (or any thyme you have)

2 tbs -Sage

1 tbs – Rosemary

1 tbs – Oregano

1 tbs – Basil

1 tbs – Marjoram

1 tbs – Parsley

2-3 Bay leaves


Traditional Poultry

2 tbs -Sage

2 tbs -Thyme

2 tbs -Peppercorns

2 tbs -Nutmeg

1 tbs – Marjoram

1/2 tbs – Rosemary