If you’re ready to take your BBQ chicken wings to the next level then get ready to try out this recipe. Using just a few ingredients, it couldn’t be easier to make. Here’s how to brine chicken wings.
When it comes to chicken wings, lot of fellow BBQ enthusiasts tend to just go for a simple rub or marinade and hope for the best. Now don’t get me wrong, I love rubs and marinades, but I offer an even better solution to infusing your meat with flavor: Brining.
Now, hear me out here: I know that brining intimidates a lot of people. With its relatively long preparation time and method, it is more work.
But the results are so, so good.
When done right, brined meat is juicy and tender, and a brilliant way of packing in a load of flavor into even the most modestly sized of meats.
A lot of people have a brine recipe that they like to refer to, but it’s also key that you apply it right, and getting those all-important measurements right is really key.
So here I am to help with a quick guide to brining chicken wings, including my favorite ingredients to use, and the exact measurements you should look to use.
If you want to see other meat prep guides, check out my guide on how long to brine pork shoulder.
Why should we brine chicken wings?
As you may know, brining is a meat preparation process that helps prevent meat from drying out. This is particularly important for BBQ and smoking, where meats are left exposed to high temperatures for long periods of times which can lead to them drying out.
This is even more key for chicken because it’s a very lean type of meat, with very little fat content. This make it prone to turning from juicy to dry in mere minutes.
Add to this the fact that wings tend to carry less meat than cuts like breast, and we’re asking for a lot of trouble if we don’t do the right prep.
A prepared brine of water, salt and seasoning can be mixed together and used to submerge the chicken. Salt is an excellent agent for helping meat lock in its juices and flavors. This means that once it’s cooked it will remain beautifully moist and tender.
How long should you brine chicken wings for?
Chicken is a very lean meat, so it needs a lot longer for brining than other fattier meats, like pork. You can brine skinless chicken wings for just a few hours, but to get the real full effects I’d go much longer.
I recommend brining chicken overnight (8 hours) at a minimum, however I’d also suggest trying going a full 24 hours to get the absolute most out of the brine.
What do you need for chicken wing brine?
For making a chicken wing brine you’ll need:
- Chicken wings (make sure they're fully defrosted. Here's how to thaw chicken properly)
- Any liquid can make do – beer, wine, vinegar or fruit juice – but I almost always just go for good old fashioned water. While you might intend to make a different flavor of brine by using a different liquid, I find that water does a great job without taking much away from the flavors of the meat itself. Use warm water.
- Table or kosher salt. Ensure it doesn’t contain any additives, as these can affect the purity of your mix. Because kosher salt has no iodine content it can form clumps, which makes it ideal for brining.
- A large container. Avoid any container that can corrode when used. The best containers tend to be plastic or stainless steel.
- A weight. A plate can make do in this case, keeping your meat submerged in the water
- Sugar. This helps give your meat a beautiful crisp when smoked or barbecued.
- Your choice of extras. For example, red pepper flakes, white pepper, black pepper. These added flavors will come down to your personal preference, but as an absolute minimum I tend to include black pepper.
Follow these six simple steps and you’ll have made light work of your chicken wing brine.
#1. Measure out 2 cups-to-1 pound of water
This is a very important step since you need to take some measurement on the liquid to use. The amount of liquid you’ll need will depend on the number of chicken wings you expect to cook. Too much and they'll be soft and hard to cook, too little and they’ll dry out very easily.
For the best way to measure the amount of water you need, put the wings in a large bowl. Start pouring in warm water and stop once it has submerged the meat and is sitting at about 3 inches above the top of the wings. You can then pour this water into a measuring container for you to use when needed.
Quick Tip: A rough guide is use 6 cups of water per 3 pounds of chicken wings.
#2. Measure out your salt
A lot of people say that 1:16 is the best basic ratio of salt to water. However what makes our task difficult is that different kinds of salt have different crystal content and therefore weight. A cup of table salt is equivalent to twice the weight of one cup of kosher salt.
Instead, what I recommend is going by weight. 10 ounces of salt per gallon of water is my preferred guide. Scale down according to your measured water volume and calculate the amount of salt needed from there.
Quick Tip: if you have 6 cups of water then you need one-third of a cup of table salt, or half a cup of kosher salt.
3) Combine water, salt & sugar
With your already measured water, stir in the salt and sugar. Stir carefully until all solid particles have dissolved. also remember to add sugar and stir carefully until the solid particles are fully dissolved. Sugar will make your chicken develop a nice brown skin when cooked.
Quick Tip: Try to use about one-third of a cup of white sugar.
4) Add your spice & herbs
This is where it all makes the difference. Add all your chosen spice and herbs. Mix a quarter cup of both white vinegar and red pepper flakes and pour this blend into the water. Add a tablespoon of white pepper and two tablespoons of black pepper into your brine solution
5) Submerge the chicken wings
Place your chicken wings into the brine mix. Move everything to a larger container if you need to. Ensure that all the meat's are covered by the water. You can use a plate to anchor your meat down.
Place the container in the fridge and leave for a few hours
Quick Tip: Leave for 2 hours if your wings are skinless, or 4 hours if they still have skin.
6) Dry down your wings
When you are done brining, remove your chicken wings from the brine. Rinse them carefully and gently dry the meat by patting it down to remove any excess liquid and salt.
Dry cook the meat by either grilling or smoking it. You can season it if you want, but in my opinion brined meat is best on its own.
Can you dry brine chicken wings?
Sure! I’ve usually only used dry brines for larger cuts of meat (for example, whole turkeys). This is because it’s a lot neater and causes less mess because of the absence of water. For smaller cuts of meat like wings I’ve just preferred to think soaking it in a wet brine helps permeate the skin and flesh of the meat more thoroughly.
I think there is a good argument for dry brining chicken wings. Simply rubbing salt on them without the use of water dries out the skin, which leads to beautifully golden-brown crispy skin on the wings once cooked.
Can I brine them in beer?
Absolutely! Just like with marinades and rubs, there’s a lot of room for experimentation with the brine you use. While my recipe here is my go-to for making spiced chicken wings, beer is a great ingredient to use for a brine.
Char-Broil have a great beer-brine recipe that uses beer, salt, and brown sugar. Give it a try!
Easy Chicken Wing Brine Recipe
- 6 ¼ cups warm water warm
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 3 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- Pour the warm water into a large container. Add the salt and sugar and stir thoroughly until all particles have dissolved.
- Add in the red pepper flakes, black pepper and cider vinegar. Mix thoroughly.
- Carefully place the chicken wings in the brine. Ensure that they are submerged under the surface of the brine. Use a small weight if you need to.
- Put the entire container in the fridge and leave for 2-4 hours.
Over to you
Feeling ready to step outside your comfort zone and try brining meat? This cooking technique is nowhere near as hard as it looks so I’m excited to see you guys give it a try – and be sure to let me know what you think!
What do you like to include in your brine? Do you prefer something with more spice? Or more salt? What’s your favorite cooking method? Let me know in the comments below!