Be it any party, weekend get-together, or binge night, a plate full of sweet and spicy chicken wings is hands down the favorite appetizer that everyone loves. But do you know what is the secret behind the most tender and juicy chicken wings? It is a simple step called ‘brining’ which can add a whole new dimension of flavor and a tempting taste to this most loved food.
‘Brine’ is a solution made of salt and water. Chicken wings can be kept in the brine solution for ~2 to 6 hours depending upon the concentration of salt (about 3.5 to 6%). Once the process is complete, rinse the wings, pat dry, apply a rub or seasoning and then cook them at a medium-high temperature. Finish off by tossing in a choice of sauce. Brining improves the flavor and juiciness of the chicken wings.
The best brine for chicken wings may also be modified with different types of seasonings and herbs. Soy sauce and vinegar added to the brine boosts the flavor of chicken wings to another level. If you want to brine chicken wings for roasting, grilling, or frying, continue reading this guide.
Why Should You Brine Chicken Wings?
For the most tender and juicy chicken wings, you must consider brining. Brining not only keeps the moisture of the meat intact but also adds flavor to the wings. If your chicken wings often come out as dry, especially when you cook them on an open flame, you should definitely consider brining the chicken wings.
What Is Brining?
Brining is traditionally a mixture of salt and water. Ideally, a brine solution is made by adding 3.5 to 6% salt in water. Therefore, a brine solution may be saltier than ocean water. A brine solution may also contain some amount of sugar.
When chicken wings are submerged in the brine solution during the preparation phase, the salt breaks down the proteins of the meat and locks them with moisture and flavors. A process known as ‘osmosis’ helps to retain the moisture and thus prevents the wings from getting dry or producing bland results during the process of cooking.
During the process of open flame grilling or smoking, the meat naturally expels away moisture. However, when we brine the wings, we already load them with excess moisture so that the net loss of water content is minimized and the final outcome is always tender and juicy.
How To Make Brine For Chicken Wings
Brining is very much recommended for making BBQ or smoked chicken wings where they have the highest chances of getting dried out. Making brine for chicken wings is super simple. Here are some easy ways:
Quick Brine For Chicken Wings
For making quick brine for chicken wings, simply apply the basic formula – ‘1 cup of salt to 1 gallon (or ~4.5 liters) of water’. Try starting with fresh meat. If you are using frozen chicken wings, you should first thaw or defrost them completely before adding them to the brine. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to brine chicken wings for grilling, roasting, or smoking.
Step 1: Clean the chicken wings and blot each piece with a paper towel. Keep aside.
Step 2: Take a large bowl (big enough so that all the chicken wings can be completely immersed in the solution) and add salt. Wait until the salt dissolves completely.
While salt adds flavor to the meat, adding a hint of sugar to the brine solution will produce crispier and caramelized results.
Step 3: Now dip the cleaned chicken wings one by one in the brine solution and let them rest. Make sure all the chicken wings are completely submerged in the brine solution.
Step 4: Refrigerate for about 2 to 6 hours. You can use a zip lock or a tightly packed glass container for more even results.
Step 5: Once the process of brining is complete, remove the chicken wings and discard the rest of the brine solution.
Step 6: Rinse the chicken wings with plain water and pat dry each piece with a paper towel.
Step 7: You can next marinade or apply a seasoning or rub on the chicken wings and then cook it on an outdoor grill, smoker, oven, air fryer, or whichever method you are comfortable with. Make sure to not overcook the wings. Finish by tossing in your choice of sauce.
The air fryer method is one of the best methods for cooking chicken wings. However, if you want a smoky taste, you can use a pellet smoker and cook it at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 to 60 minutes. For crispier results, smoke it for another 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Classic Brine For Chicken Wings
For adding more flavors to the chicken wings, add some soy sauce to the basic brine solution. The soy sauce brings in an umami (or savory) taste and also adds a little bit of flavor that is typical of BBQued chicken wings.
Soy sauces are of different types such as Koikuchi shoyu (dark soy sauce), Usukuchi shoyu (light shoyu), Shiro shoyu (white soy sauce), and Saishikomi shoyu (twice-brewed soy sauce). For chicken wings, we recommend using dark soy sauce. You may also add about ¼ cup of white wine vinegar. Note that since dark soy sauce in itself has a high amount of salt, therefore, you would need to adjust the amount of salt for the brine accordingly.
Brine With Seasonings For Chicken Wings
If you want a nice seasoning and herbey flavors for your chicken wings, you can try the following method:
Take a large pot of water, ½ a cup of salt, and 2-3 tbsp of sugar. Heat the water to let the contents dissolve and then turn off the heat source. Once the brined solution has been brought down to room temperature, add 1 tsp each of optional seasonings like crushed black ground pepper, oregano, roasted garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Gently mix. Add the cleaned and towel-dried chicken wings to this brine solution such that it is fully submerged and then follow the same steps as above.
How Long To Brine Chicken Wings For Smoking
If you are planning to brine and marinate the chicken wings, you would, of course, need to plan in advance. Chicken wings should be soaked in the brine solution for a maximum of 6 hours so that you get the best flavors during smoking or grilling. Of course, the total time for brining would depend on the amount of salt added. A super salty brine solution would bring down the brining time by at least 2-3 hours. In any case, chicken wings should be kept in the brine solution for at least 2 hours.
Brined chicken wings can be left in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. If you need to store it for longer, then take the chicken wings out of the brine solution, dry them, and store them in an airtight or vacuum-sealed container in the freezer for up to 4 months.
For other wet cooking processes, such as using a hot pot or steam, brining would not create much of a difference.
So if you want lip-smacking and super-tasting chicken wings every time, you now know why it is important to brine them first. Do remember that keeping the wings in the brine solution for a long periods can result in overly salty, soggy, and spongy results. Therefore, the amount of salt and choice of seasonings used, cooking temperature, and time are some of the deciding factors for the best chicken wings ever!
Scot has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Scot spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.