Your Ultimate Guide to Chicken Wings Brine

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Brined Chicken Wings on a Smoker

Why do Chicken Wings need a Brine Recipe?

I will always brine chicken wings when I have the time. You can use either a dry brine or a variation that uses mayonnaise and a little hot sauce. A true wet brine, those that are specific ratios of sugar, salt, and water are not necessary when it comes to chicken wings.

I reserve this salty brine for when I’m going to smoke or roast a whole chicken or turkey breast. They need a good brine and a long overnight soak to get much flavor from the brine. Think ratios here, a chicken wing is maybe 50/50 meat to the bone so an intense and long brine is a bit overkill. 

Brining chicken wings helps add layers of flavor while seasoning the meat all the way through. How many times have you bit into chicken wings that had a wonderful texture and flavor on the crust but was bland and uneventful on the inside? Brining chicken wings will solve that. 

If you are still interested in wet brine try this recipe instead of the following recipe that will use our dry brine chicken method. The dry brine recipe is below.

If it is less than the gallon then you may end up infusing too much salt into the chicken. Always make sure you have enough brine as well. Packing your container with chicken wings and then covering it with brine will create more consistency issues than you would think. 

The reason is that you will end up with dry spots or spots where the liquids do not circulate leaving some wings to be salty while others end up without any additional flavors. Brine chicken wings for a minimum of 4 hours and a maximum of 24 hours.

You also want to rinse chicken wings after you brine them before you cook them. This sheds any extra salt or sugar from the skin. Dry them with paper towels and get cooking.  

If you are wanting more heat in your chicken wings brine then either triple the amount of crushed red pepper flakes and add some cayenne pepper or switch it out for another chile powder.  

For the sugar component I prefer to use brown sugar over regular brown sugar. I don’t think it makes that much of an impact so if you don’t have any brown sugar feel free to substitute it with regular granulated sugar. 

Lets talk Garlic

Please, do not use garlic from a tube or jar. They are full of so many other things than actual garlic I’m amazed they are allowed to even call it Garlic. Plus the taste is… well not garlic. Using anything other than fresh garlic in this chicken wings brine, or any brine for that matter, will not result in a tasty final product. It will only amplify the chemicals and preservatives. 

Salt is Important in your Brine!

All salts are different, it’s why you will also see some recipes that use weight measurements rather than volume. This is since every salt out there has a different crystalline structure which will yield different amounts when measured with volume. 

When I refer to kosher salt I am using Morton’s Kosher Salt as it is the most commonly found salt in grocery stores. 

If you do not have kosher salt, or for some reason refuse to buy it and want to use regular table salt thats fine. Use half the amount of table salt the recipe calls for in the wing brine.

Using Frozen Chicken Wings

No problem, just make sure to thaw your wings before adding them to the brine. Otherwise the ice crystals on the outisde of your chicken wings will dilute the mixture and the brined chicken wings will not have as much flavor. 

Dry Brine Chicken Wings

This refers to simply seasoning your chicken wings with a dry mixture of spices and letting the wings hang out on a cooling rack. This allows for any moisture that comes off the chiken wings to drain off rather than turning into a pool of salty liquid. 
A dry brine dries out the skin of the chicken wings giving you a crisper finished texture.  A dry brine for chicken wings should be primarily kosher salt and a little sugar plus any other flavoring you desire… if any. These brined chicken wings are now ready to smoke, grill or fry. 

What about Vinegars?

You will see some recipes that will call for using a small amount of apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or white vinegar. I am always cautious with using vinegar as it can start to cook the chicken if left in the wing brine for too long. 

I have made this mistake while testing out various chicken wing brine recipes. After you cook the brined chicken wings the flavor, in this case, of apple cider vinegar was intense and extremely off putting. I didn’t experiment with other vinegars in my brine for chicken wings after that. 

Even pickle juice can do this if left too long. So if you want to use vinegar, use small quantities and shorten your brine time. 

The same applies to Lemon Juice. Its an acid that will cook the chicken so use it sparingly. You should not be able to taste the fruit juice or vinegars in the final chicken wing. 

Remember the ratio we talked about in the intro – more aggressive a chicken wing brine is the more likely you will not be happy with the final cooked wings. A wing brine only needs to be able to add some basic seasoning to the meat under the skin. 

The Hawaiian Chicken Wing

This is rough guide to brine chicken wings in the west coast/Hawaiian style of teriyaki. This brine is a simple mix of soy sauce, pineapple juice, brown sugar, black pepper and fresh minced garlic. Let your chicken wings, or thighs, sit in this mix for 24 hours for best results. Since you are not using a heavy salt mixture for this style of chicken wing brine you do not need to rinse your chicken wings. These brined chicken wings are ready to hit your smoker or grill right away. 

My Preferred Wing Brine Method

I use my red chile rub mixed with a little mayonnaise, just enough to coat to brine chicken wings. Toss all the chicken wings together in this mixture and then brine wings for a few hours to overnight. 

For the chicken wings, I use whole chicken wings or flats and drums, all depends on what fresh chicken wings I can find at the grocery store.  

After letting the chicken wing brine do its thing, I smoke the brined chicken wings on my Traeger at 225º for 3 hours. 

Pull the chicken wings off and reapply some of the dry rub and turn up the heat to 375º. Once my pellet grill hits temp I place them back on and continue to cook brined chicken wings for another 15 minutes. 

I try to let the brined chicken wings rest in the mayo mix for at least 24 hours. I get the best results with this time frame. Less than that and the brined chicken wings just don’t have the same depth of flavor and the skin does not caramelize the same way. 

Do not rinse the chicken wing brine off when you are using mayonnaise as your liquid. If you are going to drop these into an deep fryer or air fryer than you can use some paper towels to pull off the extra brine. 

This is the same cooking method I use when frying chicken wings, but with a different cook time. You can use either a deep fat fryer or your air fryer with this method. The purpose of the double cook is to impart some smoke to the wings while allowing the wing to slowly cook, retaining its tenderness and moisture. 

At this lower temperature the skin and fat will not render, nor will the connective tissue break down.  So even though the chicken wings have been cooked for hours, they will not be tender. 

The second shorter cook at a higher temperature finishes the wings.  Rendering the fat and causing the skin to become like glass and the breaking down of the connective tissue making them tender.  These make for the juiciest chicken wings.

So why not cook at 375º the entire time? 

Sure it will be a shorter cook but this more aggressive cooking method will cause more of the juices to be forced out of the chicken wing leaving you with dry chicken wings and a lot of people asking for more ranch dressing. 

The combination of brining meat and the two step cook method will help ensure your brined chicken wings are tasty, tender and a crowd favorite. 

Want to Deep Fry the Wings?

Use the same concept of double cooking as you would above. Rather than my red chile rub and mayo mixture try using the wet brine solution I mentioned above. The chicken wings themselves can brine overnight or for just a few hours, really depends on how much time you have. 

After brining, drain the wings and discard brine. Give the chicken wings a quick rinse and then pat them dry with a paper towel. The paper towels soak up the excess water helping you to fry, not steam your chicken nwings. 

Never add a wet, or frozen, chicken wing into a fryer, it will bubble over and make the worst mess. Fry at 225º for 20 minutes, drain, and then lay out in a single layer on a baking tray. Continue to do this until all the chicken wings have been par-cooked. 

At this point, you can finish the chicken wings or cool them off for fry at a later time.  It makes for a great party prep item.  The final cook will only take 4 minutes at 350º. Then you can toss them with your favorite sauce or with some Franks Red Hot for Buffalo wings. 

Air Fryer Wings

Every air fryer I’ve used and met has its own quirks. I still strongly recommend you use the double cooking method though. If your air fryer is very effecient than shorten both of the cooks by half. 

Adjust to your liking and based on what you’ve learned from other air fryer recipes.. If you are making chicken wings for a party plan air frying may not be the best bet either. 

Most air fryers have fairly small cooking chambers that are ideal for individuals not groups.  

When To Toss Chicken Wings with Sauce

Depending on the sauce you are using I usually wait until the end to toss the chicken wings in their sauce. If you are going the hot sauce route you can absolutely brine your chicken wings in hot sauce for several hours to overnight before cooking them and then tossing again with their final hot sauce. This is fun if you have a few to try and want to add layers of both flavor and heat.

Adding BBQ sauce too early also leaves you open to possibly burning the chicken wings. Especially in an air fryer! If you are smoking/grilling them I still wait as I personally don’t like when the layers of BBQ sauce turn more into a weird carmelized gelatinous sauce wrapped around the wing.

Classic Hot Wing Sauce

I don’t have a standard recipe for this as I’m always just throwing the stuff in the pan. But for the classic Buffalo Style Chicken Wing add Frank’s Red Hot Sauce into a sauce pan with a bit of butter and a tiny amount of sesame oil. Once the wings are done toss them immediately with the buffalo wing sauce. Don’t forget the blue cheese dressing instead of ranch either!  

Pro Tip

Always thaw chicken wings and pat dry with paper towels to get off any excess liquids before adding your chicken wing brine recipe. Repeat after draining from a brine as excess sugar and salt remain on the skin and can burn or cause unwanted saltiness.

Smoked Whole Chicken Wings
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Chad Kelley
Hi!! This is Chef Chad. I'm a former restaurant chef and turned stay-at-home dad. My wife Yvette and two amazing kids live in North Dallas and are Huge FC Dallas fans.