Why do Chicken Wings need a Brine Recipe?
I will always brine chicken 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. If you are still interested in wet brine try this recipe instead of the following recipe that will use our dry brine method. The dry brine recipe is below.
Simple Chicken Wing Brine Recipe
This yields One Gallon of a wet brine solution for 5 pounds of chicken wings.
- 8 Cups of Water
- 1 cup Kosher Salt
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp Black Pepper, Butcher Grind
- 1 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 4 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
- 2 Lemons, Halved & Juiced
- 1 oz Fresh Thyme Sprigs
Add After it comes to a boil and rests for 5 minutes:
- 8 Cups Ice
- Cold Water to top off
Bring this brine mixture to a boil over medium heat and then turn off the heat and make sure the salt and sugar dissolves. After about 5 minutes of letting the flavors from the garlic, lemons and thyme bloom go ahead and add the ice and any additional water needed to make up the full 1 gallon. 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.
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.
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 brine for too long. 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.
My Preferred Method
I use my red chile rub mixed with a little mayonnaise, just enough to coat. Toss all the wings together in this mixture and then let them sit for a few hours overnight. For the wings, I use whole wings or flats and drums, all depends on what fresh chicken wings I can find at the grocery store. After letting them brine for as long as possible, smoke my wings on my Traeger at 225º for 3 hours. Pull the wings off and reapply some of the dry rub and turn up the heat to 375º. Once my pellet grill hits temp I place the wings back on and continue to cook for another 15 minutes.
This is the same cooking method I use when frying wings, but with a different cook time. 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 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 causes 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 a dry wing and a lot of people asking for more ranch dressing.
Want to 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 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 them a quick rinse and then pat them dry with a paper towel. Never add a wet 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 wings have been par-cooked. At this point, you can finish the 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.
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.