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Brine vs. Marinade for grilled chicken

I'm somewhat new to cooking, but I've got a fancy new outdoor grill and I'm trying to educate myself.

Last night I grilled chicken breasts that I brined according to a simple recipe I found (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup salt, 4 lbs of chicken and a lot of water).

The chicken came out great (juicy, tender and succulent) , except we found it to be a bit too salty because of the brine. (I know...."Brine" is synonomous with salt so what did I expect!)

So here are my questions:

1. Is there a way to do brining that is less likely to leave the chicken tasting salty?

2. Would a marinade do as well as brine in making the chicken succulent?

3. Any recipes that anyone would care to recommend?


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  1. Jerry, two different things. As to the saltiness of the chicken please elaborate on your brine. How much water did you use and how long did you brine?

    6 Replies
    1. re: scubadoo97

      The recipe called for 1 cup hot water to mix the sugar and salt......add chicken and 3 cups cold water. The recipe said to brine and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours. I did exactly 3 hours.

      The recipe said only to pat the chicken dry with paper towels....nothing about rinsing off! That seems like that could be the problem.

      After brining, the recipe said to let the chicken rest for 30 minutes. I did that exactly.

      Thanks to all for the help!

      (Den, thanks for the tip on "Charcutierie". I'll check it out.)

      1. re: jerry200

        typical brines call for 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gal of water so I don't think your brine was too salty nor the length of time too long. Sounds like you just should have rinsed it well or I soak in fresh water with a couple of changes of water for a brief time to make sure I get most all of the surface salt off. That said the type of salt is significant. Table salt is a much smaller crystal than kosher salt and Diamond brand is larger and fluffier than Morton's kosher salt. There are conversion tables for these common salts.

        1. re: jerry200

          The problem may be that the breasts you started out with were already injected with a salt brine solution courtesy of the packers. That is more commonplace now than we realize.

          I never brine breasts anymore - just straight marinade or seasoning, or dry brine bone in breasts only.

          1. re: jerry200

            I usually add other flavours to my brines. I find they help ease the saltiness. Alton Brown has some wonderful brines. I love one that calls for orange juice. I've used both orange juice and bitter orange juice to great effect. Try adding more flavours to your brine, it's a great way to introduce these things into the meat. :)

            1. re: Morganna

              I did use allspice, peppercorns, apple juice in my brine for pork chops once. I usually don't brine but these were very thick so I thought I would give it a try. Still a bit salty for me but they were moist. I think the apple may have helped a little.

              1. re: kchurchill5

                I think a more acid juice helps, but that could just be selective perception. :)

        2. did you rinse off the chicken before cooking? if not, you'll get salty chicken. otherwise, I can't imagine it being too salty unless unless you just brined it for too long (i would think cut up chicken wouldn't need more than a few hours in a strong brine)

          1. As mentioned, time of brining is important but also, resting time is important as well. I've done my brining pretty much in accordance with a book called Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and I've found his guidance on letting the meat rest after brining and before cooking is critical to distributing the salt evenly through the meat. As such, the salt is not concentrated at the surface of the meat which causes every bite to taste overly salted.

            On the 2nd question, I believe the brining process is geared to tenderizing and flavoring the meat by introducing salt which breaks down the proteins. A marinade essentially injects seasoning to the meat without doing the same function as brining.

            On the 3rd question, take a look at the Charcuterie book and see if you like the recipies, I think they're pretty dependable.

            1. Brining affects the taste and texture in a way I find objectionable. Our preferred marinade for grilled chicken, whether parts, breasts, whole butterflied or even beer can chicken is to marinate in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I don't measure, but usually use roughly equal quantities of both. For two breast halves (must be bone-in and skin on for best results), I use the juice of one or two lemons, a couple glugs of EVOO and about a teaspoon + salt and some freshly ground pepper. Toss it around and let it marinade for about an hour in the fridge or on the counter, turning every twenty inutes or so. Or put in a ziploc bag and let it marinate overnight, but cut back a bit on the lemon juice, as it will cort of "cook" the meat, making it kind of whitish.

              Here's what I've hit on as the best method to grill. At least it works best for me, I have a three-burner gas grill: preheat all three burners at high, then turn off the middle burner and reduce the other two burners to medium. Lay out the chicken skin side up across the unlit, middle burner, close the lid and leave it alone for 45 minutes. Don't turn it, don't lift the lid. You want the temperature of the grill to remain at about 325 to 350 Fahrenheit - no higher than 350. You can crisp the skin a bit after that by cooking skin-side down over the light burner for the last five minutes or so if you want it crispier than after the initial cooking. .

              This marinade can be endlessly varied: add chopped herbs (rosemary or tarragon is especially good), add Dijon mustard, add minced garlic, sprinkle the chicken before putting on the grill with some spices or a rub (I'm partial to emeril's seasoning that I make at home, or Konriko's Mojo Seco seasoning).

              This marinade and cooking method combine to make an extraordinarily juicy chicken without the rubbery texture that I find brining produces. Good luck!

              3 Replies
              1. re: janniecooks

                I don't know what you did in your brining but it has never produced anything that could be considered rubbery in my efforts. To the contrary, all of my brining efforts have yielded the opposite, a tender texture and wonderful flavor.

                1. re: Den

                  I agree. IMO brined chicken is never rubbery unless you drastically overcook it.

                  The knock on brined poultry is much more often that the meat's texture gets "mushy," due to the denatured protein strands.

                  I have let chicken sit in brine much too long and it does indeed compromise the texture by making it mushy.

                  Properly done, however, brining does indeed impart juiciness and flavor.

                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    brining gives you a larger margin of error in cooking chicken. You can produce perfect texture without it but you better be tight with your technique.

              2. a 3rd alternative would be using a dry rub on your chicken. i wouldn't do this with boneless & skinless meat, but with (high quality) whole chickens or bone-in, skin-on parts, it can help to impart great flavor. you can omit or reduce salt in rubs according to your preference. you can do spice-based rubs/bbq style rubs, or more herbal/mediterranean in flavor profile. rubs are especially valuable when you are short on time & can't marinate or brine your poultry for a few hours or whatever.

                1. I don't dislike brine, I have just never found it to be worth the effort. But don't get me wrong. I have used it and it worked well. I make chicken a lot without brining and never a dry tasteless chicken. I do a lot of dry rubs and a lot of marinades. Usually I marinade them early morning in a baggie and then let them sit all day while I work and then cook that night.

                  I love lemon juice, olive oil, s/p, garlic and oregano. Very basic but a great simple recipe. Plain or with a BBQ sauce it is just a great flavor.

                  I make a rub of cumin, garlic and onion powder, s/p, paprika, red pepper and chili powder

                  I make another with garlic and onion powder, cinnimon, cumin, allspice and a little red pepper for heat, s/p of course.

                  And so many other marinades using fruit juices, lime and lemon, orange, etc with olive oil a little red wine vinegar and seasonings.

                  A mexican marinade with chipoltes, olive oil, garlic and lime juice.

                  The list goes on and on.
                  Brine is fine, the saltiness I would definitely rinse, but I go very light on salt or as much as I can for my cooking so a brine I am just not fond of. My chicken with marinade or just careful chicken has never been dry and for me better than a brine. But that is just my taste. Both to me give great chicken with different flavors. Use them both.

                  However glad you chicken turned out good.

                  1. I, myself really like the brining method for chicken. Your salt concentration is a bit high in my opinion. For 1 quart water, I would use only ½ cup KOSHER salt and ¼ cup brown sugar and whatever water soluble flavorings you like infused. Kosher salt is the only salt I use in this process and if you’re using regular table salt, that’s another reason for salty tasting meat. The 3 hours, to me, is a little short but will help the meat. I prefer more like at least 6 hours and not more than 20 hours to ensure all of the meat cells are at equilibrium with the surrounding solution. I never rinse off the brine, just pat dry. I never let the meat sit any longer than it takes to apply a dry rub. The sooner you start cooking the meat from pulling it out of the brine the better off you will be. After the brine has done its job of engorging all the meat cells with the liquid, they start to deflate within minutes under their own weight just sitting there.
                    As for marinating, I only do it when I don’t have time to brine. I do like it for red meats however. I always use a two part system. First I use half of the marinade to soak the meat before cooking. I reserve the second half of marinade for after grilling. I heat the up the second half of the marinade to about 165 degrees so I don’t “cool off” the meat and also don’t further cook it when I take it off the grill. The meat seems a lot more accepting to the marinade after cooking when the cells are expanded.
                    Good Luck - Tim

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: TimCarroll

                      Ratios can vary, obviously, but the "standard" brining salt:water ratio is 1 cup of kosher salt to 1 gallon of water, so your recipe -- at 2 cups to a gallon -- uses a very high salt concentration.

                      Chicken breasts need only a few hours to brine. IMO 6 a lot for chicken breasts and 20 would ruin them. A 20 pound turkey only needs 20 hours in the drink.

                      Other than that I agree with your points.

                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        Sorry, I do use the same salt ratios. I normally brine over night in the refrigerator due to the best temperature for the osmotic action is 34 degrees. I never have a salt taste problem. Alton Brown has some good reading on ratios and soak times in one of his books. He explains quit well what goes on during the soak, I've been using it for years.

                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          C. Hamster said it all. The standard ratio of salt to water is one cup kosher salt to a gallon of water. Jerry200, your ratio was a half a cup of salt to a quart of water, or, by extrapolation, two cups of salt to a gallon of water. In other words, you used twice the concentration of salt that you should have.

                          Also, you mentioned being relatively new to cooking (nothing wrong with that!), but I suspect that because of this, you weren't thinking about the type of salt to use and probably used table salt, which is much more concentrated than kosher salt, due to table salt's smaller granules.

                          The use of the other ingredients in the marinade might have interfered with absorbtion
                          of salt a bit, but not, in my opinion, enough to compensate for the intensity of the salt solution which you used. You just got a recipe that gave you poor directions on the brining. Cut back the salt and you'll be fine. Follow C. Hamster's advice.

                          1. re: gfr1111

                            Agreed. I misread Jerry200's ratio up-post. he used 1/2 cup of salt to 1 qt of water. That's twice the concentration of the standard brine. And if it was table salt then the consentration was even higher.

                        1. Here's a website saying rigt here that Marinades are very much inferior to other methods of imparting flavor in meat (i.e. wet-or-dry-brining, dry rub, using a marinade syringe, etc.):

                          The initial claim is that even the best marinade can only penetrate so far (1/4 of an inch deep) and that even when scoring it doesnt improve on the soaking up of the flavor but results in more moisture-loss of the meat:

                          VERY interesting stuff.
                          Sounds like brine is the winner here

                          1. did you rinse the chicken well before u cooked it

                            1. Rinsing the chicken is worthwhile.

                              Could you specify what salt you used? Not only would table salt be way too much, but even the two main brands of Kosher salt (Morton and Diamond) measure out differently. It's all about relative coarseness.

                              It's actually not out of the question in the case of chicken breast meat to brine AND marinate. The two processes do different, although adjacent, things.

                              1. Jerry-After brining is finished, take chicken to sink, turn on cold water (sprayer is good), hand rub and scrub all over outside of chicken for 2-3 minutes, under wings, leg-thigh joint, in neck cavity, breast, back, etc. Rub firmly, exercise the skin to expell as much surface salt as possible. Rinse out the body cavity too. The chicken will thank you with a sweeter flavor.