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Jun 23, 2009 02:55 PM

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.