If you’re wondering how to brine a chicken for smoking, this recipe will help you prepare your chicken to make sure it’s juicy and flavorful.
Brining a chicken is just one extra step, but it really takes the chicken to another level. A simple brine will result in a more juicy, tender chicken with little only a little extra effort.
All brines are made with plenty of salt, which is what impacts the protein, so the herbs and spices we’ve added then have a chance to impart flavor. You’ll find it has a very nice balance of flavors.
Is it Absolutely Necessary to Brine First?
If you’re in a hurry, you might not want to take the time to brine the chicken first, but that would be a mistake. It can take as little as 3 hours to impart some flavor and juiciness to the chicken, so I’d recommend doing it, even if you don’t have the full 12 hours.
Chicken is brined before smoking because the salt allowing the cells to retain more moisture, making it more juicy. It also tenderizes the meat by causing the muscle fiber to unravel and swell. Due to this, the meat will be juicy and tender.
While your chicken will still be edible, even good, without the brine, it won’t be as juicy and the extra flavoring from the salt and herbs will be sadly missing. If you’re going to go through the effort of smoking it, which takes a long time, why not add on this small extra step?
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Water – It doesn’t have to be filtered, just tap water is fine
- Salt – Coarse salt is best for brining, with Kosher salt being at the top of the list for its purity.
- Lemon – The lemon helps with the break down of the muscle fiber but also imparts vibrant flavor.
- Fresh thyme and rosemary – It’s always best to use fresh herbs when possible. Dried herbs don’t have as much aroma and flavor.
- Brown sugar
- Black peppercorns
Equipment You’ll Need
Medium-sized pot – You start out making the brine on the stove top in a pot, to dissolve the salt and allow the herbs to meld into the water.
Large container – You’ll need a container that’s large enough to fit the brine and the chicken and also fit inside your refrigerator. It can be a pot, a food-grade plastic container, or large glass bowl.
How to Make Brine for Smoked Chicken
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of the water with the salt, lemon, thyme, rosemary, brown sugar, garlic and black peppercorns. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved. It will take about 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. It doesn’t have to be completely cold as you’ll be combining it with the remaining water, which will quickly cool it down.
Once cooled, combine the brine with the remaining water in a large enough container to hold the water and chicken (that will fit in your refrigerator).
Submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours for a whole chicken. 12 hours is the ideal amount of time. If you have to go longer, I really wouldn’t exceed 20 hours. 24 hours is pushing it a bit.
If you’re brining smaller pieces of chicken – thighs, wings etc – you only need to brine them for 30 minutes to – 3 hours. No longer than 3 hours.
Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it thoroughly to remove excess salt. Pat it dry with a paper towel. At this point, you can proceed with smoking. Most recipes will call for some type of rub to be put on the chicken before smoking, for additional flavor. We also recommend stuffing it with more lemon and herbs.
How Long Should I Brine a Chicken Before Smoking
It’s important not to over do the brining for a chicken, because it can cause the meat to breakdown too much, leaving it soggy and limp.
If you’re cooking a whole chicken on the smoker, we recommend brining it for 12 hours, which is the ideal duration. You can continue to brine up to 24 hours, but know that it will break down more and might not be ideal. Do not exceed 24 hours.
If you’re breaking down your chicken and cooking it in pieces, you’d only want to brine the chicken for 30 minutes to 3 hours. Chicken wings should be on the lower side.
Can You Brine a Whole Chicken Too Long?
Yes, you can brine a chicken for too long. A whole chicken should be submerged in brine for ideally 12 hours, or up to 24 hours. Do not exceed 24 hours, as your chicken may become too salty and the protein will break down too much if it sits in the brine for too long. This leads to overly salty chicken with a weird texture.
Should I Rinse Chicken Before/After Brining
We do not recommend rinsing the chicken before brining (and neither does the USDA) as it can lead to contamination around your kitchen. It’s best to take the chicken out of its wrapping, pat it dry with a paper towel and proceed with brining, without moving the chicken to any other surfaces around your kitchen.
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How To Brine A Chicken For Smoking
- 2 quarts water divided
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1 lemon quartered
- 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups of the water with the salt, lemon, thyme, rosemary, brown sugar, garlic and black peppercorns. Simmer until the salt has fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
- Once cooled, combine the brine with the remaining water in a large enough container to hold the water and chicken (that will fit in your refrigerator).
- Submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the brine. Refrigerate for 12-20 hours for a whole chicken (not longer than this!). Brine for only 3-6 hours for chicken pieces.
- Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it thoroughly to remove excess salt. Pat dry with a paper towel. Proceed with cooking.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.