RECIPE: Brined BBQ Chicken

SO, I finally admitted my secret to my husband. I really am not a huge fan of bone chicken on the grill. He was absolutely shocked...I mean, the man has been grilling for me for over 15 years! How did he not know this? "Was I going batty in my old age?" he asks, dumbfounded.

Well, here is the deal. It's not that my husband does not do a great job grilling, he is amazing. It's just that chicken does not really taste like much to me. Kind of bland and rubbery, even if cooked at the perfect temp. Now, I have enjoyed a smoked honey chicken in the past or we have made a rotisserie chicken that was infused with some flavor. But generally, slapping BBQ sauce on bone in chicken for me is like "why bother?" Once the initial flavor of the BBQ sauce on the outside is consumed, you have a bland, hot, rubbery meat under (yes, even if you marinate it!) So I finally fessed up to him. Then I decided to try something, because my daughter is obsessed with bone-in chicken. It was going to be in my future for a long time.

After reading an article in the latest Cooks Illustrated (The Summer Entertaining Issue), I was inspired to brine the chicken first. Heck, it works great on turkeys, why not chicken?

I made up my own brining solution loosely based on my turkey one. I just didn't think only salt was going to do what I wanted. And the results were promising. The recipe in Cooks Illustrated suggested you only needed to brine for 1 1/2 hours. I did for 2. In hindsight, I think I would even do it longer. The breast meat took on the flavor pretty well, and made the meat a lot more tender. The dark meat, you could not really taste the flavor much. So I appended the brining time in the recipe below to include more time. Use your favorite BBQ sauce, we like Sweet Baby Ray's. Have extra on hand at the table, but if you brine the chicken enough, you won't need much of it. Promise.

Also, I served  this with lemon potatoes from the same magazine, and will post that experience & recipe as well.

Brined BBQ Chicken


1/2 cup salt, divided in half
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided in half8 bay leaves total (4 for one bag, 4 for another)
1 tsp. onion powder, divided in half
2 tsp. peppercorns (divided in half)
2 tsp. granulated garlic (divided in half)
2 cups chicken stock, divided in half 
2 1-gallon size zipper lock bags

2-4 bone in breasts
2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs. legs and thighs
1/2 cup your favorite barbecue sauce, plus more for serving


In a 6 cup measuring cup, measure 3 cups water and add 1 cup broth. Dissolve 1/4 cup salt, 3/4 cup sugar, 4 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. whole peppercorns and 1 tsp. granulated garlic. In one of the zipper lock bags, add the breasts and pour the brining solution carefully into it. Lock it tight, pushing extra air out. Put it in a large bowl in case there is leaking.

Now do the same process again, with another 3 cups water and the rest of the broth. Add the remaining seasoning you measured out. Add the dark meat to the bag and add the brining solution and close it tight. Add it to the bowl with the other bag, and store in the fridge for at least 2 hours if not 4-6.

When ready to grill, take out the chicken from the brine. Rinse and pat dry. Discard the bags and the liquid. 

We use a gas grill. Close the lid, and heat on high for 15 minutes. When the grill is hot enough, lower your other burners to medium-low, but keep the center one on high. Sear the chicken on the high burner with lid down for (2-4 min for breasts, 1-3 min for dark meat)on all sides. As pieces get a nice seared look with brown grill marks, move them to the cooler part of the grill over the lower flames. Cook them slowly with the lid down for 12-20 minutes. Breasts take shorter, dark meat a little longer. Keep and eye on them and rotate as you go. The sugar in the brine may let things brown too easily, so watch. Breasts need to be cooked for the most part with the skin side up. Brush with your favorite barbecue sauce the last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Let sit for a few minutes on a platter to rest before serving.

Knowing chicken is done:
Internal temp at the thickest part of the meat should read 170˚ for dark meat, and 160˚ for light. If you don't have a meat thermometer, I strongly urge you to get one. The amount of money it would take to get one would be covered by many a ruined piece of me, it's worth it. But if you don't have one, cut a slit in the thickest part of the chicken down to the bone and see if juices run clear. There should be no pink color and no blood, especially by the bone. Only when juices run clear is when the chicken is ready.



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