So, how do you make chicken wings better? You can use a wet brine to really boost them to another level.
Chicken wings would have to be the most barbecued, fried and baked snack of snacks.
They taste great, everyone loves them and they are super easy to cook. Just add your favorite seasoning and you’ll be grinning from ear to ear like any true carnivore.
So what does wet brining do?
Brining is the process of submerging meat in a salt water solution to help promote moisture, tenderness and taste. The benefit of using a wet brine is you can add any number of ingredients to the salt water solution to create some truly amazing flavors.
The three main reasons you would wet brine chicken wings are;
- Moisture – by submerging the wings in a wet brine for any length of time, you are allowing the muscle fibers of the wings to soak up as much liquid as they can hold. The fact remains, wings are relatively small and usually cooked with a high heat and if left on a little too long, they can dry out very quickly. So, by wet brining the chicken wings, we are adding a little safety net to keep the wings moist.
- Tenderness – the salty solution of a wet brine has a denature effect on the proteins in the chicken muscles. This effectively means the proteins unfold or relax and allow the liquid to get in between the proteins and this in turn gives a more tender bite to the finished cooked wings.
- Taste – not only does a brine have salt in it, which is nature’s version of Monosodium glutamate or MSG, a flavor enhancer. Brines generally consist of sugars and other elements like herbs and other liquids to boost the flavors being absorbed into the meat.
Can you use a dry brine on wings instead?
You can use a dry brine in most applications that you can use a wet brine. Just one thing to remember when dry bringing wings, leave them too long and they take on a cured feel and taste.
They are such a small pieces of meat, so a couple of hours is more than enough to get some of that natural (MSG) type of flavoring into the wings and it will also draw out moisture from the skin, this helps create a crispier wing.
So although you can use a dry brine, I personally prefer to wet brine my wings. It tends to add a lot more moisture into a smaller piece of meat and if you really want to create that super dry skin feeling you get from a dry brine.
Once you have removed your chicken from the wet brine and dried the wings with some paper towels, you can place them back in the fridge overnight on a wire resting rack uncovered and the skin will dry out naturally, with no chance of becoming overly salty.
Prepping the wings for the brine
To prep the wings for the brine you just need to make sure they are clean. That means to check them for any feathers that may have been missed in the butchering process or any joint bones that are loose and dangling, you can trim these off with a sharp knife or some kitchen scissors.
Next is a more personal preference, do you like whole wings, do you like the V wings with the tips removed, the drummies or flats?
I personally like the flats but any style of wing will do, I cannot recall ever knocking back a whole wing if it was presented to me.
Prepare the brine
The brine starts with salt. You will need kosher salt and do not try to substitute it for table salt. They are completely different types of salt and they have different uses. If you do not have any kosher salt, you can substitute with flakey salt. The salt then needs to be added to water to make it a wet brine.
For two pounds of chicken wings, these are my quantities for the salt solution for the wet brine:
Three tablespoons of kosher salt, added to four cups of water. This is then heated up to dissolve the salt, allow it to cool completely before adding the chicken otherwise the chicken’s internal temp will be raised, promoting the growth of bacteria.
That is a basic brine solution, you will want to add some more flavor to this though.
So again, making this for two pounds of chicken wings, into a saucepan you will add the three tablespoons of kosher salt but only one of the four cups of water. The other three cups we will add at the end.
Add a quarter cup of soya sauce, half a cup of brown sugar, three cloves of crushed garlic, couple of sprigs or fresh thyme and rosemary and just to give it a little kick, two tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce, I used Franks Red Hot Sauce.
Bring this to the boil over a high heat as quickly as possible, constantly stirring. This is purely to get the salt and sugar to completely dissolve in the wet brine solution. Once at boiling point, remove from the heat and carefully add the remaining three cups of cold water and stir through. Put aside and allow to cool completely before adding it to the chicken wings.
Semi submerging the saucepan in a sink with cold water helps cool it down very fast.
Once completely cooled, add both the chicken wings and the brine to a waterproof container or a large zip lock bag. Place in the fridge and brine overnight, or for at least four hours. Do not take it past twenty four hours, otherwise the wings will be too salty.
Just remember to shake up the wings a couple of times in the fridge or turn the bag over if you are using a zip lock bag.
Chicken wing seasoning
Regardless of how you are going to cook your wings they will need some seasoning applied for maximum flavor.
Take them out of the brine and dry them off completely with some paper towels.
I find there is a way of creating a super juicy inside with a very crunchy outer on these wings by making up a simple seasoning mix that has a great ingredient in it that helps promote crunchy skin. That ingredient is baking powder, more importantly aluminum free baking powder. If it has aluminum in it, your food can end up with a tinny taste to it.
So for 2 pounds of wings mix up all of the seasoning ingredients.
Add the wings into a large bowl and add about half the seasoning and toss the wings around, then add the rest of the seasoning and toss to make sure each wing is fully coated.
The wings are ready to cook.
How to cook the wings after a wet brine?
You have wet brined your wings overnight and now you wish to cook them.
The most common choices are deep frying, baking in the oven, grilling over direct heat or barbecuing with high indirect heat.
I personally prefer the latter of these options. I find cooking chicken wings indirectly with high heat produces a more succulent finished product and since we have spent all this time prepping these wings to come out juicy, we do not want to risk drying them out now.
My barbecue of choice for wings is always a Weber Kettle, they cook chicken exceptionally well and when paired up with a vortex that boosts the high indirect heat, the wings are cooked a lot faster but without the risk of scorching like you get over a direct heat source.
What you’ll need to cook brined chicken wings
This depends on what grill you plan on using. Here’s the gear that I used:
- A 22”
- Heat proof gloves
- Charcoal briquettes
- Large container for soaking
- Measuring cups
- Instant read thermometer
- A Charcoal Starter
- A Vortex (optional but helps get the wings extra crispy)
Setting up your grill for chicken wings
You will need a 22”
Fill a charcoal starter three quarters full with charcoal briquettes and light them up.
Place a vortex in the middle of the charcoal grate and once the briquettes are all alight, pour them into the vortex.
Place the grill in the
Once the grill is warm, place the chicken wings around the outer edge of the cooking grate, as this is where the high indirect heat is being forced.
The wings will be cooked when your instant read thermometer hits an internal temperature of 165°F in around 30 minutes. The lid vent does create a hotspot, when the hot air is forced to the side of the kettle that the lid vent is on. I recommend turning the lid a third of the way every 10 minutes during the cook, this will result in a more even cook for all of the wings.
Once they have reached the internal temperature mark, remove the wings from the grill and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Easy Chicken Wing Brine Recipe
- 2 lb chicken wings
Brine Ingredients per 2lbs of chicken wings
- 4 cups water
- 3 tbsp Kosher salt
- ¼ cup soya sauce
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 tbsp hot sauce I used franks Red Hot
Seasoning Ingredients per 2lbs of chicken wings
- 1 tbsp baking powder aluminum free
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp black pepper finely ground
- 1 tsp paprika
- Prep the wings by removing any feathers or loose bone pieces.
- Put 3 cups of the water aside and then combine the rest of the brine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring.
- Once boiled, remove from the heat and add the 3 cups of cold water and allow to completely cool before adding chicken wings.
- Once cooled add wings and brine solution to a large container or zip lock bag and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight. Turn and or shake up a couple of times during this process.
- Remove from brine the next day and place on a paper towel and pat dry.
- Mix up the dry seasoning ingredients and add wings to a large bowl, add half the dry seasoning and toss to coat the wings, then add the rest of the seasoning and toss until all the wings are evenly covered.
- Get the Weber Kettle set up to cook at a high indirect heat of 465°F using a vortex.
- Place the wings on the outside of the cooking grate and cook for 30 minutes, turning the lid a third of the way around every 10 minutes during the cook.
- With a traditional hot wing side of celery and carrot sticks with ranch dressing.
- Topped with hot sauce.
- As they are, they do pack some flavor and I feel they need nothing more added.