When you are grilling and want the meat to be moist and tender, brining is the answer.
Although you may think you need to thaw your chicken completely before brining it, that is not the case. You can brine frozen chicken as it thaws.
You can brine a whole frozen chicken or frozen pieces of chicken. The size of the chicken or the number of frozen pieces will dictate how long the brining process will take. Make the brining solution, a combination of water, salt, and other ingredients, to your taste. Place your frozen chicken or chicken cuts in the large deep bowl and cover completely with the brine.
Let the chicken thaw in the refrigerator 6-12 hours for chicken cuts and 12-48 hours for a whole chicken. When the chicken is thawed, pour out the brining solution, rinse with clean water, and pat the chicken dry before cooking.
We have detailed explanations of what brining is and why you should do it, how to manage different cuts and sizes of chicken, and recipes for brining solutions below. Keep reading for everything you need to know about brining chickens.
What Is Brining And Why Should I Do It?
Brining is the process of soaking meat in a saltwater bath to add flavor, lock in moisture, and tenderize meat.
The salt in the mix denatures proteins in the meat, basically causing them to untangle and become softer, leading to a tender cut of meat.
Furthermore, soaking frozen meat in cool water is a quick method for thawing safely, and by brining rather than soaking in plain water, you can thaw and add flavor simultaneously.
Any time you are brining a chicken or chicken pieces, you need to consider the safety of your meal.
You should always brine and/or thaw your chicken in the refrigerator to prevent the potential growth of harmful bacteria.
Brining or thawing meats at room temperature can allow bacteria to grow in the food leading to the possibility of food poisoning.
Brining Solution Recipes
The basic ratio for a brine solution is one tablespoon of salt per cup of water. Kosher salt is the best choice for a brine solution, but regular table salt will also work. Many cooks add additional flavors to their brines.
Equal parts sugar and salt add depth and interest to the flavor of your meat. You can use table sugar or mix it up and try honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup.
Although these flavors do not absorb as strongly, you can also add herbs or cut vegetables to the brine. Rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and thyme are excellent herbal additions to your brine.
For a little more zip, consider peppercorns, anise, allspice berries, or cloves. You can even make the brine almost like a stock by adding some garlic and onions.
There is no limit to the creativity you can use in creating layers of flavors in your brine.
Pick your favorites and experiment a little. You may need to boil the water to dissolve the salt, sugar, and any other powdered or crystallized ingredients.
However, you should cool it back to room temperature before adding your chicken. The best way to do this is to boil half the amount of water you need and stir in the salt and sugar until they dissolve.
Then you can add ice to quickly cool the mixture and increase the amount of water in the brine.
How To Brine A Frozen Chicken?
Brining a frozen chicken takes some preplanning. Put your chicken in a large pot or bowl and cover it with your brining solution and a lid.
Place the chicken in the refrigerator to thaw and brine at the same time. Depending on the size of your chicken, it could take 8 to 12 hours or more to thaw completely.
Once the chicken is thawed, pour out the brine and rinse the chicken. This removes any excess salt on the surface.
Then pat the chicken dry and cook it as you planned. Your chicken will be tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Brining Frozen Chicken Pieces
In much the same way as bringing a whole frozen chicken, you can brine frozen chicken pieces.
For example, you might want to brine a whole, cut-up chicken or a package of chicken breast, wings, or thighs before you grill them to increase the moisture in each piece.
Place the cut-up chicken pieces in a large pot with a lid and cover with your brining solution. Let the chicken thaw in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours.
You could start brining the chicken in the morning, and it would be ready to cook when you get home from work.
When you are ready to cook, pour out the brine, rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry. Then you can add any additional seasoning that you want and grill or bake your chicken.
Brining Thawed Chicken
If you are brining a whole thawed chicken, you will need to let it sit for 2-3 hours to ensure that the brine solution has the chance to absorb into the meat.
However, if you are using cut-up chicken, you could do a quick brine of just 15-30 minutes if that is all the time you have.
Although it doesn’t need to take all day to brine a thawed chicken, you could let a cut-up chicken or a package of breasts or thighs brine for up to 2 hours for optimal flavor and moisture.
Be sure to rinse and pat dry each piece before you cook to avoid a crunchy layer of salt on the outside.
Dry Brining Creates A Crispy Finish
If you like for your chicken to have a crispy outside and juicy inside, you should try dry brining.
This method works best with thawed chicken, but you can do it with frozen chicken while it is thawing.
The first step is the make the dry brine. Essentially it is salt. Use Kosher salt or sea salt for the best results.
For additional depth and flavor, you can add your favorite spices and seasoning to the salt.
The ratio for creating your dry brine is 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pound of meat. Then, you can add 1/4 t0 1/2 teaspoon of each additional spice per pound of meat. If your chicken is frozen, start it thawing by running it under cool water.
You will need to get any ice off the outside of the chicken so that the dry brine will stick to the meat.
If you are using skin-on chicken, you will want to thaw it enough that you can separate the skin from the meat.
Rub the dry brine generously over the chicken (frozen or thawed). If you have chicken with the skin on, rub the dry brine under the skin and on the outside of the skin. Then, place the chicken into the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 24 hours.
If you want a really crispy outside, put the chicken into the refrigerator uncovered. This will allow the salt to draw out even more moisture.
If you elect the uncovered route, keep the chicken in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
Other Good Meats For Brining
We’ve just been talking about frozen chicken, but you can bring any piece of lean meat.
Lean meats need extra moisture when they cook so that they do not become tough.
Fatty meats already have additional moisture and tenderness from the fat, so bringing them is likely to make them mushy and unpalatable.
Chicken, turkey, pork, and shrimp all brine beautifully.
Naturally, your shrimp will brine for a much shorter time than your 21-pound Thanksgiving turkey.
Brining A Turkey
When you need to brine your Thanksgiving turkey, you will need to plan on brining it for a couple of days, but the process remains the same.
Place your frozen turkey in a large pot with a lid and cover it with a brining solution.
Let it thaw in the refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours, then pour out the brine and rinse. Add your favorite additional herbs and seasonings before baking to round out your beautiful bird’s flavor.
Try salt, sugar, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and peppercorns in your brine for a traditional Thanksgiving flavor. You can jazz it up with brown sugar or molasses instead of white sugar.
Also, consider adding orange peels, cloves, and apple cider vinegar for some unique flavor possibilities.
Just like chicken, you can brine pork, whether frozen or thawed. Pork is lean meat, so you can brine just about any cut from chops to tenderloin.
Pork has an adaptable flavor, so you can go wild with your brine ideas.
You might go for the basics with salt, brown sugar, and peppercorns. However, you may also find that adding some citrus or pineapple juice to your brine adds extra zip to your pork chops.
If your pork is frozen, you should cover it with the brine solution and let it thaw in the refrigerator for 2-8 hours.
For already thawed pork, your process could be as short as 15 minutes for thin cut pork chops to 2 hours for thicker roasts or tenderloin.
Brining shrimp is a slightly different process than chicken or turkey because they are small and have a large surface area to meat ratio.
It is a much shorter process to brine shrimp before cooking. You may want to brine shrimp in a large zip-top bag instead of a pot or bowl.
Seal up the bag and let the shrimp sit in the refrigerator for no more than one hour, then pour out the brine and pat the shrimp dry.
Don’t rinse the shrimp before cooking. Because they are so small, you may remove too much of the flavoring.
Can I Brine My Meats For Too Long?
It is possible to brine your meat for too long. If this happens, your meat may have a mushy texture because the protein strands have broken down too far.
When you experiment with your brine solutions, be careful when adding acidic elements to the mixture.
Citrus fruits, pineapple, and vinegar all accelerate the process of denaturing, and when left too long, can damage the meat’s texture.
The other danger is that the meat may absorb too much salt, making it unpalatable.
If your meat ends up being overly salty, you can soak it in plain cold water, and it will draw out some of the salty taste.
Whether frozen or thawed, brining your lean meats is an easy way to add flavor, moisture, and tenderness to your grilled and baked meats.
Because grilled meats lose moisture as they cook, brining beforehand starts each piece out with more liquid, so the cooking process doesn’t remove all the moisture.
You can brine and thaw your frozen chicken simultaneously, whether it is a whole chicken or already cut-up parts.
Brine your chicken in the refrigerator in a covered pot or bowl until it thaws. Then, rinse the chicken and pat it dry before adding your final seasoning and cooking.
The simple process of bringing your lean meats will take your grilling and roasting game to a new level of deliciousness.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.