How to Brine Chicken Thighs

Though technically a dark meat, chicken thighs are an agreeable middle ground for lovers of dark or white meat. They're more tender, flavorful and juicy than white meat, without a pronounced dark-meat taste. Brining thighs imparts more moisture and flavor into the meat and protects them from drying out if you overcook them a little. You can stick with straight salt water or add flavoring agents to the brine so it doubles as a marinade.

Pick a Vessel

Select a suitable container in which to brine the chicken thighs. A glass or plastic food-safe dish or container is best, but a stainless steel pot works, too. Don't use copper, aluminum or other reactive cookware, as they can be damaged by the salt or other acidic component you might use for brining. The vessel must be large enough to hold all the chicken thighs you're brining and to immerse them completely in water. It also has to fit in your refrigerator.

Choose Your Liquids

Water is the standard brine base. Use it alone or mix it with an equal amount of another liquid that imparts a desirable flavor into the chicken thighs. Consider the flavors in the recipe you're preparing and choose something complementary. Options include wine, vinegar, tea, beer, broth, stock or juice. Vinegar, wine, beer, broth and stock work well for chicken thighs; if using juice or tea, consider that they sometimes impart an unpleasant flavor that could impact your finished dish. Fill your brining vessel with enough liquid to cover the chicken thighs.

Salt the Liquids

It isn't brine without salt. Don't reach right for the table salt, though; salt only works if it doesn't contain iodine, which most table salt does. If you have non-iodized table salt, use about 1/4 cup per 4 cups of liquid for the brine. Otherwise, use 1/2 cup of crystal kosher salt or 1/3 cup of kosher salt for the same quantity of liquid. The amounts differ because the various types of salt don't weigh the same by volume. Mix the salt in until it's dissolved.

Flavor the Liquids

To add more flavor to your chicken thighs, use complementary seasonings in the brine. Start with a sweetening agent to balance the salt. Sugar and brown sugar are fine, but other options, such as maple syrup, molasses or honey, add more depth of flavor. Match the salt quantity or use a little less. Fresh or dried herbs and spices work in brine, too. Include some called for in the recipe you're following or pick a traditional seasoning or two such as basil, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic, garlic or onion powder. For kick, a spicy chili pepper powder will do the trick, but don't overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to add seasonings to taste, but always taste prior to adding the raw chicken.

Soak the Chicken

Once your brine is prepared, drop in the chicken thighs. If you didn't use enough liquid to completely submerse them, add more as needed. Put the soaking poultry into the refrigerator and leave it in there for one to two hours. Don't brine longer, or the chicken thighs are likely to come out too salty and their meat may develop an off texture. Use the chicken in your favorite recipe -- omit the salt -- but be aware that brined chicken may cook more quickly, so test your dish often while cooking. Discard the brine afterward, since it's been contaminated by raw poultry. Don't boil it to make it safe to use in a sauce -- it will be far too salty for use of any kind.

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