Embrace Flavorful Brine For Perfectly Tender Chicken Wings

Chicken wings seem like a restaurant item that should be easy to replicate at home. They're small, they don't generally require hours of slow cooking, and they bear a heavy load of seasoning that eschews culinary subtlety. And yet, when you settle in for a plate of your own home-cooked wings, they can be — as is so often the case when trying to capture restaurant quality at home — a bit short of the mark. Thankfully, there are some relatively easy techniques that can help turn your wing game around and one of the most obvious, but overlooked, is brining.

At its most basic level, wet brining food involves soaking it in a saltwater solution at a ratio of roughly 1 cup of kosher salt for every 1 gallon of water. As the brine contains far more salt than the food submerged therein, osmosis draws both salt and water into the food, which is generally meat such as chicken or pork. This renders more succulent meat that is thoroughly salted throughout. Additionally, the added moisture that is brought into the meat helps it to remain tender during cooking.

Back to those chicken wings. If your homemade endeavors have yielded dry results, then brine is the way to go. While you could go with the most basic saltwater brine, follow your tastes and use this as an opportunity to add a bit more flavor to those wings.

How to brine wings

One of the great things about chicken wings is that they are a blank canvas for seasoning and flavoring. You can douse them in Buffalo sauce for a traditional version, make like Rick Ross and go lemon pepper all day, or grab the gochujang for a spicy Korean take on wings. The flavor, though, doesn't have to remain on the outside.

Take the lemon pepper wings, for instance. In addition to salt, the brine can be steeped with halved lemons, whole black peppercorns, and celery seeds for a lemon pepper experience that goes down to the bone. By that same measure, if you enjoy gochujang wings, consider adding garlic, scallions, sugar, and Korean chili flakes called gochugaru to your brine in order to support the sauce you'll later slather on.

To make your brine, add the salt and water to a pot and bring everything to a boil to dissolve the salt. Add in any extra flavoring agents, then turn the heat down and simmer it for around 10 minutes. This enables the ingredients to fully infuse the brine. Allow it to cool to room temperature before adding in the chicken wings, which should soak for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator to achieve full flavor penetration. Once removed, the wings should be thoroughly dried and brought to room temperature before baking, grilling, frying, or air frying. If you're crunched for time, try a brine boil, which fully cooks chicken in around 20 minutes.