In order to showcase our new brine, I thought what better way than to show everyone how to make some competition-quality brined chicken thighs at home. This process is very simple results in truly competition-worthy chicken without going to all the extremes (trimming, forming, etc.) that are done today at the Professional barbecue contest level.
First, you’ll need to procure some bone-in chicken thighs. Be sure to find ones that are not “Enhanced” by the meat packer. Just read the label carefully and skip any that have wording in small print stating something like “Enhanced with up to 15% natural solution”. This is the tell-tale sign that they have been modified by the meat packer.
Trim the excess skin and any extraneous fat from each thigh so they look neat and tidy. Competition barbecue teams take this to the extreme and some even remove the bone as well. This level of trimming isn’t necessary for home cooking. Once the thighs have been trimmed, place them in a gallon-sized zip-top bag.
Now it’s time to make your brine. You’ll only need a half-gallon for this recipe (I’m cooking 8 chicken thighs and three boneless/skinless chicken breasts). Begin by heating 16 oz. of water and one level cup of brine on the stove. Stir it frequently until all of the brine is dissolved into the liquid. Heat this mixture to exactly 140º F. This doesn’t take nearly as long as you’d think, so watch it closely. If you overshoot your target, just take the pot off the stove and stir it briskly watching your temp until it falls back down to 140º. I personally recommend this method over mixing the brine with cold water only because this heating process actually helps “wake up” the flavors within the brine and ensures they are fully incorporated into the mixture. However, if you don’t have time or access to a means to heat your water, by all means, feel free to go ahead and just mix directly into cold water. Either way will work just fine.
Once the brine concentrate has been heated. Measure out 32 ounces of cold water and one pound of ice. Use a scale to weigh your ice. The weight of the ice is important because if the correct weight of ice isn’t used, the concentration of your brine will be affected. Too much ice and the brine will be weak, too little ice and the brine will be too strong.
Pour the ice and hot brine into the cold water and begin stirring. Continue stirring until all the ice has melted. This will only take about 3-4 minutes. When, your finished, the brine should be chilled down to right around 40º, which means it’s ready to be poured over the meat.
Now you can safely pour your brine into the bag containing the chicken. If the brine is above 40º you run the risk of the meat spoiling, so be sure your brine is properly chilled before using it. Zip up the bag, squeezing out any excess air. I like to place the bag on a sheet pan just in case the bag leaks during the brining process.
Store this in your fridge for exactly 1½ hours. Your preferences may dictate a longer or shorter brine time. However, for my tastes, I’ve found 1½ hours to be prefect for chicken pieces like thighs and BL/SL breasts.
After the time has elapsed, remove your bag from the fridge and carefully pour off the used brine and discard. The brined chicken pieces should now each be rinsed thoroughly and dried using a handful of paper towels.
After they have been rinsed and dried, place them into a new gallon sized zip-top bag. In a separate bowl, mix ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil and ½ Cup Secret Weapon rub together. It will form a thick, syrup-like matrix. Pour this into your bag of rinsed & dried chicken. Zip the bag closed and massage them around until every piece of chicken is evenly coated with the rub and EVOO mixture. From this point, they can be put on the grill immediately, or you can let them marinate in the fridge for up to one hour. Before you put your chicken on the grill, remove them from the zip-top bag and lay them out skin-side up on a rimmed sheet pan. Gently sprinkle a light coating of Secret Weapon rub over the top of each thigh. When done right, they should look like this…
Now it’s time to fire up your charcoal grill. Set it up for indirect cooking, with the coals off to one side.
Once the coals are hot, lay your chicken pieces out on the grill opposite the coals and close the lid.
Cook with the lid on and all vents wide open for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove the lid and rotate your thighs, then close the lid and cook for another 25 minutes. Total cooking time should run about 45 – 55 minutes. Your grill temp should be in the neighborhood of 325º-375º. This is hot-n-fast indirect cooking.
You want to shoot for an internal temperature of 175º-180º in the thickest part of the thigh, deep right next the bone. Once you hit that mark, pull them from the grill and let them rest for 10 minutes, tented with some aluminum foil.
Now it’s time to eat! Check out that semi-crispy perfect bite-through skin…
And notice all that juice running down the back of my hand… That’s from the brine!