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And the Valley Cooks: Bourbon-Brined Chicken

Bro, do you even brine?

Billy Gomila

Outdoor grilling season is about to run right smack into tailgating season, so it’s a great time to hit the film room and really improve on your game plans.

And when it comes to grilling/barbecuing (the verb you use here is up to you), chicken is generally a safe bet. It’s pretty hard to screw up. That said, it’s also difficult to unlock a bird’s true flavor potential without a good brine.

I use a whole bird, cut into halves here — and I find that one half can generally feed around three adults — but you can use a good brine on any piece of chicken. Whether you’re prepping some wings, thighs or even some boneless, skinless breasts for some lighter grilling, a brine is an easy, simple (albeit time-consuming) way to import flavor to a bird, or just maximize the natural juices of the meat.

This Alton Brown video is a solid primer.

And of course, a brine is just a salt/sugar solution. But you can flavor it in a number of ways with additional types of sugar. Sweet tea is popular, but in this case I chose bourbon.

I have a reputation to uphold here.

This Damaris Phillips recipe gave me a good starting point to work with, and the rest was mostly my own imagination. The brown sugar/molasses combo was designed to highlight the burnt sweetness of the bourbon.


1 whole chicken, cleaned and cut in half

5 cups water
23 cup kosher salt
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp cracked peppercorns — whole is probably best, but I worked with what I had
1 clove garlic, peeled (minced or granulated is fine)
23 cup bourbon

In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients and stir well over medium-high heat, just enough to bring the water to a simmer and dissolve the sugar. Once all the flavors are married, dump some ice into the mixture. This will both add volume and cool the mixture down. Remember, you’re brinning this bird, not poaching it.

Wash your chicken well, pat it dry. Place it in the appropriate container and then cover it in the solution. If your pot is big enough, you can just go ahead and dunk the bird in there, just make sure that you have enough liquid to cover it and something to weight it down and keep it submerged. Brine your chicken in the refrigerator for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

After, remove, rinse and pat dry again, then cook as you will. In my case, I used a very tasty spice rub from The Carnivore Club that had some coriander and ginger mixed in, and threw the bird on the grill.