Chicken wings might be the perfect game-day food — they’re meaty and so easy to flavor however your tastebuds desire, whether that’s spicy, sweet or somewhere in between. No matter what variety you prefer, there’s one secret that guarantees delicious results: brining the chicken wings, which allows the meat to sit in a salt mixture for anywhere from an hour to overnight before cooking. The wings end up juicy, well-seasoned and crispy — it’s the perfect trio of tastes and textures. If you’re new to brining, we’ve got tried-and-true chef’s tips alongside tasty chicken wing recipes. Here’s what you should know in order to make the ultimate chicken wing brine.
Why it’s worth brining chicken wings
Like any poultry, chicken wings can dry out quickly during cooking. This is due to the dual-process of cooking the meat while trying to get the skin super crispy. Luckily, brining prevents dry chicken wings, regardless of the cooking method used, thanks to the salt’s reaction with the meat. “It dissolves protein in muscle, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking,” Alan Sams, PhD, food science expert and provost for Texas A&M University, explains. “This makes the meat juicier, more tender and improves the flavor.”
Although salt is essential for improving the meat’s texture, brines often contain sugar and other seasonings for extra flavor and to help the skin brown evenly. One thing to keep in mind about brining is the type you’ll use to create a mouthwatering batch of chicken wings.
Wet vs. dry chicken wing brine
When brining, you’ll either use a wet or dry mixture to achieve your desired results. Here, Norah Clark, chef and food editor for Boyd Hampers, explains the difference between the two brines and which to choose before cooking wings.
For the juiciest meat: Use a wet brine
In a wet brine, chicken wings are soaked in a solution of salt, water, sugar, herbs and spices. The wings sit in the liquid for several hours, which infuses lots of moisture into the meat that stays throughout the cooking process. That said, it’s key to fully dry the brined wings before cooking so the skin crisps up properly.
For the fastest flavor: Use a dry brine
Dry brining involves rubbing the wings with a mixture of salt and seasonings before letting them rest in the refrigerator. This method draws out moisture from the meat and skin, which mixes with the dry brine to create a flavorful liquid. Dry brining can be done in as little as an hour while yielding delicious meat and even crispier skin compared to wet brining.
How to make a chicken wing brine
You only need a handful of ingredients to brine chicken wings to flavorful and succulent perfection. Below, you can find two brine recipes (one wet, one dry) to try whenever you’re baking, deep-frying, grilling or air-frying wings.
Wet Chicken Wing Brine
This recipe is courtesy of Clark. Her top tip: Experiment with various brine seasonings. “Get creative with your brine by adding ingredients like citrus zest, fresh herbs, hot sauce, soy sauce or honey to achieve different flavor profiles,” she suggests.
- 4 cups water
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup granulated or brown sugar, packed
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1 lb. chicken wings, cut through center joint to separate drumettes
- Active: 10 mins
- Total time: 10 mins + brine time
- Place chicken wings into large, sturdy plastic bag or airtight container with lid. In large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients until salt and sugar dissolve.
- Carefully pour brine over chicken wings and mix around so meat is submerged. Cover or seal container tight to block out excess air. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Remove wings from brine and discard liquid.
- Rinse off saltwater and pat chicken wings completely dry. Proceed with your preferred recipe. (Note: Double or triple measurements as needed for larger amounts of wings.)
Dry Chicken Wing Brine
This recipe is courtesy of Jeremy Pike, author and recipe creator at Angry BBQ. He notes to be wary of overdoing it with certain kinds of salt. “If you use table salt or fine sea salt, you’ll want to go easy on the amount as it will make the wings really salty,” he notes.
- Salt (Kosher, coarse or fine sea salt or table salt)
- Additional seasonings like garlic powder, ground sage or dried rosemary, optional
- 2 lbs. chicken wings, separated
- Active: 5 mins
- Total time: 5 mins + brine time
- Place wings on wire rack set on top of baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between each one. Sprinkle both sides of wings with enough salt to evenly coat surface. Add other seasonings on top of salt layer (if using).
- Refrigerate uncovered for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Then, take the chicken out of fridge and begin preparing them according to recipe. (Note: You don’t have to rinse the wings as the dry brine will penetrate the meat.)
2 delicious chicken wing recipes
Brining is easy to do prior to whipping up your favorite chicken wing recipe. Keep reading for two chicken wing recipes you’ll want to make for any occasion — whether a quick weeknight meal or game-day watch party!
Baked Chicken Wings with Garlicky Ranch
Anchovy oil is the secret ingredient in the zingy dressing for these crispy oven-baked tidbits.
- 1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup full-fat buttermilk
- 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped + 1 Tbs. oil from tin
- 1 small clove garlic, grated
- 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tbs. hot sauce
- 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 6 sprigs dill, chopped, stems and all
- ½ stick (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
- 2 Tbs. hot sauce
- 12 chicken wings (about 2 lbs.), brined and dried
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Active: 20 mins
- Total time: 40 mins
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- Make dressing: In bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise and buttermilk with anchovies and their oil, garlic, Worcestershire, hot sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, salt and dill. Taste for seasoning.
- Make sauce: In medium pot, add butter and hot sauce; over medium-low heat, cook to gently melt butter, stirring to combine. Leave pot on stove to keep warm.
- Get ready: Heat oven to 450°F. Set wings on cutting board. Cut between drumstick (“drum”) piece and flatter second (“flat”) piece. Use paper towels to pat wings dry. Line baking sheet with parchment and coat with cooking spray. Arrange wings on top, leaving space between each. Season with generous sprinkling of salt.
- Bake: Place baking sheet in center of oven and bake until chicken wings are crisp and bubbling, 18 to 20 minutes.
- Finish: Use metal tongs or slotted spoon to transfer wings to bowl. Drizzle sauce over chicken and toss to combine. Serve with ranch dressing on side.
Air-Fryer Sticky Asian Chicken Wings
Soy sauce and honey combine in a quick-prep glaze that makes this starter finger-lickin’ good.
- 2 lbs. chicken wings, brined and dried
- ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. grated peeled fresh ginger
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 2 tsp. sesame seeds, toasted
- Active: 10 mins
- Total time: 35 mins
- Yield: 6 servings
- Place crisper plate in basket of 5.5-quart air fryer; arrange chicken wings in single layer on crisper plate. Place basket in air fryer. Set timer for 10 minutes. Start according to manufacturer’s directions for steam fry.
- Transfer par-cooked chicken to large bowl; toss with olive oil and salt. Return to basket; air fry at 400°F, shaking basket occasionally, until chicken is crisp and golden and no longer pink near bones, about 25 minutes.
- In small pot, mix soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic; over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until reduced to syrup-like consistency, 8 minutes. In bowl, mix sauce, chicken and butter; toss to coat. Transfer to platter; garnish with sesame seeds.
Read on for more tips and tricks for cooking moist and tender chicken: