This Instructable is for an easy brine to make boring chicken legs delicious! I will explain what a brine is and why it makes your food more delicious.
Step 1: The Science of Brining
A brine is simply a mixture of salt and water. The salt breaks down the muscle fibers and allows the meat to absorb more moisture. As the meat is cooked the muscle fibers will not contract making your meat more tender. The meat will also be more juicy because it has absorbed more moisture. Other items can also be added to the brine to add flavor.
An ideal brine is between 3.5% - 6% salinity, most being above 5%. Going above salinity of 6% has proven to be no more effective than salinity of 6% so it is not worth the hassle of trying to add more salt. Depending on the type and cut of meat you can brine anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.
When creating a brine it is far easier to dissolve salt into warm water than it is cold.
I could go on but there are already good explanations that delve a bit deeper into the science behind brining.
Step 2: Creating the Brine
I wanted to achieve a salinity of 6% so I measured out everything exactly to achieve this.
1 cup strongly brewed coffee
4 cups of cold water
2.18 ounces of salt
4 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of cayenne powder
2 tablespoons of garlic
1. Select a coffee that you like, I chose a french roast. Brew 1 cup (8 ounces) nice and strong.
2. Add the warm coffee and salt into a bowl. Stir the coffee and salt into the bowl until all of the salt is dissolved, this can take awhile.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients stir some more.
That's it! You now have created a brine which will transform your chicken legs.
Step 3: Soaking the Chicken
Now that you have the brine you have to make sure it is cool before adding the meat.
NEVER PUT MEAT INTO A WARM BRINE!
This is for the obvious reasons you don't want to make anyone sick.
The key to brining is making sure everything is covered so the brine can work. I had about 2 1/2 lbs of chicken legs and kept adding until the bowl was filled. I decided to keep 4 legs separate as a control group to see how much of a difference the brine actually made.
1. Place chicken in brine
2. Place a plate on top of the chicken to keep it submerged
3 Cover and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours
Step 4: Cooking the Legs
Since I created this Instructable for the cooking with science contest the main thrust is using the brine. I will spend less time on cooking methods and hopefully add to this later if there is more interest. The legs can be cooked anyway you would normally cook chicken legs. I will outline an easy method and the method is chose, smoking. The wonderful thing now is that because of brining you will have a much easier time cooking the legs and not drying them out.
Method 1 - Oven
1. Preheat oven to 425
2. Place legs in a baking dish in the oven
3. Bake for 35 minutes or until the legs are at least 165 degrees
Method 2- Smoking
I used a pellet grill to smoke and bake my legs. I did not want an overpowering smoke so I only smoked the legs for an hour then finished at a higher temperature. Because I used a pellet grill I can easily turn up the temperature like an oven. If you are using an electric smoker or traditional you can finish the legs in the oven.
1. Preheat your smoker to 200
2. Place legs in the smoker and let sit for one hour
3. Increase the temperature to 375 and finish baking until legs are at least 165 degrees (roughly 35 minutes).
Step 5: Conlusion and Thoughts
https://www.instructables.com/editInstructable/edit/EPKHLMPJGGTX47M/step/5#In the end the chicken turned out amazing it really was some of the best I have ever made. It was far more juicy than the 4 in the control group and obviously more flavor since they were plain. There was a decent zing to the legs so if you don't like spice you can dial back the Cayenne pepper.
For full disclosure the timings for smoking were not the same I used to create these pictures. I put them in at low which is 160 degree's for 1 hour. I then put it at high (200) for 28 minutes and then turned it to 375 for 45 minutes. I advise what I recommend not what I did, that is how I'll do it next time.
I have used brine many times but approaching it as a science not just a technique was fun.
Go forth and experiment!