We almost always salt or brine chicken before cooking it, which not only seasons the meat but helps it cook up juicy. But which method we choose depends on several factors, including how much time and refrigerator space we have, and whether or not we want crispy skin.
How Salting Works
Salting, also known as dry brining, seasons the meat and changes the structure of its muscle proteins so that they’re better able to retain their own juices. When salt is applied to raw meat, juices inside the meat are drawn to the surface. The salt then dissolves in the exuded liquid, forming a brine that is eventually reabsorbed by the meat.
Pros: More convenient than brining (no need to cram a large container of salt water in the fridge); won’t thwart goal of crispy skin.
Con: Takes longer than brining.
Preferred Salt: Kosher, because it’s easier to distribute the larger grains evenly.
How to Salt Chicken
Whole chicken: Apply kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound) evenly inside cavity and under skin of breasts and legs. Let chicken rest in refrigerator on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet for 6 to 24 hours.
Bone-In Chicken Pieces: If poultry is skin-on, apply kosher salt (¾ teaspoons per pound) evenly between skin and meat, leaving skin attached, and let rest in refrigerator on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet for 6 to 24 hours.
Not All Kosher Salt Is the Same
The two leading brands of kosher salt, Diamond Crystal and Morton, have different crystal structures, so they measure differently by volume. Case in point: One teaspoon of Diamond Crystal, which has a more open crystal structure, actually contains less salt than one teaspoon of Morton. Our recipes are designed with Diamond Crystal. Use this reference guide to convert measurements.
3 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt = 2¼ teaspoons Morton kosher salt = 1½ teaspoons table salt
How Brining Works
Salt in the brine seasons meat and changes the structure of its proteins so that they are able to both absorb and hold on to more moisture.
Pros: Works faster than salting; can make lean meat juicier than salting since it adds, versus merely retains, moisture.
Cons: Can inhibit browning and crisping of skin; requires fitting a brining container in fridge.
Preferred Salt: Table, because the tiny grains dissolve quickly in water.
How to Brine Chicken
Whole Chicken (3- to 8-pound): Mix 2 quarts cold water with 1/2 cup table salt; brine 1 hour.
Bone-in Chicken Pieces (4 pounds): Mix 2 quarts cold water with ½ cup table salt; brine ½ to 1 hour.
Boneless, Skinless Chicken breasts (up to 6 breasts): Mix 1½ quarts cold water with 3 tablespoons table salt; brine ½ to 1 hour.
Note: Do not brine longer than recommended or foods will become overly salty.
Salt—Don’t Brine—Water-Chilled Chicken
Water-chilled chicken can’t absorb as much water as air-chilled chicken can. Consequently, it can’t absorb as much of a brine’s salt as air-chilled chicken can, so it will be less seasoned and won’t actually retain as much water during cooking, so the meat will cook up dry and underseasoned. Learn more about the science behind brining water-chilled chicken.