Sweet tea brined fried chicken is a succulent combination of lemony sweet tea and classic fried chicken. A 24-hour brine ensures that the chicken stays juicy, tender, and exquisitely flavored. Perfect for Sunday supper.
Fried chicken is a quintessential Sunday dish; this overnight sweet tea brined chicken fries up extra crispy.–Cynthia Graubart
WHY DO I NEED TO BRINE CHICKEN?
Brine adds flavor and extra moisture, which is essential for something like a turkey. But for something like fried chicken that’s already scrumptious and juicy, do you need to go the extra step? If you want a significant boost to flavor, juiciness, and tenderness, then yes, absolutely. The batter on fried chicken keeps the seasonings from getting to the meat but if you’ve brined it beforehand, the meat will already be flavored. The amount of salt in brine also helps to break down some of the fibers in the meat, making it incredibly tender.
Sweet Tea Brined Fried Chicken
- 4 cups water
- 2 family-size tea bags (or 8 regular-size)
- 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 small (6 oz) sweet onion thinly sliced
- 1 lemon thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves halved
- 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 cups ice cubes
- 1 (3 1/2-pound) cut-up whole chicken
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1/2 cup self-rising white cornmeal mix
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
- Mild vegetable oil
- In a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add the tea bags, remove from the heat, and cover and steep for 10 minutes. Discard tea bags.
- Add in the brown sugar, salt, onion, lemon, garlic, and pepper, stir until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Cool completely, about 45 minutes, then stir in ice. (Mixture should be cold before adding to chicken.)
- Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise. In a large zip-top plastic freezer bag, combine the tea mixture and chicken pieces. Seal bag and place in a shallow baking dish, chill for 24 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, discarding the marinade. Drain chicken well.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the self-rising flour, self-rising cornmeal, black pepper, salt, and red pepper. Spoon 1 cup flour mixture into a brown paper bag or large zip-top plastic freezer bag.
- Working with one piece of chicken at a time, add it to the bag, seal and shake to coat. Remove chicken and transfer to a wire rack. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken, adding more flour mixture to the bag as needed. Refrigerate chicken for 30 minutes to form a crust.
- Pour oil to depth of 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) into a cast-iron Dutch oven (or 1 inch [25 mm] in a 12-inch [30-cm] skillet). Heat over medium heat to 325°F (163°C).
- Working in batches, fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until browned and the internal temperature has reached 165°F (74°C), 15 to 22 minutes. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels.
☞TESTER TIP: It may take several batches to get all the chicken fried. Keep any cooked chicken warm in a 200°F (94°C) oven.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This recipe for sweet tea brined chicken was a reminder that you should always brine chicken! The resulting chicken meat is so juicy. A cut-up chicken is used in this recipe which makes it easier to store your chicken while it brines in the fridge for 24 hours. A cut-up 1.6 kg whole chicken, along with the sweet tea marinade, fits perfectly into a large zip-top freezer bag. When laid into a high-rimmed baking pan every bit of chicken was covered with brine so there's no running back to fridge periodically to flip the bag, wondering if your chicken was evenly brined. The brine lent a pleasingly sweet tea taste to the chicken meat that had a stark contrast to the delightfully crunchy crust. Our family supremely enjoyed this chicken, my toddler ate 3 pieces! I served it with some mashed rutabaga (with a bit of brown sugar and butter mashed into it) and green beans.
Fried chicken is a big hit in my home and coupling that with a brining technique piqued my interest in this recipe. The brine comes together easily with tea made in the same saucepan as the remainder of the brine. A 24-hour marinade, quick toss with a flavorful coating, a brief rest in the refrigerator to set the coating and into the fryer. The result is a crisp skin, tasty crust and importantly resulted in moist tender meat. My husband, an avid fried chicken guy who gauges all fried chicken on what his grandmother used to make, gave this recipe for sweet tea brined chicken a thumbs up.
The end result of this recipe for sweet tea brined chicken was delicious fried chicken. It was time-consuming to prepare due to marinating overnight and resting after applying the breading but as a special chicken dinner, it would be worth the effort. I'd definitely list the lemon as an optional ingredient as not all people like lemon in their tea. The sweetness of the tea flavored the chicken nicely and was a unique substitute for the usual BBQ sauce. Frying the chicken in vegetable oil gave the chicken a nice crisp skin with the flour and cornmeal coating. I served the fried chicken with rice pilaf, steamed asparagus, and dinner rolls.
Originally published May 12, 2021