Smoked Chicken Breast Brine: Stick With This Simple Recipe

Smoked Chicken Breast Brine Results

I am getting a little obsessed with smoked chicken breasts.  I am determined to turn this empty canvas into something interesting and worthy of throwing onto your smoker.  There is work to be done.

I spent today researching brines and doing a few experiments.  Brines are funky…on one hand they are incredibly simple but I keep running into TONS of complex recipes with 7-10 ingredients. 

After today’s experiments I am going to stick with a smoked chicken breast brine that is bone butt simple.

Smoked Chicken Breast Brine Results

I tested three different brines to see if I could tell a difference in the finished bird.  I went with the classic standard brine, a dry brine and a standard brine that had been jacked up with a ton of extra flavors.

Brines for Smoked Chicken Breast

Standard Chicken Brine

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Jacked Up Chicken Brine

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced roasted garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Dry Brine

  • A light coating of salt across the entire surface of the breast.  Slightly less than 1 tablespoon.

I had six boneless, skinless chicken breasts and used two breasts for each brine.

Most folks say that you should brine boneless chicken breasts for two hours and bone in skin on breasts for four hours.  I wanted to go overboard on this experiment and ended up brining everything for five hours in the refrigerator.

After the chicken had brined it was thoroughly rinsed to remove any salt, sugar or aromatics that were just sitting on the surface of the meat.  I then proceeded to load up my pellet grill and make the most uninteresting smoked chicken the world has ever seen.

plain smoked chicken breast

No rubs, no sauces.  Just smoke and heat for an hour while they smoked at 275F.  I pulled the breasts when they hit an internal temperature of 165F and carved off some slices for a taste test.

Chicken Breast Finished

Here is what I learned:

There was absolutely NO DIFFERENCE between the breasts that soaked in the Standard brine versus the Jacked Up brine. This result didn’t surprise me.  Although the Jacked Up brine had some powerful aromatic components, the things that make up those smells and flavors are great big molecules that are not going to penetrate into the meat like salt.

The breasts that had been brined in liquid were juicier than the breasts that had been dry brined.  The difference was measurable noticeable straight off the pit and extremely significant after an hour when all of the meat had cooled.  I could not make an honest assessment of the flavor differences between the dry and wet brined chicken because of the moisture differences.

Dry Brined Smoked Chicken Breast

If you want a chicken brine without sugar then I wouldn’t hesitate to simply omit the sugar from the Standard brine recipe above.  The sugar is supposed to mellow out the salt flavor but I didn’t notice and meaningful flavor difference between the breasts brined with a sugar/salt mix and the ones that had been dry brined with salt only.

My suggestion is that when you want to smoke some chicken to stick with the standard brine recipe (2 quarts water, 1/2 cup salt, 1/4 cup brown sugar) and don’t bother adding fancy flavors to the mix.  The best way to get more flavor into the bird is going to be by using an injection.

Dry Brined Smoked Chicken Breast

Smoked Chicken Breast Brine

After comparing several brine recipes it was found that the simple one worked the best.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 10 kcal


  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar


  • Combine the brine ingredients and stir to dissolve.
  • Brine chicken breasts for at least 4 hours before smoking.


This is a standard brine for use when smoking chicken breasts.  This brine increases the tenderness and juiciness of the breast because of the salt/sugar.
Adding complicated aromatic ingredients into a brine does not increase the flavor of the chicken as the aromatics do not penetrate into the meat.
To get more flavor into the breasts use an injection or baste with a marinade while smoking.
Keyword Smoked Chicken Breast Brine