Splash Tequila In Your Chicken Wing Brine For A Bolder Flavor

The ultimate half-time snack or drink accompaniment, chicken wings are the go-to appetizer for many. And while giving them a quick fry and toss in sauce can make them flavorful, you may be skipping the very important step of brining, which literally adds taste from the inside out. Even celebrity chefs like Giada De Laurentiis spice up chicken wings with tequila when marinating or brining.

Why tequila? Not only does this spirit create a smoky sweetness in the wings, but it also works as a tenderizer. Alcohol breaks down collagen, which results in more succulent meat. Adding some tequila to your brine will infuse each wing with flavor and improve the texture. The alcohol will only partially evaporate during the cooking process, so if you're feeding someone who cannot tolerate any alcohol, you can substitute orange juice or other citrus fruits to create a similar flavor profile.

When it comes to brining, it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. Brine the wings for a minimum of one hour but ideally shoot for two hours to get maximum flavor. Anything beyond that time frame can result in either overly salty chicken or waterlogged wings. Afterward, pat off the chicken skin and let the wings sit in the fridge uncovered for a few hours. This extra step allows the skin to dry out enough to create a crispy texture when cooking.

Tricks to build a better tequila brine

The basic brine formula for the best fried chicken is for every quarter gallon of liquid, add two to four tablespoons of salt. Then, mix in your desired seasonings and stir everything thoroughly. With this method, you can create any flavor profile you desire for the chicken wings.

While any tequila will assist with tenderizing your chicken wings, it helps to pick a type with a profile that fits the final dish. Blanco tequila is not aged in oak, meaning it has a more agave-forward taste but also a bit of a citrusy bite from being so young. Reposado tequila is aged for two months to one year in oak barrels, leading to warmer notes reminiscent of cinnamon, honey, and toasted nuts. Añejo tequila is aged in oak for one to three years, meaning it has a distinct woodiness in each bottle along with a nearly caramelized flavor profile.

Make margarita-inspired wings by adding citrus fruit zest and juices from options like oranges, limes, or even lemons to a blanco. Heady aromatics such as cumin, chili powder, or garlic powder can complement the smoky undertones and pair well with reposado or añejo. And it doesn't hurt to spice things up with one or two halved jalapeños in the brine — if you want to cut the spice out of your peppers, just remember to remove the pepper seeds and membranes.

Other ways to create a boozy brine

If tequila isn't your favorite spirit, or you find yourself out of it unexpectedly, there are plenty of great options to also create an alcohol-infused brine. If you have bourbon in the liquor cabinet, it can add a warm note to the chicken wings, which is especially delicious with a few peppercorns too.

Since white meat chicken goes well with white wine, it makes sense to put a splash of vino in your next brine. Using white wine will create a subtle fruity taste in your finished wings, but be sure to stick with dry varieties like sauvignon blanc to avoid overly sweet chicken. Or, if you're flavoring the dish with Japanese flair, sake in the brine brings out floral notes in each bite.

Beer can chicken is a grilling classic, so what better way to recreate it than with brews in your wing brine? You can use your favorite beer brand, opt for light beer to create a milder taste, or use a dark beer to infuse each bite with boldness. The same method can be used for dry ciders too. Just avoid using flavored ciders, such as cinnamon or caramel, unless you want your wings to also take on that taste.