|Be patient, the good part's coming up!|
This is actually going to be a pretty short post, because brining is a pretty simple procedure. I thought about combining this with the part about frying, but it sort of deserves its own section, because it can be used with all sorts of different meats.
A brine, at its simplest, is a saltwater solution. When you brine meat, the salt in the water penetrates the meat, bringing water into the meat with it. That water, along with the salt, gets trapped in the meat. The result is a moister, more flavorful piece of meat. This works especially well with cuts that tend to dry out quickly, like chicken breasts and pork chops, but it works pretty well for just about anything. I usually don't brine red meat, just because I don't think it really needs it (it's pretty moist already due to intramuscular fat), but you can give it a try if you want to see if you like it.
A bonus to brining meat is that other flavors can be introduced into the brine, and the brining process helps to carry those flavors into your meat. Herbs, spices, etc. all work well in a brine.
I like to brine meats that I'll be frying or roasting. I don't see much of a point in brining something I'll be braising or stewing, since it'll be sitting in liquid for an extended period of time anyway.
Some people brine their meats overnight. I tend to favor a saltier brine, and do it for less time - 6 hours is plenty of time for a chicken, in my humble opinion. If you prefer to brine your bird overnight, just double the amount of water in the recipe.
You may notice an interesting ingredient in my fried chicken brine - black tea. Tea helps to break down meats and makes them a bit more tender, and it lends a nice flavor to meats. I also like adding it just because sweet tea is such a Southern thing - it seems like a logical addition to me.
Fried Chicken Brine
1/4 gallon filtered water
1/4 gallon ice
1 lemon, cut into chunks
1 bunch thyme
1/2c kosher salt
2tsp peppercorns, coursely cracked
1 head garlic, cloves smashed
2tbsp black looseleaf tea
In a large pot, add the 1/4 gallon of water, lemon, thyme, salt, honey, peppercorn and garlic (squeeze the lemon into the brine so that the juice is released before adding it). Don't worry about peels, seeds, etc. Heat over high heat, stirring occasionally, bringing the mixture to a boil. Cover and boil for 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, and pour this into another container*. Add the black tea, and let it steep for about 4 minutes. Add the ice and remaining water, and stir the mixture to cool it down. The mixture should be cool to the touch - if not, add more ice until it is. When the mixture is ready, add your chicken. Cover and store in your refrigerator for 6 hours.
* The container should be big enough so that the chicken fits inside, but small enough so that the chicken will be submerged when all of the liquid and ice is added. If any of the chicken floats, you can set a small plate in the container to help weight it down.