The Southern Secret to Tender, Juicy, Golden Brown Chicken

Browned chicken thighs

In the South, sweet tea is more than just a drink option, it’s a lifestyle. The beloved sugary sweet drink is a long-standing staple in Southern kitchens, on restaurant menus and in convenience stores. But did you know that your favorite bottle of sweet tea can be used for more than just quenching your thirst?

As it turns out, sweet tea makes an excellent brine for chicken. It tenderizes the meat, gets the skin nice and crispy and helps to create the beautifully golden-brown color that comes from baking it in the oven. Whether you’re making a fresh batch of tea at home or picking up your favorite brand from the grocery store, we’ve got the perfect recipe to whip up using some of that sweet nectar of the South.

Related: My Husband Cracked the Code to the Juiciest, Most Flavorful Chicken Breast

How to Make Sweet Tea Brined Chicken

There are many recipes out there for sweet tea-brined chicken, but the most recent one to catch our eye was created by chef Millie Peartree for the New York Times. We came across her recipe for what looked to be the most tender, juicy, golden brown chicken we had ever seen and immediately bookmarked the dish. It was clear that the world-renowned chef had a trick up her sleeve, and that trick was none other than a delicious batch of sweet tea.

To make her mouth-watering sweet tea brine, all you need is 2 quarts of sweet tea, 1 lemon, Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper and some chicken. Add the sweet tea, lemon juice and Cajun seasoning to a large pot or bowl and whisk until the seasoning dissolves. Submerge the chicken in the brine, then cover and refrigerate for anywhere between 6 to 24 hours. When you’re ready to cook, just remove the chicken from the brine, pat dry with paper towels and bake at 425° until the chicken is golden and registers 165° on an instant-read thermometer.

Peartree uses three pounds of leg quarters or a mix of legs and thighs, but you can use what you have. Some recipes use this technique for a whole roasted chicken or as a brine for fried chicken, two ideas we're filing away as well.

Using sweet tea as a brine for chicken is one of those ideas that you wish you had heard of sooner and it got us thinking about other tea-brined possibilities. We suspect pork chops or even a whole turkey would be delicious prepared this way. Pair that with a glass of sweet tea to wash it down and now you're cooking with sugar.

Up next: Dolly Parton’s Secret Ingredient for the Best-Ever Coleslaw