Nothing says summer like a big, cold glass of freshly brewed sweet tea. This signature drink of the South is a simple but delicious blend of black tea sweetened with cane sugar, poured over ice, and served with a lemon slice. It's a recipe that's been sipped on for generations, attributed to South Carolina being the first place in America to grow tea commercially. But sweet tea grilled chicken? How does that work?
While sweet tea is typically served as a beverage alongside your favorite meal, it also makes a spectacular meat seasoning when used as a brine. The sugar brings out the sweetness of the chicken and makes the skin caramelized and golden-brown, while the black tea adds an earthy, smoky flavor, and the tannins help tenderize, making the meat tender and juicy throughout. This savory sweet tea brined chicken is a creative way to enjoy this iconic summer staple and impress the crowd at your next cookout.
The basis of the recipe starts with a brine. Brining is a marinating method where meat is submerged in a heavily salted liquid mixed with herbs and spices. Allowing the meat to soak in the brine bath will absorb all the seasonings, add moisture, and tenderize meat, making it super flavorful and incredibly juicy when cooked. Brines are often used for poultry, but it's also a great way to add moisture and flavor to lean meats such as turkey, fish, shrimp, and pork.
- Since the sweet tea brine needs to be completely cooled before adding the chicken, it can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- It's essential to only use a coarse salt when making a brine. Finer salts, like table salt, can make the brine too salty to consume.
- For the best sweet tea flavor, brine your chicken for 8 to 24 hours— the longer it's brined, the more flavor it will absorb.
How To Roast Sweet Tea Brined Chicken
This sweet tea brined chicken is perfect for grilling, but it's just as tasty roasted in the oven. To roast, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove chicken from the brine, pat dry, and place skin-side up on a foil-lined baking sheet or roasting pan. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then, turn the chicken skin side up and continue to roast until cooked through (internal temperature of 165 degrees F) and the skin is crispy and golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
How To Store Sweet Tea Grilled Chicken
On the rare occasion that you have leftovers, cooked chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Sweet tea brined chicken can also be frozen raw to be cooked later. To freeze, remove the chicken from the brine, pat it dry, cover in plastic wrap, and place it in a Ziploc bag or airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw the chicken in the refrigerator overnight and cook as desired.
Smokey Sweet Tea Grilled Chicken Thighs Recipe
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 1/2 cups cane sugar
- 1/2 cup coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 small white onion thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and diced
- 1 medium lemon juiced
- 6 regular-size tea bags or 3 family-size tea bags
- 3-4 lbs. bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
Prepare the Sweet Tea Brine
- Combine the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, sugar, salt, white and black pepper, onion, garlic, lemon, tea bags, and water in a large saucepan and whisk to make sure that the salt and sugar are dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; cover and steep for 10 minutes. Discard tea bags, then cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours to cool.
Brine the Chicken
- Place chicken in a large ziplock freezer bag or dish with an airtight seal and pour in the brine until covered. Seal tightly, place inside of a bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Grill the Chicken
- When ready to prepare, remove the chicken from the bags and discard the brine. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Preheat the grill to 325 degrees F. Place chicken on the skin side down. Cover and grill for 10 minutes. Turn over and grill for 10 minutes. Turn chicken again and grill for 5 minutes or until skin is crispy. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
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