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Can You Use Tea In A Brine

Slofoodgroup Team October 16, 2021

Tea Brined Chicken

When it comes to using brines, opinions typically fall into two categories. The first opinion is that brines ensure your meat will come out incredibly juicy and evenly seasoned throughout. The second group tends to believe that brines are an unnecessary step, one that pulls outside moisture into the meat rather than cooking it perfectly so as to retain its unique flavor and moisture levels. We believe there are instances when one should brine and instances when they should not. 

In the case of a whole smoked chicken, presoaking in a brine will safeguard against dry end pieces and moist centers due to varying thicknesses of the bird.  So, we brine.

But what do we brine with? We love a base of salt and sugar, but when choosing extra flavors, anything goes. So when we got a new shipment of pekoe grade black tea, we  wondered, would tea be good in a brine? We set out to find out, but first we needed to develop a recipe to test. What would we add to our tea? 

When you think of black tea, what comes to mind as enhancements? For many people it is likely lemon and honey—maybe even a little milk or cream. That’s the reason why, when we set out to develop our  brine using our black tea, we started with similar ingredients.

Check it out!

Whole Smoked Chicken Brined in Black Tea and Lemon


For the brine:

  • 4 teaspoons pekoe grade loose leaf black tea
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup sea salt
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns, lightly smashed
  • 5 cloves, lightly smashed
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh grated lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 cups water

For smoking the chicken:

  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons melted coconut oil, divided
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ cup 
  • 1 whole 3-4 pound chicken
  • Mesquite chips

*note: We used a small, locally-raised chicken that fit into a gallon ziplock bag. This allowed us to only use three cups of milk to fully engulf the bird. If you have a larger bard and need to brine it in a pot, you may need to triple this recipe or brine longer with occasional flipping. 


  1. Place all of the brine ingredients except for the tea leaves and water in a stockpot and bring to boil. Turn to simmer and stir frequently. Once the salt and honey have dissolved, take it off the heat.
  2. Meanwhile, add your water and tea to a smaller pot and bring to a boil. Turn to simmer and let the tea steep for 5 minutes. Strain the tea leaves and add the tea to the milk mixture. 
  3. Place your chicken in a gallon ziplock bag and pour the brine over the chicken. Seal the bag tightly. Use a bowl or roasting dish to keep the bag sitting upright and place it in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours. 
  4. Remove the chicken from the bag and set it on a plate. Pat it dry and rub it with half of the melted coconut oil. 
  5. Mix together your dry ingredients and rub them all over the bird, including under the skin. 
  6. Heat your smoker on 250℉ and get your chips smoking.
  7. Smoke your chicken for about 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 150℉. 
  8. Mix together your honey, oil, and lemon juice (melt the honey if necessary). 
  9. Use the mixture to baste the chicken and place it back on the smoker, turning the heat up to  275℉. Baste the chicken every 10-15 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of 165℉.

Serving Suggestions

We served ours with a saffron scented cauliflower pilaf and coconut creamed spinach, but tea brined chicken would be fantastic with roasted vegetables, seasoned rice, or any other starchy side dish.