An overnight brine bath in buttermilk and hot sauce keeps these buffalo-wing-inspired grilled chicken nuggets moist as they char over coals.
I love fried food as much as the next person. Give me a plate-scape of golden brown, and I am a happy camper. But woman cannot live on fryolated goods alone. Sometimes a healthier approach is called for, but that doesn’t have to mean you miss our on flavor.
Grilled chicken breast is a great option for meals where you’re looking to save a few calories. Maybe you’re saving them for more important things, like beer? Whatever the motivation, cutting down chicken breast into bite size pieces makes for some great grilling nuggets. But white meat can tend to dry out pretty easily. Solution? Brine it!
Brined meat has been immersed for several hours to overnight in a heavily salted solution. The soak encourages the meat to absorb some of the liquid, which puts you a little ahead of the game for moisture loss during the cooking process. More significantly, the salt in the brine denatures the meat proteins, breaking the protein bonds to ‘loosen’ the protein strands and create a more tender bite.
Next comes the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Instead of attempting to reinvent the flavor wheel, I adopted the classics in a new way. Fried chicken is often given a buttermilk soak to retain moisture, so applying it to the nuggets made sense. To give the plain breast meat an extra boost, I adopted the beloved flavors of Buffalo chicken wings and added a copious amount of hot sauce.
The buttermilk hot sauce brine is an excellent foundation, but the chicken is also given a grill-side coating of a spicy ketchup-based sauce. The grilling sauce helps add vivid color and a little sweetness to offset the heat of the hot sauce.
If you’re worried that these may be a little too healthy sounding, don’t fret. I guarantee you they are a delicious morsel. Treat these nuggets as you would wings, and serve with a generous side of ranch or bleu cheese dressing.
Buffalo Brined Grilled Chicken Nuggets
2–3 lb chicken breasts
For the brine:
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup hot sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
For the mop sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup hot sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon celery salt
optional: ranch for dipping
- Trim the chicken breasts of any fat and gristle, and cut into large 1-2″ pieces.
- In a non reactive bowl, combine brine ingredients and stir. Add the chicken, making sure all pieces are coated. Cover with cling wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Light a grill for high heat direct grilling. Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse well under running water. Discard brine. Place nuggets on paper towels and roughly pat them dry.
- In a bowl, combine mop sauce ingredients and stir.
- Place the nuggets on the grill, then brush the mop sauce over the top. After 5-7 minutes, flip the nuggets and baste the other side, cooking a further 5-7 minutes. Flip them over one final time to set the sauce.
- Remove cooked nuggets from the grill (to be sure they are cooked, make sure the internal temperature measures 165f before removing). Serve with ranch for dipping.