Brining in a saltwater mixture before you grill typically will add flavor, tenderness and reduce cooking times. Commercial poultry have much less fat than they used to, which means they tend to dry out more quickly when cooked and to be less flavorful.

Most brine recipes contain a strong solution of water and salt along with some added sweetener, such as sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey or corn syrup for flavor and to improve browning. The liquid is absorbed into the meat and because it is now loaded with extra moisture, it will stay that way longer while it cooks. Brining also alters the chemical structure of proteins, causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the liquid. The result: juicier, tender and more flavorful poultry.

Grilled Chicken with Pine Nut Pesto


3/8 c. sea salt or kosher salt

3/8 c. brown sugar

½ gallon cold water (8 c.)

1/8 c. coarse black pepper

4 boneless chicken breasts (brined)

4 cloves garlic

2 c. fresh basil leaves, tightly packed

½ c. pine nuts (or walnuts)

1 dash salt and pepper

½ c. olive oil

½ c. Parmesan or Romano cheese grated

Juice of ½ lemon

Brine mixture should be cold. Thoroughly combine brine ingredients in a mixing bowl using a whisk. Add chicken breasts and let sit for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the garlic. Then wash, dry and remove the stems from the fresh basil. Grate Parmesan cheese.

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Add the garlic to a food processor and mince. Add the basil leaves, pine nuts and a dash of salt and pepper to the bowl of the processor. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil through the feed tube until all the ingredients are pureed. Stop the processor at this point, if necessary, and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to get everything mixed together.

Add Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and combine with the rest of the mixture. If the pesto is too thick, add 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.

Fire up an outdoor grill, if preferred, or simply heat a lightly oiled grill pan on medium high heat.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, unless chicken breasts are thick, in which case, they may need a little more time.

Remove chicken breast to serving platter. Spread the pesto over each piece of chicken and serve.

Pair this with Firestone’s 2013 Firestone Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Ynez Valley).

Full-bodied and well-structured, their 2013 estate chardonnay is bursting with tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Pineapple, papaya, citrus, pear and vanilla complements hints of toasted oak and a bright acidity to round out the finish.


John David Finley is a freelance writer and author of the cookbook, "Sacred Meals from our Family Table," which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at