This buttermilk chicken marinade is the best ever way to make grilled chicken! Buttermilk grilled chicken is so juicy, tender and flavorful that you’ll never go back to any other marinade.

Large black tray of grilled chicken that has been soaked in buttermilk chicken marinade, with potato chips and tongs nearby.

I simultaneously LOVE cooking at home and trying new recipes, and HATE food waste. Sometimes it’s hard to balance these things, because recipes often call for an ingredient where I’ll only be using a portion of what I have to buy.

For example, buttermilk. I love a dash of buttermilk in the dressing for my turkey burger salad, or the sauce for my ranch turkey burgers.

But a dash just here or there leaves me with a lot of extra buttermilk, even when I buy the smallest bottle available (which is usually a pint (2 cups)).

That’s why I developed this buttermilk chicken marinade. It uses 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk for 4 servings of grilled chicken, so it’s almost always perfect for using up the end of a bottle of buttermilk.

This buttermilk grilled chicken is one of my go-to recipes that I’ve been using for years, whenever I have leftover buttermilk in the fridge that needs to be finished up.

I most often use this buttermilk marinade in the summer for grilled chicken (when I’m not using my Greek chicken marinade), but it can also be used in the winter for roasted chicken. The natural acidity of the buttermilk tenderizes the meat, and also adds a tangy flavor to the chicken.

Grilled chicken legs and thighs garnished with lemon wedges and parsley.

Gather the ingredients for this buttermilk chicken marinade:

  • buttermilk – you’ll need 1-1/2 cups buttermilk for this buttermilk marinade, which is 3/4 of a pint-sized bottle. Use the remaining 1/2 cup to make fried chicken coleslaw sandwiches!
  • mustard powder – Colman’s mustard powder (in a yellow tin) is probably the most recognizable brand. McCormick also sells it, labeled as “ground mustard.” I also use this ingredient in my dry rub for ribs!
  • minced garlic – don’t worry too much about mincing this perfectly, it’s just a grilled chicken thigh marinade. Chop it up a bit, and you’re good.
  • sriracha – always a versatile hot sauce to have on hand for Asian noodle salad and coconut risotto, and perfect for buttermilk grilled chicken, too.
  • paprika – you can use traditional Hungarian paprika for this buttermilk chicken marinade, or smoked paprika for another level of flavor.

How long to marinate chicken in buttermilk:

It’s best to marinate the chicken in this buttermilk marinade for at least two hours so that the flavors can start to soak into the meat, and the acidity can tenderize the chicken.

You can also marinate overnight! However, try not to marinate longer than 24 hours if you can help it.

After TOO long, the acid in this buttermilk chicken marinade will start to “cook” the chicken (like how lime juice “cooks” the shrimp in shrimp ceviche), and the chicken will be a little tough once you grill it.

Black tray of buttermilk grilled chicken garnished with parsley and lemon wedges.

One important tip for making this buttermilk grilled chicken:

A quick warning that the buttermilk marinade might mean that the chicken is more likely to flare up on the grill than plain chicken. No need to panic, and it’s still totally worth it, I promise.

Just keep an eye on the grill, and don’t get distracted by a competitive game of badminton or something.

If you get any flareups, simply move the chicken to a cooler (indirect heat) portion of the grill and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees F.

Indirect heat simply means placing the chicken on a portion of the grill where the burner isn’t turned on. With a larger grill that might have 3 or 4 different burners, I generally turn on just 1 or 2 burners, leaving half of the grill technically unlit.

That’s the half I would move the buttermilk grilled chicken to if it starts to flare up (and also the way I finish my root beer ribs)! Indirect grilling may not always be possible with smaller grills, so just do the best you can to find a cooler area.

If you oven baked this chicken after the buttermilk marinade, how long would it take to cook?

On their Chicken from Farm to Table page (under the “Safe Cooking” section), the USDA has a really nice chart of approximate chicken cooking times, for each type of chicken piece (like boneless breasts, legs or thighs, etc).

Drumsticks are expected to take 35 to 45 minutes to bake at 350 degrees F, while thighs generally take about 40 to 50 minutes. If I were baking both drumsticks and thighs, like I am doing in this recipe, I’d probably set my timer for 45 minutes!

Whether you use this buttermilk chicken marinade or not, always be sure to use a probe thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F in all the pieces of chicken you are cooking.

Black plastic tray of buttermilk marinated grilled chicken garnished with parsley and lemon.

Can you use chicken breasts for this buttermilk marinated grilled chicken?

Yes, you can use any type of chicken that you prefer with this buttermilk chicken marinade. Just follow the cooking times in the USDA chart I linked to above, for whatever type of chicken and cooking method you are using.

Don’t forget the side dishes!

Of course, you need a few summery side dishes to go with this buttermilk grilled chicken. Acini de pepe pasta salad and seafood pasta salad are two of my favorite cold noodle dish options.

Grilled zucchini spears with miso glaze are something you can throw on the grill right next to the buttermilk marinated grilled chicken itself.

Dr. Pepper baked beans come together in one skillet and are sweet, glazy and delicious.

Marinated white beans and coleslaw with celery seed are a great make-ahead side dish options, and also so good for lunch! And homemade spicy potato chips are always a crowd-pleaser.

And why not wash everything down with a round of tequila mojitos or strawberry Moscow mules? Don’t forget the frozen yogurt pie for dessert.

More great chicken recipes:

Chicken is a staple in most American households, and it’s easy to see why – it’s so versatile. Put it on a pizza, or throw it in the crockpot for an easy supper.

Grilled chicken legs and thighs garnished with lemon wedges and parsley.

Buttermilk Grilled Chicken

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 16 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 26 minutes

This buttermilk chicken marinade is the best ever way to make grilled chicken! Buttermilk grilled chicken is so juicy, tender and flavorful that you'll never go back to any other marinade.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 4 chicken drumsticks, bone-in/skin-on
  • 4 chicken thighs, bone-in/skin-on
  • Kosher salt, for seasoning chicken
  • Vegetable oil, for grill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges (optional)

Instructions

  1. In medium bowl, whisk buttermilk, mustard powder, sriracha, garlic and paprika until smooth. 
  2. Place chicken in large zip-top bag; pour buttermilk mixture over chicken. Seal bag and refrigerate 2 hours or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat outdoor grill for direct grilling over medium heat, as well as an indirect grilling area on the grill, if possible. Remove chicken from marinade, shaking off excess marinade; discard marinade. Season chicken with salt.
  4. Lightly oil grill grates. Transfer chicken to grill over direct heat and cook 16 to 18 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, turning occasionally. If chicken starts to flare up over direct heat, move to indirect heat area of the grill and continue cooking until cooked through.
  5. Transfer chicken to serving platter. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 550Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 21gCholesterol: 287mgSodium: 655mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 1gSugar: 7gProtein: 58g

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Image of black plastic tray of buttermilk marinated grilled chicken garnished with parsley and lemon, with overlay: BUTTERMILK CHICKEN MARINADE with grilled chicken.