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.

Buttermilk Grilled Chicken Marinade

Do you hate it when extra buttermilk goes to waste? I do!

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 my Black Forest cupcakes with buttermilk, and buttermilk blueberry muffins, and 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.

Along with my buttermilk chicken tenders, 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 marinade for chicken), but it can also be used in the winter for roasted chicken (when I’m not making almond crusted chicken).

The natural acidity of the buttermilk tenderizes the meat, and also adds a tangy flavor to the chicken. This is one of my favorite meals, especially when paired with my fried goat cheese salad made with fresh strawberries and avocado, or my summer beet salad recipe.

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

Buttermilk Chicken Ingredients

  • 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 a fried chicken breast sandwich or blackberry muffins.
  • 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 recipe and pimento mac and cheese.
  • 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 (same thing for my flat iron steak marinade and balsamic steak marinade).
  • sriracha – always a versatile hot sauce to have on hand for Asian cold 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.

Buttermilk Chicken Recipe Tips

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.

Grilled Chicken Buttermilk Marinade Substitutions

How to bake Buttermilk Marinated Chicken

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 (or a little less if you sear them on the stove before transferring to the oven, like with my orange chicken thighs).

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. Probe thermometers are also super handy for not overcooking things like my simple salmon recipe.

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.

What to serve with Buttermilk Chicken

Buttermilk Marinated Chicken FAQs

How long can you marinate chicken in buttermilk?

The duration of the marinade is crucial to achieving perfectly tender buttermilk chicken. Ideally, you should marinate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is even better.

The longer you marinate (up to a point), the more flavorful and tender your chicken will become.

Why marinate chicken in buttermilk?

Buttermilk is a secret weapon for a marinade for several reasons. It’s acidity helps tenderize the chicken, and it adds a subtle tangy and sweet flavor as well. It also coats the chicken and prevents it from drying out while cooking.

Can you oversoak chicken in buttermilk?

While buttermilk is a great marinade, you don’t want to overdo it.

Try not to marinate any longer than 24 hours, because after that your chicken may get tough or maybe mushy from the acidity breaking down the protein too much..

Do you rinse meat after soaking in buttermilk?

When marinating chicken in buttermilk, there’s no need to rinse it before cooking. In fact, rinsing would wash away a lot of the flavor your just infused!

Simply remove the chicken from the buttermilk and let the excess marinade drip off. Discard any excess marinade.

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

Buttermilk Chicken Recipe

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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