Buttermilk chicken

Quick Look_______________

Ok, I gotta confess -- this is just a generic picture. But, your chicken won't look much worse than this. I took the basic concept of making a saturated brine and soaking the meat in it for a few hours to deliver the right amount of salt. I started with salt water mixture, but after reading many books on the subject, I tried using buttermilk (a proven ingredient in southern cooking). By far, the buttermilk chicken was juicier and had great flavor. The highest complent I received was "WOW, this doesn't even taste like chicken [I normally hate chicken]!"It'd be awesome to prep this the night before and the fire up the grill for a summer BBQ.

Quick note about buttermilk: it only sounds fatty! Buttermilk is the leftover liquid after churning butter. Historically, milk was unpasteurized and allowed to settle to separate the cream. During this time the bacteria would ferment the mik (similar to the process in yogurt) and the result would be thicker, slightly tart, and flavorful. The kind from safeway starts with lowfat 1% milk, so it's not that bad! This is the juiciest chicken I have ever made!
  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hr
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Labor Intensity: It would be good to have an extra hand.
  • 30 servings, adjust by 1.5x if your group tends to eat multiple servings.


  • 20 lbs Boneless skinless chicken thigh (breast will work too, but I strongly suggest thigh, use fresh chicken, not frozen)[$1.99/lb on sale at Safeway]
  • 1/3 cup salt (you may want to use just 2 tablespoons if already salted- read note below)
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Korean red pepper (gotchugaru, but crushed red pepper will work too)
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasonings (I prefer 1/8c dried basil + 1/8c dried rosemary instead)
  • 2 cups Buttermilk ($2/qt, bottom shelf of milk section at Safeway)
  • 2/3 cup tabasco or other hot sauce (optional)
  • Total: about $42.00


  • Mix seasonings and buttermilk in a bowl. Stir until dissolved.
  • Dip each chicken piece in seasoned buttermilk and place on a large tray. Pour excess buttermilk over the pieces and toss around in the tray to distribute evenly.
  • Put pieces in large ziplock bag and store in fridge. Try to squeeze all the air out before sealing
  • Let it sit for 2 hours (or overnight)
  • Grill or pan fry the meat.

Tom's Tips and Tricks_______________

It could be difficult to get the salt right on this one. One trick that poultry companies do is pre-brine the chicken. The ones from safeway might say something like "up to 15% solution added" in the fine print on the bottom. By soaking it in a salt solution, it absorbs more water. This increases the weight and price (profit). Some are much lower (3-4% solution). The fool proof way is to do a test batch before a meal and then readjust the recipe. One quick way is to fry 1 piece and taste it. If it's too salty, add more sugar-- until sugar is doubled (it mutes the salt in a similar way it takes away the sour taste in lemonade) and mix it around and let it sit for 30 minutes. If not salty enough, add more salt, or reduce the sugar by 1/2.

When you pan fry, it may stick to the pan, don't move it yet or it will tear. Allow it to fry for a little longer and it will come off easily with a nice crisp skin.

Don't add any oil to the pan (if it is non-stick), add very little oil if at all.

You can use chicken breast, but chicken thigh will be much juicier and taste better. I would not recommend using bone-in chicken because it tends to be raw near the bone. If only bone-in is available, you can cut the bone out.

If the meat is still raw when you serve it, microwave it.

If you use frozen chicken, be sure to fully defrost it. There is a lot of water in the form of ice around each piece and you need to pat it dry before soaking it.

[Alternate variation] You can bread the meat with bread crumbs and egg and fry with oil.

[Possible side dish] salad and rice


joyceyen said…
Yeah - I have to testify, your good friend Tim here at Gracepoint Hsinchu makes the best chicken I've ever hard, and I don't even like chicken by soaking/brining the chicken in milk. Thanks for the tip!
Steven C said…
That sounds really good... can't wait to try it!
gregdavis said…
Tom made this for me when I visited. It is amazingly juicy for chicken, I plan on using this recipe soon. And, I can verify the "It doesn't even taste like chicken!" comment really did happen by someone sitting across from me.

Just for the record, I do like chicken.
Anonymous said…
Carlton made this for our Austin TTN bible study. It was so flavorful. Thank you!
Anonymous said…
Hi Tom,

I featured your blog on my blog. Hope to taste a lot of your recipes up here at Waypoint in Davis soon! :)

Jenn K said…
I tried making this but people said it was too salty.
tomkim said…
it could be tricky to get the salt right depending on what type of chicken you use. Thanks for the comment, I just added more about it to the post.
Steven C said…
Is there anything else to know when using frozen chicken or frozen meat in general? I recently tried using frozen chicken to make baked chicken and the result was very dry. Does that have anything to do with the fact that I used frozen chicken?
Anonymous said…
Great article and instructions. I plan on trying this recipe ASAP. To everyone reading this, please do not use the microwave for anything. Do some research and see how toxic it is.
CHsu said…
I followed the recipe, it's a little salty but the chicken looked beautiful. I would do 4 cups of buttermilk with the same amount of salt. I didn't brine it overnight but 20 mins before pan frying it.

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