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Can I use buttermilk after marinating chicken?

Quick Answer

Yes, you can use buttermilk after marinating chicken. Buttermilk contains lactic acid which helps tenderize and add flavor to chicken. As long as the buttermilk has been refrigerated and is not past its expiration date, it is safe to use for marinating chicken or in recipes after marinating. However, it’s best to use fresh buttermilk each time for maximum effectiveness.

Explaining Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a dairy product made from the liquid left over after churning butter out of cream. Traditionally it was the liquid part of churned milk, but most modern commercial buttermilk is cultured. This means lactic acid bacteria have been added to milk to produce the tartness and thick texture of buttermilk.

The tangy taste and acidity of buttermilk makes it an excellent marinade ingredient. When meat or poultry is soaked in buttermilk, the lactic acid helps break down connective tissues and tenderize the meat. The acidic environment also enhances the flavor of the meat.

In addition to tenderizing, buttermilk also adheres well to meat and helps marinade ingredients cling to the surface. The proteins in buttermilk act as a binder to help adhere spices and herbs to chicken or other proteins.

Safety of Reusing Buttermilk

As long as proper food safety guidelines are followed, it is perfectly safe to reuse buttermilk after marinating chicken.

The keys are:

  • Refrigerate buttermilk immediately before and after marinating
  • Only marinate chicken in the refrigerator
  • Use within 7 days of opening the carton
  • Never reuse buttermilk that has gone bad (sour smell, curdling, mold)

The marinating process does not contaminate or spoil buttermilk. In fact, some cooks deliberately add marinated poultry back into the buttermilk to enhance flavor for the next batch.

As with any perishable dairy product, the main risk with reusing buttermilk is bacterial growth if it is left at room temperature too long. As long as you keep it chilled at 40°F or below, buttermilk stays fresh for 7-10 days past opening.

Effectiveness of Reusing Buttermilk

While safe to reuse, buttermilk does lose some effectiveness after the first marinating. The main reason is that the lactic acid content diminishes, meaning there is less tenderizing power.

Here are some tips to make the most of reused buttermilk:

  • Use it up within 3-4 days for best results
  • Supplement with a splash of fresh lemon juice or vinegar to replenish acidity
  • Reserve reused buttermilk for quicker-marinating cuts like chicken breasts
  • Use fresher buttermilk for larger cuts like whole chickens or bone-in thighs

With these precautions, you can safely get a second or third batch of marinated chicken from one carton of buttermilk.

Sample Buttermilk Marinade

Here is a simple buttermilk marinade recipe for chicken:


  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1⁄2 tsp pepper
  • 1⁄4 tsp salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a resealable plastic bag or baking dish.
  2. Add 1 pound of chicken pieces and turn to coat.
  3. Marinate in refrigerator for 4-8 hours, turning occasionally.
  4. Remove chicken from buttermilk and pat dry.
  5. Cook as desired, discarding excess buttermilk.

The spices and acidity from the mustard and garlic give this buttermilk marinade lots of flavor. You can reuse it 1-2 more times with additional chicken. Simply top off with a bit more buttermilk if needed.


While it’s always ideal to use fresh ingredients, you can safely reuse buttermilk after marinating chicken provided basic food safety guidelines are followed. Refrigerate at all times, use within 3-4 days, and supplement reused buttermilk with acidity boosters. With these tips, you can stretch one carton of buttermilk into multiple batches of juicy, tender chicken.