Skip to Content

Can you soak chicken in buttermilk too long?

Buttermilk is a popular ingredient used to marinate chicken before cooking. The lactic acid in buttermilk helps tenderize the chicken and adds flavor. Many recipes call for soaking chicken in buttermilk overnight or up to 24 hours. But is there a point when you can soak chicken in buttermilk too long?

How Long Should You Soak Chicken in Buttermilk?

Most chefs and cooking experts recommend soaking chicken in buttermilk for 30 minutes to 24 hours. The longer you soak, the more tender and flavorful the chicken becomes. Here are some general guidelines for buttermilk chicken marinade times:

  • 30 minutes to 2 hours: Slightly tenderized and flavored chicken
  • 4 to 8 hours: Tender and flavorful chicken
  • 12 to 24 hours: Very tender and flavorful chicken

Soaking for 12-24 hours is ideal to let the buttermilk really penetrate and tenderize the meat. Much beyond 24 hours doesn’t provide much additional benefit.

What Happens If You Soak Chicken Too Long in Buttermilk?

While buttermilk helps tenderize and flavor chicken, soaking too long can start to have the opposite effect. Here’s what happens if you soak the chicken for too long:

  • Texture – The chicken can become mushy and start to lose its structure if soaked for more than a day.
  • Moisture loss – A longer soaking time causes the chicken to lose more moisture. This can make the meat dry out faster when cooking.
  • Unsafe – After about 24 hours, bacteria can start to grow to unsafe levels in the buttermilk and on the chicken.
  • Off flavors – The buttermilk and chicken can develop funky, acidic or unpleasant flavors.

For best results, its best to stick to a 12-24 hour marinating time. If you need to marinate longer for some reason, make sure to keep the chicken refrigerated at 40°F or less.

Tips for Marinating Chicken in Buttermilk

Here are some tips to follow when marinating chicken in buttermilk:

  • Use cold buttermilk – Make sure the buttermilk is chilled before adding the chicken.
  • Submerge fully – Ensure all surfaces of the chicken are submerged in the buttermilk.
  • Chill – Keep the bowl of chicken and buttermilk refrigerated the entire time.
  • Flip occasionally – Flip the chicken over every few hours to marinate evenly.
  • Remove with tongs – Use tongs instead of a fork to avoid piercing the chicken.
  • Pat dry – Pat the chicken dry with paper towels before cooking.

Buttermilk Substitutes

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, these ingredients make good substitutes:

Substitute Ratio
Plain yogurt 1 cup yogurt to 1 cup buttermilk
Milk + lemon juice or vinegar 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup milk
Sour cream 1 cup sour cream to 1 cup buttermilk

Each of these substitutes provides acidity to help tenderize and flavor the chicken. The milk and lemon juice/vinegar combo achieves a similar tanginess to buttermilk.

Buttermilk Marinade Recipes

Buttermilk pairs deliciously with herbs, spices, garlic, and more. Here are some tasty buttermilk marinade recipes to try:

Simple Buttermilk Marinade

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Ranch Buttermilk Marinade

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

Lemon-Herb Buttermilk Marinade

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cooking Buttermilk Marinated Chicken

Buttermilk marinated chicken can be cooked many ways. Some top cooking methods include:

  • Baked – Bake in a 375°F oven for 30-40 minutes until cooked through.
  • Grilled – Grill over medium heat for 5-7 minutes per side.
  • Fried – Coat in flour or breadcrumbs and pan fry in oil for 3-5 minutes per side.
  • Broiled – Broil 4-6 inches from heat for 15 minutes, flipping halfway.
  • Slow cooked – Add to a slow cooker with sauce and cook on LOW for 4-6 hours.

The tenderizing effect of the buttermilk allows you to cook the chicken longer with moist, tender results. Baked, grilled, or broiled chicken benefit from a quick sear at higher heat to get a browned exterior.

Serving Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Buttermilk fried chicken is a top choice for serving the marinated bird. Here are some ideas for serving up crispy, flavorful buttermilk fried chicken:

  • On biscuits – Split flaky biscuits and layer with chicken, honey, and pickles.
  • Over salad – Serve fried chicken tenders over fresh garden salads.
  • With waffles – Pair fried chicken with crisp Belgian waffles and maple syrup.
  • On a sandwich – Layer fried chicken with BBQ sauce, bacon, and cheese on a bun.
  • With mashed potatoes – Comfort food at its best!

The possibilities are endless for how to serve up your buttermilk soaked fried chicken. The combination of juicy, tender chicken with a crispy coating is hard to beat.

Storing Leftover Buttermilk Marinated Chicken

For safe storage, leftover buttermilk chicken should be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking. Follow these guidelines:

  • Let chicken cool – Don’t pack hot chicken into containers. Wait for it to cool.
  • Store in shallow containers – This allows for quicker cooling in the fridge.
  • Use within 3-4 days – Eat leftover chicken within 3-4 days for best quality.
  • Reheat thoroughly – Heat to 165°F before serving again.

You can also freeze buttermilk chicken for longer storage. Allow chicken pieces to cool completely before freezing in airtight containers for 2-3 months.

Common Buttermilk Marinade Questions

Does buttermilk tenderize chicken?

Yes, buttermilk contains lactic acid that helps break down tough proteins in the chicken to make it tender and juicy. The longer chicken marinates, the more tender it becomes.

Can you leave chicken in buttermilk too long?

It’s best not to marinate chicken in buttermilk longer than 24 hours. The texture and flavor can become negatively affected past that point. Keep refrigerated at 40°F or below when marinating.

How long does buttermilk last unrefrigerated?

Buttermilk should always be kept refrigerated. Unrefrigerated, an opened carton will only last about 6-8 hours before bacteria can start growing to unsafe levels.

Can you freeze buttermilk marinated chicken?

Yes, it’s fine to freeze buttermilk chicken. Let it fully cool first, then store in airtight containers or freezer bags. It will keep frozen for 2-3 months.

Can you bake buttermilk marinated chicken?

Baking is an excellent cooking method for buttermilk chicken. Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. The buttermilk keeps it juicy.


Buttermilk is a tasty way to marinate chicken before cooking. While soaking for 12-24 maximizes tenderness and flavor, soaking for too long can make the texture mushy and unsafe. For best results, refrigerate the chicken in buttermilk and stick within the recommended marinating times. Follow proper storage guidelines for enjoying leftover buttermilk chicken safely.