A Thing or Two About Grilled Buttermilk Chicken

grilled buttermilk chicken

I made this super simple Grilled Buttermilk Chicken just to prove a point to myself. The point being that I know a thing or two about cooking. Which I suppose is supposed– because I spend so much time pecking out recipes on this keyboard.

But the thing about writing a cooking blog is this: sometimes the cooking gets lost. It happens to the best of us. There’s a lot to think about, a lot of it isn’t even cooking. SEO. Social Media. Links.

Which is why most blogs (these days) have gorgeous photos. But if you look closely, sometimes the gorgeous you see is not the food– but the props. The gorgeous props make the food seem great looking, it’s true. I’m not saying gorgeous props aren’t part of the fun of a food blog. But sometimes I find myself focusing on the great forks and knives and hardly noticing the food. Maybe that’s just me. I’ve been known to obsess.

So to prove to myself that I’m not at all like that (no, not at all), I sometimes like to present simple food. The kind of food that requires no recipe and no props at all. The kind of food that proves that I know a thing or two about cooking.

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken

Take this Grilled Buttermilk Chicken. It demonstrates two things I know about cooking. First it proves that brines do more than impart great taste– they change the chemistry of food. Second, it proves that if you don’t know your way around a backyard grill then you need to learn a thing or two about cooking. Now I’m not saying I’m a grill-master, I leave that to the big boys like Chris at Nibble Me This. But when the weather warms– I know a thing or two about grilling. Just enough to keep me out of the kitchen.

Watch me combine what I know about cooking with what I know about grilling.

Grilled chicken is an American summer classic; perfect for a picnic or a backyard dinner. Buttermilk chicken is also a classic. Southern cooks use buttermilk as a brine for fried chicken. One of the things I know about chicken is that buttermilk chicken need not be limited to the frying pan. Buttermilk has a certain magic known as lactic acid that comes from being a dairy product. This principle is not just limited to America either. Mediterranean cooks use yogurt to improve the texture and flavor of goat and mutton, because its chemistry works much the same as buttermilk. Many folks will say that the acids in buttermilk and yogurt tenderize the meat, which is a simplistic way of explaining what actually happens. You see, the lactic acid in dairy products trigger “aging” enzymes within the meat, which loosen the  proteins that bind muscle fibers together. It breaks them down. Much the way that too many reps at the gym does. Leading to that day after muscle-ache we all know and hate.

So when it comes to grilling don’t forget everything you know about cooking. Grilling is cooking. Here’s the other thing I know about grilling (I said I knew a thing or two…). Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen with their head in the fryer on a sultry summer night. So get outside and get to know your grill. Oh, and take your buttermilk with you. I did. GREG

buttermilk chicken

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken Legs 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6 piecesPublished

You may choose any cut of chicken you like for this recipe. If you choose chicken breasts you should quarter them and cook them a bit less to avoid overcooking.

Buttermilk Chicken


  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 6 clove garlic peeled and smashed
  • ¼ cup light-brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ ounce thyme sprigs (about 1 bunch)
  • 2 tablespoon red Tabasco sauce (or similar high acid hot sauce)
  • 2 tablespoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 pound chicken legs (about 6 legs)


In large bowl, combine buttermilk, garlic, brown sugar, thyme, Tabasco, salt and pepper; add chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours; turning chicken occasionally. 

Remove chicken from refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Use a colander to strain away the marinade; discard the thyme and garlic and season with salt. Place on greased grill over medium-high heat. Close the lid and grill, turning occasionally, until an insta-read thermometer inserted into thickest part reads 165 degrees F; about 30 to 40 minutes. You may need to move the legs to cooler part of the grill to keep the skin from charring too much. Be diligent.