Buttermilk Grilled Chicken

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken

A summer picnic just isn’t a true picnic until the grilled chicken arrives (at least not in my book).

This recipe is a tried and true staple from one of my go-to cookbooks: The Sunset Cookbook from Sunset Magazine. I highly recommend you pick up a (used) copy – Amazon has them for less than $10. It’s full of really delicious recipes from Southwest chefs and home cooks, tons of great prep and cooking tips, and highlights ‘farmers-market-fresh’ ingredients from the Southwest region, which is a philosophy I fully embrace – grown locally, eaten locally.

While I love a little BBQ sauce on my chicken from time to time, for me grilled chicken is all about a tasty bird, that smoky grilled essence, and simple, classic seasonings. With this recipe – You cannot go wrong!  You’ll have a line around your backyard full of friends, family, and those neighbors from way down the block that you only wave to on Monday mornings lining up to try the juiciest grilled chicken worthy of finger-licking goodness.

Must Eat Lunch | Grilled Buttermilk Chicken


It starts with the seasoned buttermilk-brine made with fresh garlic, cumin, a little sugar, and scallions that tenderizes the meat, soaking into every bite.

In our house, scallions/green onions are the first choice since not everyone loves the flavor of onions – raw or cooked. Like shallots, green onions are subtle enough not to overpower the marinade and I frequently use them as a substitute because I always have them on hand. If you have an onion hater in your house, use the scallions to enhance the marinade. Since the onions aren’t grilled, they will never know. Until now. Whoops – the secret’s out!


I usually buy a whole chicken and have the butcher deconstruct it for me. Or I have been known to cheat with any legs, thighs, or bone-in chicken breasts that may be on sale. Or a combination of all of the above – whatever your chicken meat preferences may be, buy that and then promptly put the pieces into this buttermilk bath. Think of it as a fancy spa treatment for your bird.

Must Eat Lunch | Grilled Buttermilk Chicken

Did I mention how much both the white and dark meat benefit from the marinade which makes the chicken incredibly juicy?

It’s worth repeating.

This is also a great chicken to make on Sunday and enjoy during the week in a chicken salad, on a tostada or salad, or snacked on straight from the fridge (I’ve busted the Hubs on this a few times).

The best part: a full quart of buttermilk isn’t usually needed to cover the chicken (unless you’re feeding a small army), giving me the perfect excuse to use the extra to make pancakes over the weekend.

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken | Serves 6

Recipe adaptation inspiration: Grilled Buttermilk Chicken from Sunset Magazine Cookbook

Grilled chicken is practically a picnic requirement and yet too often it quickly becomes an overcooked mess. The buttermilk brine can easily be doubled (or tripled) for a crowd. Trust me – they will want seconds.


1/2 quart buttermilk (just enough to cover the chicken)
1/2 cup roughly chopped scallions (3-4 stems), red onions, or shallots
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds bone-in chicken, cut into breasts, drumsticks, or thighs – your preference

1) Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towel. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2) In a large air-tight seal-able bowl, whisk buttermilk, scallions, garlic, salt, sugar, cumin, and black pepper together.

3)  Submerge chicken pieces into buttermilk spa bath brine. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 1 day (longer and your meat will get a little wonky).

3) Remove chicken from brine, wiping excess from chicken with paper towels. Discard the brine.

4) Grill chicken over medium coals or medium heat on a gas grill. Turn frequently, until perfectly charred on both sides and no longer pink at the bone (cut to test). Serve hot or cold.

Note: This chicken recipe is also delicious baked for 35-40 minutes at 375°F.


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