What Does Marinating Meat In Buttermilk Do (And How To Do It)

Marinating your meat is an excellent way to tenderize tougher cuts and add extra flavor, but have you heard of marinating your meat in buttermilk?

Usually, marinade recipes call for acidic ingredients to help tenderize the meat, so you may be more familiar with the use of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. If you’ve not used buttermilk before, read on to see what it does.

Marinating meat in buttermilk is a way to tenderize, add flavor, and help coating stick for deep frying. The lactic acid in buttermilk is mild in acidity and prevents the meat from becoming mushy like with highly acidic marinades. Tougher cuts of meat can marinate in buttermilk for up to 48 hours.

Using buttermilk is an excellent way to add delicious moistness to meat and make it the perfect soft texture. Many recipes call for buttermilk in their marinade from fried chicken to red meat.

I’ll go through all the reasons buttermilk makes for a great marinade, how to use it, and share some of our favorite mouth-watering recipes below.

What Does Buttermilk Do To Meat?

One of the key ingredients in any marinade is an acidic element that helps to break down the meat proteins. This action helps your food taste good in a few ways: it softens the meat, adds deliciousness, and creates channels for the flavor of the herbs in spices to infuse your food.

Buttermilk contains lactic acid, which is the main ingredient in the tenderizing process. Alongside that, calcium is another property that works with enzymes to help break down proteins.

The pH of buttermilk is 4.4 whereas vinegar and citrus are around 2-3. This makes it not as harsh when marinating and allows longer periods in the marinade.

Check out my article on 11 juices that help to tenderize meat in a marinade for more ideas.

Buttermilk marinade also helps breadcrumbs or flour coating to stick to the chicken when it’s dredged before deep frying. It’s a great combo of adding flavor and being useful.

Buttermilk is often used in baking, salad dressings, and as a marinade. Traditional buttermilk is made when cream is churned to butter – the process leaves a milky-looking liquid with a tangy yet buttery flavor.

However, much of the buttermilk you buy today is made with a chemical process that adds bacteria to milk products, producing a liquid that is a little bit like a thin, runny yogurt with a sour, buttery taste.

Whether you use traditional homemade buttermilk or a commercial version for making your marinade doesn’t matter; it works well for meat, fish, or chicken. Be wary when using it on soft shellfish like shrimp or soft white fish as it can soften the meat too much, so keep marinade times short.

How Long Do You Soak Meat In Buttermilk?

For softer meats like chicken, soak in buttermilk for 8 – 24 hours. For tougher meat such as beef, lamb, or goat, you can marinate your meat in buttermilk for up to 48hrs.

Some meats can take a longer soaking time in a buttermilk marinade. Eventually, the outside of the meat gets broken down too much by the acid and turns mushy. The tougher the meat, the longer the marinade time due to the proteins taking longer to unwind. Some meats will take a much quicker time to soften.

The minimum time to marinate meat in buttermilk is one hour, but you won’t get great results. Try a longer marinade of around 8 hours to get the mild acids tenderizing and adding flavor.

Always keep your marinating meat in a sealed container in the fridge, and don’t leave it on the kitchen counter. Leaving meat unrefrigerated is too risky as the temperature is variable, and you will encourage bacterial growth.

When you marinate meat, it’s best the marinade completely covers your meat so that all of it gets the same tenderizing and flavoring process. Marinade the meat in a covered container with a lid or a zip-lock plastic bag. Then it’s easy to cover the meat and shake them around to ensure complete coverage.

Do You Rinse Meat After Soaking In Buttermilk

Do not rinse the meat if you plan to dredge the meat in a coating before deep frying. But if you aren’t frying then you can rinse the marinade off as the excess can burn when cooking.

Buttermilk fried chicken is a winning combo and is usually never rinsed as it adds taste and also has the practicality that the chicken is now extra sticky for a coating.

For other dishes, some recommend rinsing the buttermilk marinade off your meat and then patting it dry. But I’ve always preferred to pat the excess marinade off before using my meat because I like the extra flavor the buttermilk adds. As with any marinade, just be careful of it burning.

If you’re uncertain, follow the recipe steps, and if they suggest rinsing the meat, then do so. You can also experiment to see if rinsing the meat makes a difference to the recipe’s taste and what you prefer.

What Meat Is Good For Marinating In Buttermilk?

Almost any meat you can think of is great to use with a buttermilk marinade. Still, some recipes work incredibly well – how do you make delectable Southern fried buttermilk chicken without buttermilk?

It’s also an excellent way to decrease the gamey flavor in venison, and by soaking the meat overnight in a buttermilk marinade, you will make the meat softer and give it a tangy hint. It’s also a fantastic marinade ingredient for fish that is very strongly flavored.

Steak, lamb, and goat are excellent meats to try with a buttermilk marinade.

I recommend keeping very soft fish and shellfish in buttermilk marinade for a short period.

Buttermilk Recipe Ideas

When it comes to recipes featuring a buttermilk marinade, these are just a few great ones.

For chicken, you cannot go wrong with the taste of Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders. You give them a deep, subtle, tangy flavor by soaking the tenders in buttermilk before breading and frying.

This Buttermilk Ribeye With Garlic Shrimp recipe features an overnight buttermilk marinade to get those steaks to have a fantastic flavor. Combined with the garlic shrimp, this meal will hit the spot. Check out the recipe to see how to recreate this fabulous meal.

Making a roast – why not try this exquisite Buttermilk Marinated Leg of Lamb with its savory herb crust? This mixes Danish recipes to create this New Nordic take on an old favorite.

Here’s a fun and delicious take on your Thanksgiving menu! Why not forget turkey and instead go for Buttermilk-marinated Cornish Hens? This recipe gives us this twist on traditional Thanksgiving by brining Cornish hens in buttermilk for that succulent, tangy flavor.

In the mood for an unusual meal, spiced with Cajun flair? These Crispy Fried Alligator Bites are marinaded in buttermilk for two hours, then dipped in Cajun seasoned flour and deep fried to a tasty crisp.

How To Make A Buttermilk Substitute

If you have no buttermilk on hand, there are some hacks you can use to make a buttermilk substitute. Buttermilk is used for its acidic properties whether in a marinade or in baking so these acidic substitutes can be swapped in.

Adding 1 Tbsp of vinegar or 1 Tbsp of lemon juice to 1 Cup of milk and leaving it to sit for 10 minutes will create a curdled, slightly sour buttermilk substitute.

You can also thin down sour cream or yogurt with some milk or water or use plain kefir instead of buttermilk. None of these substitutes will have quite the same taste, but they will help act as a replacement for buttermilk in a marinade.

You can also make non-dairy buttermilk alternatives if you cannot use dairy. Use soy-based milk or yogurt and add lemon juice or vinegar as above.

Another option is to blend a 1/4 cup of silken tofu with ¾ cup of water and a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Let your vegan alternative buttermilks stand for 10-15 minutes before using them.


Hopefully, you now know what marinating meat in buttermilk does. Buttermilk is a delicious way to add extra flavor to your meat as it tenderizes.

You can use buttermilk on almost any meat, but it works great on chicken and on strongly-flavored game meat to help remove that gamey taste many people find off-putting. You can use traditional or commercial buttermilk for your marinade or make a non-dairy version if you prefer.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

One thought on “What Does Marinating Meat In Buttermilk Do (And How To Do It)

  1. I enjoyed your comments on buttermilk.
    A cook of fifty some years, I’ve used it often.
    Keep up the great work.
    It’s nice to see a person who is with heart in the art of cooking
    Good luck.

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