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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell | Design: The Kitchn
Recipe Review

I’ve Baked Thousands of Buttermilk Biscuits — This Is Hands-Down the Best Recipe

updated Sep 30, 2020
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Buttermilk biscuits are my absolute favorite thing to bake. They emerge from the oven all buttery and flaky, begging to be spread with jam (or made into epic fried chicken sandwiches). At least once a week I make a batch of buttermilk biscuits from my own recipe, which come together quickly and rise like magic in a hot oven with little more than flour, butter, and buttermilk. We gobble them up both for breakfast and as a dinner side, and they never let us down.

When presented with the challenge to find the absolute best buttermilk biscuit recipe, I jumped at the chance. Could I find a biscuit recipe I loved as much as my own? How would my old favorites hold up against new techniques? I pitted four popular biscuit recipes against each other to find out — and came away with one clear winner.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Meet Our Buttermilk Biscuit Contenders

Biscuits are certainly not a one-size-fits-all ordeal. There are sweet cream biscuits made with cream and no butter, quick drop biscuits that are scooped into mounds rather than rolled and cut, and loaded biscuits filled with cheese and bacon.

Pitting these against one another would be like comparing apples to oranges, so I decided to focus my search solely on buttermilk biscuits. In this beloved breakfast staple, buttermilk works with baking powder to give the biscuits their rise, and also gives them a slight tang that balances their buttery goodness.

For this showdown, I chose four buttermilk biscuit recipes that each had a unique point of view. Southern Living has been churning out biscuit recipes since their inception in 1966, and they claim their Favorite Buttermilk Biscuit is the best of all. It’s a very simple recipe that calls for self-rising flour. Alton Brown’s Southern Biscuits are the ones I tried when I first moved to the South, and I was curious how they’d hold up more than a decade later. His recipe is very detailed, and calls for equal parts butter and shortening.

Carla Hall took her Flaky Buttermilk Biscuit on a nationwide biscuit tour, so I knew she must be onto something. They call for a surprising ingredient: sugar! I rounded out the pack with Samin Nosrat’s Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuit recipe, which is beloved by Kitchn’s Cookbook Club Facebook group and utilizes a wild technique I’d never seen before. Lastly, I baked a batch of my own recipe to see how these four compared to the biscuits I make every week.

How I Tested the Biscuit Contenders

Since I no longer live in the South with access to White Lily or Martha White Flour (each considered excellent soft flours for tender biscuits), I chose a very basic all-purpose flour for baking these biscuits. I also used this same flour to make the self-rising flour required for Southern Living’s recipe. Each biscuit was tested with the same baking powder, baking soda, salt, and butter. I used the same brand of buttermilk for each test as well. The biscuits were all baked on the same day and taste-tested warm as well as cooled as leftovers.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

1. The Best Beginner’s Recipe: Southern Living’s Favorite Buttermilk Biscuit

This biscuit recipe is as simple and basic as they come. It calls for just self-rising flour, butter, and buttermilk, making it the most minimal recipe of the four I compared. The instructions weren’t quite as thorough as I expected, and the biscuits turned out just okay — they baked up light and somewhat flaky, if a little stout. This is a great recipe for a beginner or for using up self-rising flour, but they certainly aren’t my new go-to.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

2. The Rule-Breaking Recipe That Doesn’t Quite Work: Samin Nosrat’s Light and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Before trying out Samin Nosrat’s biscuits for this showdown, I had made them once on my own and felt like a failure. They hadn’t turned out as light and flaky as promised, but I blamed that on personal oversight and not the recipe. I was excited to try these again — after all, Samin has an eye for recipes that bend convention and turn out brilliantly.

After pulling out my stand mixer and dirtying a handful of bowls, I was let down by this recipe once again. The results were — dare I say it — too tender, and left me with a bad taste for this recipe. Being the biscuit-lover that I am, I can’t say I won’t give these at least one more try, as I really want them to work. If you’re looking for a biscuit with a super-tender, super-fluffy interior and a thin, ultra-crispy crust, this could be the recipe for you.

Credit: Photo: Joe LIngeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

3. The Soft and Buttery Popeye’s Dupe: Carla Hall’s Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Carla Hall is a straight-up Biscuit evangelist: She spent a good part of 2019 traveling the country teaching folks how to make her biscuit recipe. Carla’s biscuits are made with pretty common biscuit ingredients with one exception: a teaspoon of sugar is added to the dry mix! I was surprised by the addition but not at all surprised that I loved the resulting biscuits. These are petite and tender biscuits perfect for smearing with jam. Even though I didn’t feel like this biscuit recipe rivaled my favorite recipe, I can still see myself making these again for an afternoon tea (or for a Popeye’s-themed dinner spread).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

4. The Never-Fail, Near-Perfect Recipe: Alton Brown’s Southern Biscuits

Alton Brown taught me most of what I know about biscuit baking, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by how well his recipe performed over the others. Alton’s biscuit recipe is by far the most detailed — great for beginner and seasoned bakers alike — and bakes up tall and perfectly crisp on the outside with an oh-so-tender inside.

These biscuits are perfect for eating with butter or for pilling high with bacon and eggs for a breakfast sandwich. They’re definitely a biscuit recipe worth revisiting if you haven’t had them in a while or just want to change up your current biscuit routine. I can’t say they will take the place of my own recipe, which I think are a bit easier and just as tasty, but these are as close to perfect as biscuits get!

Do you have a favorite biscuit recipe? Tell us below in the comments.