In the South, we love buttermilk for more than just biscuits and cornbread. In fact, it's one of our favorite ingredients for marinating meat — and it's not just fried chicken. Good grilled chicken can benefit from a dip in this tangy liquid. Because it has a fair amount of acidity and lots of body, the buttermilk coats the chicken in both fat and flavor and acts as a carrier for lots of garlic and a little paprika.
How to Grill Buttermilk Chicken
Buttermilk brined chicken starts simply with whisking buttermilk with a bit of brown sugar, spice, garlic, and, of course, salt. You can do this the morning of grilling or the night before. Submerge the chicken in this marinade, and stash it in the fridge until it's time to cook.
Prepare the grill for both direct and indirect heat by firing up one side of the grill to medium high, or filling one side of a charcoal grill with lit charcoal. Cook the chicken covered to 165°F over indirect heat (the unlit side), then move it over direct heat to crisp the skin and create some char. This two-step method ensures that the chicken is cooked properly without drying it out.
Buttermilk Grilled Chicken
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 pieces bone-in chicken (preferably 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks, about 2 pounds total)
Whisk the buttermilk, sugar, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes together in a large bowl or resealable plastic container.
Add the chicken, making sure each piece is submerged. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
Light one half of a gas grill to medium-high heat (about 375°F). Alternatively, prepare a chimney's worth of charcoal and fill one half of a charcoal grill with lit charcoal. Cover the grill and heat for 20 minutes while you prepare the chicken.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. When the grills is ready, place the chicken on the unlit side of the grill. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Flip the chicken, cover, and cook for 20 minutes more. Check the chicken for doneness; it should register at least 165°F in the thickest piece. Grill for 10 minutes more if needed.
Move the cooked chicken to the lit section of the grill and grill until the skin is crisp and charred, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to a serving platter and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.
- Make ahead: The marinated chicken can be stored in the refrigerator overnight.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.