Buttermilk Grilled Chicken

Grilling season is here. Do you know where your lighter fluid is? 😉

Today I want to talk about chicken breasts, specifically the boneless, skinless variety. I know that this is not the most exciting cut of meat you can throw on the grill I also know that when you’re cooking for a group, and you want to keep things simple and make everyone happy, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a great choice. They just are. They’re friendly and familiar and go with just about any summery side.

The thing is, chicken breasts are so often dry and stringy that they can be oddly intimidating to cook.  But do not fear. In my experience, there are two keys to cooking a delicious boneless, skinless breast.  First, use a flavorful marinade and don’t skimp on the marinating time, and second, be flexible. Every grill is different, and every piece of chicken is different. So while recipes will suggest cooking times,  you may need to make slight adjustments.

First, the marinade. This Buttermilk Grilled Chicken is a play on Buttermilk Fried Chicken, which (I don’t need to tell you) is delicious, but frying at home can be a messy and oily ordeal. Fortunately, the same buttermilk mixture – flavored with shallots, garlic, jalapeno, paprika, cayenne and  Dijon mustard – makes for incredibly tender and moist grilled chicken breasts. You’ll be amazed at how much the chicken absorbs the flavors in the marinade- it has a nice kick from the cayenne and jalapeno and a light smokiness from the paprika. Marinating chicken breasts in buttermilk tenderizes the meat and adds richness that gives a boost to a very lean cut of meat.

I recommend marinating the chicken for 8 hours, which I know is a long time, but I tested this recipe marinating the chicken for only 3 hours and the difference was significant.  It only takes about ten minutes to make the marinade and pop the chicken in, so do it in the morning and let everything chill until it’s time to grill. (See what I did there?)

A quick note on the chicken breast themselves. You know those giant chicken breasts you see packaged on big styrofoam trays at the grocery store? Avoid those at all costs. No chicken should be that big, and I promise no breast that size is going to be tender and delicious.  Look for small breasts that are roughly the same thickness, and and you’ll have a much easier time cooking your chicken to perfection. And if you can, spring for organic chicken.  You really can taste the difference.

That brings me to the other VERY IMPORTANT thing about grilling boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Please don’t overcook them. Please, please. The difference between a deliciously moist and tender breast and tough, stringy one is a matter of just a few minutes. You can always put under-cooked meat back on the grill, but you can’t un-do shoe leather chicken breast. So, while I’ve tested the cooking instructions in this recipe several times,  the best way to test whether your chicken is cooked is to use an internal thermometer (properly cooked chicken should be 165 degrees) , or just to cut into one piece and find out for yourself. And remember, the only way to get more comfortable grilling chicken is just to keep grilling it!

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4.20 from 10 votes

Buttermilk Grilled Chicken

Servings: 4 -6 servings


  • 2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, flattened with the side of a knife
  • 1 large shallot, sliced ¾-inch thick
  • 1 medium jalapeño pepper, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 6 small chicken breasts (3 pounds total)
  • Chopped fresh chives, parsley, or scallions, for serving
  • Coarse sea salt, for serving


  • In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mustard, paprika, cayenne, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Add the garlic, shallot, and jalapeño. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then add it to the bowl and toss lightly to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
  • When ready to grill, brush the grill grates lightly with olive oil. Prepare a charcoal fire with one layer of coals or for a gas grill, turn the burners to high, close the lid and heat for 10 minutes, then lower the burners to medium-high. (You can also use a grill pan on the stove over medium-high heat.)
  • Lift the chicken pieces from the marinade, place them on a large, flat plate, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Grill for 7 to 8 minutes on each side, until lightly charred on the outside and  cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Brush any juices that have accumulated on the platter onto the breasts, sprinkle with fresh herbs and sea salt, and serve.
    Notes: While I've tested the cooking instructions in this recipe several times, every grill is different.  The best way to test whether your chicken is cooked is to use an internal thermometer (chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees F) or just to cut into one piece.
    For this recipe, look for small chicken breasts that are roughly the same thickness throughout. They will be more tender and will cook more evenly. 
    Copyright 2019, Lidey Heuck, All Rights Reserved
  1. This is excellent! Please look over the top two comments, which are spam and should be deleted. Thanks.

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  3. This has become my grilled chicken recipe for life! The buttermilk marinade ensures that the chicken breast remain moist and give them a wonderful flavor! I have even switched up some of the spices to pair with some “ethnic” style meals. The buttermilk marinade is a fabulous base to get creative with! Thank you so much for this recipe!!

  4. GAME CHANGER! We could not believe the difference this marinade made in producing the most moist, flavorful grilled chicken breasts, ever! I marinated for 24 hours, grilled exactly as noted, pulled at 165 degrees and they were unreal. Never going back!

    Served with a great grilled salsa and everyone loved it! Thank you again for another wonderfully fresh recipe!

  5. Just made this! We didn’t oil the grill well enough, so the chicken stuck, but the flavor is amazing!
    Next time more oil on the grate and perfection!

    1. Yes unfortunately the buttermilk does tend to stick, but oiling the grill grates very generously helps a lot! So glad you enjoyed this recipe!

  6. Yes!! I’ve also tried this recipe with boneless, skinless thighs and it’s great. You may need to adjust the cooking time a little bit. xox

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