How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk?

by Charlie
Marinate chicken in buttermilk

Marinating any meat is a challenge, but when it comes to the more delicate ones, it’s particularly important to get your timing right. If you want to marinate chicken in buttermilk for a deliciously crispy and decadent recipe, you might be wondering how long it is safe to do this for.

How long can you marinate chicken in buttermilk? You should marinate chicken in buttermilk for 12-24 hours. When using a probiotic marinade for your chicken, it is a good idea to let it work overnight. Unlike acidic marinades, which could ruin the texture of the chicken if left for this long, the probiotic effect will benefit from a lengthy marinating process, and will tenderize the chicken beautifully over the course of twenty-four hours.

How Long Can You Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk For?

Twenty-four hours is a good rule of thumb for marinating chicken in buttermilk. You can afford to do less than this, and around twelve hours should be sufficient to get the effect that you want, but less than twelve will not result in great chicken.

It takes time for any marinade to have an effect on the flesh of the chicken, and unlike an acidic marinade, the probiotic bacteria will not be fast-acting. If you are soaking your chicken in buttermilk or yogurt, you need to make sure that you aren’t rushing the process, or you won’t get the outcome that you’re looking for.

If you’re wondering what the longest time period you can marinate it for is, forty-eight hours is probably about the maximum, and some people would argue that this is excessive. Left for too long, the chicken might take on a strangely chalky and dry texture, and if this happens, it’s not going to be nearly as enjoyable as it was.

Unlike with an acidic marinade, the buttermilk should not cause your chicken to turn mushy, but you should be looking to cook it after forty-eight hours in the fridge anyway. If your plans have changed and you need longer to use it up, it might be a good idea to freeze it (unless it was previously frozen), or cook and freeze it if necessary.

In general, you should try to use your chicken up after twenty-four hours of marinating, but if you can’t, it won’t be destroyed by another day in the fridge. Just make sure you do use it up that day!

Isn’t Buttermilk Acidic?

Yes, buttermilk is acidic, and it usually has a pH of around 4.5 or 4.7. However, it will not break down chicken in the way that lemon juice (with a pH of around 2) or vinegar (with a pH of around 2.5) would.

You can use buttermilk for a long marinating process safely, but do be aware that it is slightly acidic. If left for a very long time, it might start affecting the chicken’s texture, but the chicken will need using up before this point anyway, so it is not something that you need to worry about.

What’s the Reason for Using Buttermilk Marinade with Chicken?

A buttermilk marinade is the absolute key to getting beautifully crispy fried chicken. It makes the chicken very soft and tender in the center, and allows you to crisp the outside to perfection without any difficulty.

Buttermilk makes your chicken pleasantly flaky inside too, making it ideal for creating fried chicken that is both crispy and moist. Because it tenderizes the flesh lightly, it ensures that your chicken does not become tough or chewy when it is fried, and gives you a perfect meal every time.

What if You Add an Acid to Your Chicken Marinade?

Some marinades call for additional vinegar or lemon juice, and if this is the case with the one you’re using, reduce the amount of marinating time accordingly. If you have added a lot of vinegar, drop it by several hours. In general, two hours is about the maximum that chicken should stay in neat lemon juice.

The buttermilk will raise the pH value slightly and give you a little more wriggle room, but you don’t want the marinade to destroy the chicken’s texture, so do be careful if you are using any acidic ingredients in your marinade, and don’t leave it for longer than the recipe suggests.

Chicken often takes on the flavor of a marinade quite quickly, and unlike the tougher meats (think beef), it does not usually benefit from a long time sitting in an acidic marinade.

Can You Marinate Chicken in Buttermilk Ahead of Time?

Sometimes, you want to prepare food in advance, especially if you have a lot of guests to feed. It is best not to do this with chicken, however, because the chicken will start to lose its texture eventually. This may not be very noticeable, but it can still reduce the quality of the meal.

Instead, the best option is to make the buttermilk marinade up in advance and store it in the fridge, or even the freezer. The night before, you can place the chicken in the marinade and allow it to start soaking in the juices over the next twelve or twenty-four hours. The meat can then be cooked as normal.

Remember, don’t put frozen chicken in a marinade, because the meat will release water as it defrosts, and this will dilute the buttermilk, and stop the chicken from soaking it up as effectively!

Does it Make a Difference if Marinating A Whole Chicken?

Yes, it does. A chicken with the skin on and bones intact will be far more resistant to the marinade, and will stand up to a longer marination process. However, if you are marinating chicken breasts or chicken slices, they should not be left in an acidic marinade, or even a buttermilk one, for too long.

Large pieces of chicken do take longer to soak, so take the size of the chicken into account when deciding how long to leave it for. It may take a bit of practice to get it just how you like it, but you’ll soon learn how long is too long!

Final Thoughts

You can marinate chicken in buttermilk for about twenty-four hours for the best results. Twelve hours should also be sufficient, and forty-eight hours is probably the maximum before the chicken starts to lose its texture.

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