Southern cooks have known for years that chicken soaked overnight in buttermilk fries up crisper and is more tender and juicy than if it wasn’t brined in buttermilk before cooking. Buttermilk will also mellow the “gamy” flavors of most game meats. Not to bore you with the science (but I always like to learn ya a little somethin’), it is always assumed that the acids and enzymes in buttermilk (and yogurt) are what tenderizes meat. In fact, it is actually calcium in these dairy products triggers “aging” enzymes within muscle and connective tissues, which breakdown and soften certain proteins that hold bundles of muscle fibers together.
I personally believe that brines are the most effective and reliable method of flavoring meat and poultry and this buttermilk brine does just that. This chicken (I’m eating some cold from the fridge right now) is so moist and has so much flavor with tangy hints of buttermilk, lemon and Tabasco… even cold from the fridge!
Buttermilk Brined Split Chicken Breasts
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more
1 quart buttermilk
1/4 cup Tabasco
1 onion, thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
For the chicken:
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, trimmed
Vegetable or other tasteless oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Instant read thermometer
Direct and indirect cooking
Remove the peel of the lemon with a vegetable peeler and place in a small sauce pan. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan and add the water, salt, brown sugar, thyme, and black pepper then bring to a simmer and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the remaining brine ingredients. The mixture should be at room temperature, if not let it cool until it is. Add the chicken breasts to the bowl and push down until they are completely submerged. Weigh them down with a small plate if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
About an hour before you’re ready to get to grillin’, remove the chicken from the buttermilk and discard the brine mixture. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and let come to room temperature.
Set your grill up with one side for direct cooking over medium-high heat and indirect with a drip pan (no flame) on the other side. Be sure to oil the grates before cooking.
Make sure chicken is dry (this will make for a nice crispy skin) and very lightly coat with a little oil and season with freshly ground black pepper. Place chicken skin-side down over the direct heat and cook for 6 or 7 minutes until the skin is well-marked and starting to crisp. Be careful of any flare-ups and feel free to move the chicken around so it wont burn. Once marked, flip the chicken and move to the indirect side and close the grill cover. Stabilize the heat between 350°F and 400°F and cook for another 35 to 50 minutes (depending on your grill and the size of the breasts). The chicken is done when the internal temperature of the breast at the thickest part reaches 160°F (carryover cooking will raise it to 165°F). Transfer to a platter and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Cheers and Happy Grilling!