Why Is It Good To Soak Chicken In Buttermilk?

When you are going to cook chicken, the goal is usually to get the most tender, juicy, and delicious pieces of chicken. This can be a challenge depending on the method of cooking. Fried chicken presents unique challenges, but I have also found fantastic solutions to make sure that the chicken stays as moist and delicious as possible through the cooking process.

One classic solution is to soak your chicken in milk before cooking. Many people do this and don’t understand why, or how this method works. Personally, I love this way of keeping the chicken tender and juicy, but I love to understand why things work. So I will tell you how this method keeps chicken delicious if you are like me, and love to know how things work. So hold on tight for a bit of wonderful food science.

Why Soak Chicken In Milk?

Most cooks that are familiar with many chicken recipes have likely come across one that requests that you soak your chicken in milk overnight. Simply put, soaking your chicken in the milk ensures that the chicken will remain juicy and tender through the frying processes, giving you more delicious fried chicken. There are alternatives and variations on this technique, but all accomplish the same thing. But how does this work? And is this the best method?

What does buttermilk do to chicken

You should know when to soak your chicken. To effectively soak it in milk, you need to soak the chicken when it is still raw. Cut and section your chicken into the pieces you will cook before submerging the chicken.

What Does Buttermilk Do to Chicken Meat

If you asked yourself what does buttermilk do to chicken meat, first thing you need to know is that to soak your chicken effectively, you should have the best milk to soak it in. Recipes from the American south will often call for buttermilk for the liquid to soak your chicken. You may very well come across recipes from other locations that have a variation of this method. For example, recipes from India and Greece may suggest that you soak your chicken in yogurt. No matter what you choose, there are a few components that all affective soaking methods have in common. Whether it is buttermilk or a style of yogurt, the soaking agent you use should be a fermented milk product.

How does soaking in milk work?

Fermented milk products contain specific acids and enzymes that help tenderize the chicken when soaking. These acids and enzymes work themselves into the meat and break down the collagen in the meat before cooking begins. Collagen is the web of protein that is weaved together in all muscle tissue. This material is fibrous and tough but also flexible. When you cook meat, the heat breaks down this collagen. But if you marinate the meat you start the breakdown early. This is why most marinades contain acids in addition to all of the additional flavorings, oils, and seasonings. Other things that have affective acids like this are lemon juice, lime juice, wine and vinegar. This is why you will often see these ingredients in soaking agents and marinades.

The acids and enzymes in the milk work to break down the collagen in the meat like these other marinades making the meat tender and prepping it for cooking. The primary acid in milk is lactic acid. It may not seem like milk is filled with acid due to the cool and soft taste and mouthfeel, but it has an abundance of this useful acid. Most proteins also have natural enzymes that will over time break down the protein and tenderize over time. Milk also has calcium which may work to wake up the natural enzymes in the chicken that would eventually break down the proteins over time. It speeds up this breakdown and makes the natural tenderization move quite a bit faster. Milk is a super effective tenderizing soaking agent with its double-headed approach of the lactic acid breaking down the proteins, and the calcium speeding up the natural breakdown process of the chicken.


The best thing to do to your chicken to prepare for soaking it in milk is to season the raw chicken pieces. A bit of salt and pepper is often a great and simple seasoning for the chicken. You can achieve a more powerful flavor if you mix in your seasonings into the buttermilk. There are plenty of styles of seasoning you can add to the milk to produce delicious flavor while tenderizing. Italian and Cajun seasonings are popular for chicken. You can even have a nice mix of lemon pepper, rosemary, and sage.

After you season your chicken or mix your seasonings in with your milk, place your chicken in a bowl and pour the milk over the chicken pieces. It is important that you completely cover the chicken pieces in the milk. You should then cover the bowl and then refrigerate it.

To give the milk enough time to work properly you should let the chicken sit in the milk for a minimum of sixty minutes. Because tenderizing does take time, the longer you let it sit, the better. You can let the chicken soak in the milk overnight for maximum tenderizing effect.

Before you fry the chicken make sure to drain the chicken of the buttermilk thoroughly before breading. The thickness may make breading the chicken difficult if there is too much left on it.

Tender And Juicy.

Chicken is a delicious meat that almost everyone loves. It is best when it is tender and juicy, though this can be hard to manage when you want the perfect fried chicken. Soaking in buttermilk or another fermented milk product can assist in making the perfectly tender and juicy fried chicken. The acids and enzymes in milk work to break down the proteins in the chicken before cooking giving a tender and delicious piece of meat. You can use the milk as a marinade that will also infuse your chicken with seasoning and spice.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

Helen Harris

Helen’s your eternally cheerful, next-door suburban mom that genuinely enjoys sharing with the whole neighborhood her latest fresh-from-the-oven culinary creations. She’s also a treasure trove of kitchen hacks and DIY advice if you have the patience to listen to her life story on repeat and the latest news on her son, Marv, and on how great he’s doing on the college football team. Fortunately, she agreed to leave her kitchen wisdom in writing as well when one of our editors with saintlike patience asked her to.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
Cheryl - September 26, 2018

The above article was very interesting and helpful in frying chicken, does this same procedure also work for fish or red meats?

The Kitchen Advisor - December 11, 2018


Thank you so much for writing in and for your kind comment.

A very similar procedure goes into cooking southern style chicken fried steak. Hope this helps. If you have any other questions please let us know.

-Andrew, TheKitchenAdvisor

Carrie - January 15, 2019

This article was very informative thank you! I was wondering if there is any need to pound the chicken out before placing it in the buttermilk?


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