Buttermilk Roast Chicken

buttermilk roast chicken

Buttermilk Roast Chicken might have changed the way I make chicken forever.

Knowing how to simply roast a chicken is one of the great delights of being able to cook. Julia Child always said you should judge a cook not on their soufflés and other fancy dishes, but on whether or not they could produce a quality roast chicken.

In fact, last year the website buzzfeed had a Roast Chicken Tournament and crowned Thomas Keller’s recipe the winner.

I’ve tried Mr. Keller’s method and it makes a good chicken. It also smokes up your house if your oven is not perfectly clean. I mean pristine.

Of course, I learned to roast chickens from our beloved Julia, adapting her tried and true method (minus the trussing) for my favorite Roast Chicken with Herbs. But that was all before I found Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Buttermilk Roast Chicken.

Game over.

This was, hands down, the best roast chicken I’ve ever had.

Here’s what you need:

Buttermilk Roast Chicken Ingredients

Whole Chicken, Buttermilk, Vegetable Oil, Olive Oil (not pictured), Honey, Garlic, Fresh Rosemary, Salt & Pepper.

You also need an extra large ziplock bag and foil to line the roasting pan.

Click here for a Buttermilk Roast Chicken Shopping List

Note:  This chicken needs to marinate OVERNIGHT so plan ahead!

You might notice in the top picture that our bird is sort of all splayed out in the pan. This is not by accident but rather because for this recipe you remove the backbone and butterfly or Spatchcock the chicken.

Spatchcock! How’s that for a great new cooking term. Best said with the crazy faux-European accent of your choice.

By removing the backbone, the chicken lies flat in the pan spreading the meat out to roast more evenly and in less time. Less time means juicier chicken. No more dried out white meat.

Choose your weapon of choice. I have (in order of preference) kitchen shears, a boning knife, and a small cleaver-type knife.


And if you think my kitchen scissors look suspiciously like garden clippers it’s because they ARE garden clippers.

I’ve broken at least 3 sets of fancy kitchen shears so I bought these at the hardware store and keep them dedicated for kitchen only use. They’re strong and tough (since they’re made to cut sticks and branches) and I even put them in the dishwasher. These have lasted at least 9 years and are still going strong.

Okay, let’s spatchcock this baby.

(Vegans, look away.)

Be sure you have removed any innards that are inside the cavity of the chicken. There is often a little package with the gizzards and bits in there.

I have about a 4 pound chicken…maybe slightly bigger.

Turn the chicken over so the breast side and legs are down. At the top of the chicken you should find a little stubby bone where the neck used to be. This will be the start of the backbone.

Find the neck!

Use your knife or kitchen shears to cut down either side of this backbone.

I started with the knife just to get a good cut but then quickly switched to the shears. It is MUCH easier to cut the chicken with the shears.

Remove the backbone

It’s a little blurry and slightly gruesome looking, but when you cut down both sides of the backbone, it pops right out.

I keep the backbone in my bag o’ chicken parts (wings, necks, etc.) that I save in the freezer to make Chicken Stock.


Open the chicken up like a book and gently press down on the sides to flatten him out.

Hurray! You’ve just spatchcocked your chicken!

Butterfly or Spatchcock Chicken

Removing the backbone is easier than you think. However, if you are unsure about this whole process, chances are very good that if you ask nicely, the butcher at your grocery store will do it for you.

You don’t want to have to miss making this chicken over a fear of spatchcocking.

Spatchcock Chicken

The thing that takes this chicken over the top, is the buttermilk marinade.

If you’re a fan of fried chicken, you already know that buttermilk is the key to juicy and flavorful chicken. The acidity in the buttermilk helps to tenderize the meat while rosemary and garlic add tons of flavor.

We will build our marinade in an extra large (at least 2 gallon) zipper top bag.

Lightly crush 2 big cloves of garlic and roughly chop 2 Tablespoons of fresh rosemary leaves and add them to the bag.


Pour in 2 cups of buttermilk and 1/4 cup vegetable oil.


Add 1 Tablespoon of honey…


and lots of coarsely ground black pepper. I set my pepper grinder on the coarsest setting and have ground out about 1 Tablespoon of pepper. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt.


Zip up the bag and gently mix all of the marinade ingredients together then open the bag and add the chicken.

Work it down into the marinade, zip up the bag trying to release most of the trapped air, and gently massage the buttermilk marinade into the bird.

Place it meaty breast side down in the marinade in a large bowl just to be sure there are no leaks.

Refrigerate and marinate overnight or up to two days.


When you are ready for awesome roast chicken dinner, remove the chicken from the buttermilk and set it on a rack to drip dry.

Discard the used marinade.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


Line a roasting pan with foil and place the chicken breast side up in the pan. Season with a little additional salt & pepper and drizzle with about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.


Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes then REDUCE the oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook for 20-25 minutes more.

The chicken is done when it is golden brown and the juices run clear when you pierce the skin where the leg joins the bird.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Save any juices from the pan to drizzle over the carved bird.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken

Grab the best, most golden piece for your plate. She who spatchcocks gets first dibs!

And don’t let that extra buttermilk go to waste…some buttermilk mashed potatoes will be perfect with this chicken as will our favorite green beans with caramelized shallots.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken

There are not many recipes that I make that I don’t think, “Maybe next time I’ll add this or that…” but I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change one thing about this Buttermilk Roast Chicken.

Move over Thomas Keller, Nigella’s in the house and she’s got the winning chicken.

Here’s the recipe:  Adapted from Nigella Lawson/NY Times

Buttermilk Roast Chicken

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11 Responses

  1. I am so going to Lowe’s and getting myself some pruning shears! That’s a genius idea. I have a pair of kitchen shears and they work “okay” most of the time and “not at all” some of the time.

    1. They really do work and they’re always less expensive than the kitchen shears. Plus, if you get tired of them, you can send them back out to the garden. I also have just a regular pair of scissors that are dedicated for cutting herbs and things for cooking.

  2. The chicken looks marvelous, but what is the purpose of removing the backbone of the chicken? Does it change something about the way the chicken ends up tasting?

    1. Taking out the backbone makes the chicken lie flat in the pan. Less cooking time since there is no hollow cavity to heat up. Sometimes you will see recipes where they put a heavy pan or brick on top of the de-boned chicken to make it even flatter.

  3. What a goodlooking and soulwarming Chicken Dinner! My mouth is watering…..Real Comfort Food here now!!!
    I myself have actual Chicken Scissors, Stainless Steel, made in Germany! I have them since 1969 and they still work like a charm. Indestructable…. They actually sell Poultry Scissors in Germany because they eat lots of Geese, Ducks, Chickens, Pheasants, Doves, and may a few more poultry creatures!

  4. Oh my gosh! I looked at the photo of the roasted chicken and immediately printed the recipe. Then I looked at the spatchcocking photos and immediately became a vegan. Then I looked at the photo of the roasted chicken and became a carnivore again. Now I’m just wondering if I can get my husband (who does not know how to work an oven) to spatchcock for me. Also, I think I will photograph the look on my husband’s face when I ask him to spatchcock. Anyway, the good news is that one way or another, I’m eating buttermilk roasted chicken in the very near future AND I have the necessary scissors!

    1. Ha! That one chicken photo was sort of abnormally gruesome and I’m not sure why. It’s really not that bad. Good kitchen (or in my case gardening) shears makes it really easy work. It’s certainly worth it. (Unless you are a vegan)

  5. I learned to spatchcock a chicken about 30 years ago, although the recipe more gently called it “butterflied.” It was so tasty with vegetables roasted in vermouth. I have an aversion towards (or is it a phobia about) buttermilk after many childhood traumas wherein I would get my aunt’s buttermilk by mistake. I would think yogurt could be a reasonable substitute for me.

    1. I’m guessing yogurt would be fine. I have a Greek chicken recipe that uses yogurt and it’s really tasty. You might need to thin it out a bit with some milk or water just to get the right consistency to cover the chicken. Let me know how it goes.

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