21 Tasty Ways to Use and Use Up Buttermilk

21 Tasty Ways to Use and Use Up Buttermilk

Most recipes don’t call for a full quart, which gives you full license to make pancakes, cornbread, fried chicken, and even strawberry sherbet with the rest of the carton.

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What if I told you that the buttermilk you buy in the store has nothing to do with butter? The name goes back to pre-refrigeration days, when it was a byproduct of making butter. (If you grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books like I did, you know that after churning fresh milk into butter, Ma would give Laura and Mary a drink of “good, fresh buttermilk.”) These days, cultured buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid bacteria to milk, heating it, and letting it ferment. What results is thick and sour, not necessarily something you’d want to drink. But boy, is it great for baking and cooking.

Thanks to its acidity, buttermilk has a glorious ability to tenderize things, both baked goods and meat. And that acidity also activates baking soda in recipes, helping baked goods rise. It’s a magical, butter-yellow elixir.

The problem I have with buttermilk is that I can only find it sold in quarts, when most of the recipes I use call for two cups or less. That leaves me with the eternal quandary: What to do with the rest? It feels so wasteful, every time I open the fridge and see that lonely quart container, aching to be used. 

I’m not the only person to have this problem, of course, so using it up really isn’t hard. In fact, we’ve got more possibilities than we can possibly make with a single carton. So I’ve gathered up 21 delicious, sweet and savory choices, and organized them by the amount of buttermilk called for. You’re sure to discover something that works with however much you’ve got.

Easy substitutions if you don’t have buttermilk

Just in case you are looking at a recipe that calls for buttermilk, but don’t want to buy any, you still have options.

  • How to make buttermilk. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1 cup. Stir, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. It’ll look curdled—that’s when you’re good to go.

  • How to substitute yogurt for buttermilk. If you have kefir, yogurt, or sour cream, they can all work as well—thin the yogurt or sour cream with a little milk to reach a pourable consistency.

  • How to use buttermilk powder instead of fresh buttermilk. Instead of using the fresh kind, you can buy buttermilk powder in the baking aisle of most large supermarkets. Once you open the package, store in a cool, dry place and it’ll stay good for months. To use it: For every cup of buttermilk a recipe calls for, stir some of the powder into the dry ingredients and add 1 cup of water to the wet ingredients. (The amount of powder you’ll use varies by brand, so read the package for details.)


Recipes that use 1/2 cup or less of buttermilk

Maybe your recipe used up nearly all of that quart you bought. But don’t spill even a little liquid gold down the drain! You’ve got plenty of options to make the most of it.

Buttermilk Coleslaw

A picture of a bowl of coleslaw made with cabbage, carrots, and buttermilk

Buttermilk Coleslaw by Foodie with Family

Did you think buttermilk was only used in baked goods? Surprise! Mixing a bit with mayo, apple cider vinegar, and sugar will transform shredded cabbage and carrots (or a bag of slaw mix) into a coleslaw that’s anything but ordinary.

Dulce De Leche Buttermilk Cheesecake

A picture of a slice of creamy cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and dulce de leche on top

Dulce De Leche Buttermilk Cheesecake by a big green house

Read that out loud: dulce de leche buttermilk cheesecake. Your mouth watered just saying that, didn’t it? The caramelly flavor of dulce de leche plays off buttermilk’s natural tang in a beautiful way. If you’re a cheesecake lover, this is for you.

Buttermilk Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

A picture of a big slab of brownies covered in peanut butter frosting

Buttermilk Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting by Six Sisters' Stuff

Buttermilk brownies are also known as Texas Sheet Cake—they’re made in a sheet pan (so you’ll have plenty to share), and the texture is like a very moist, fudgy cake. Oh, and they’re frosted. This version is plenty buttery and includes peanut butter in the frosting for good measure. 

Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake

A picture of a baking dish with a cake studded with cranberries

Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake by Alexandra's Kitchen

Who wouldn’t want to wake up to warm, lightly sweet cake studded with burst cranberries? The batter only takes 10 minutes to prepare, but if that’s too much before you’ve had your coffee, you can put it together the night before.

Buttermilk Banana Bread

A picture of two thick slices of banana bread on a plate

Buttermilk Banana Bread by Del's Cooking Twist

If you’re looking for a basic banana bread that will stay moist and flavorful for days (assuming it lasts that long), look no further. Buttermilk is the secret ingredient here. You may never make banana bread without it again.


Recipes for when you have 3/4 to 1 cup of buttermilk

You’ve got more than a smidge, but still not a substantial amount. These recipes move buttermilk a little closer to center stage.

Easy Basil Buttermilk Dressing

A picture of a jar of creamy salad dressing flecked with fresh basil

Easy Basil Buttermilk Dressing by Ilona's Passion

Buttermilk feels rich and creamy, but it’s actually low in fat. That makes it a perfect way to create a recipe that’s similar to ranch dressing, tastes as indulgent as blue cheese, and is secretly quite healthy. Here, you’ll add chopped herbs to buttermilk and Greek yogurt. The result is light and fresh, and definitely satisfying.

My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits

A picture of golden brown biscuits on a sheet pan

My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits by Smitten Kitchen

If Deb at Smitten Kitchen says these are her favorite biscuits, you know they’re pretty special. Pull off the golden brown, sky-high tops to reveal tender, flaky insides just begging to be slathered with butter and jam.

Best Ever Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

A picture of a muffin pan with a couple of golden brown blueberry muffins

Best Ever Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins by Lovely Little Kitchen

Everyone needs a light and tender muffin recipe studded with juicy berries in their repertoire. These get their loft from a combination of baking powder and baking soda (acid in the form of buttermilk meets base in the form of baking soda and creates carbon dioxide).

Buttermilk Pecan Fudge

A picture of squares of white fudge studded with pecans

Buttermilk Pecan Fudge by Lottie + Doof

I’m not big on fudge. I find it too sweet. My husband, on the other hand, loves the stuff. In this recipe, the tang of buttermilk counters some of that overwhelming sweetness, while toasted pecans and flaky salt add textural contrast. This fudge, I’ll eat.

Buttermilk Doughnuts

A picture of a row of doughnuts coated with cinnamon and sugar in a loaf pan

Buttermilk Doughnuts by The Little Epicurean

Buttermilk helps these tender, cakey donuts rise as they fry—there’s no yeast, so they come together quickly. Coat them in cinnamon sugar while they’re still warm, and see if you can resist eating more than one.

Homemade Buttermilk Syrup

A picture of a stack of pancakes getting drizzled with white buttermilk syrup

Homemade Buttermilk Syrup by Kleinworth Co.

Looking for a change from maple syrup? I never would’ve imagined that combining butter, buttermilk, sugar, baking soda, and vanilla could make such a versatile, delicious sauce. Try it on pancakes and waffles, of course, but also drizzle it on oatmeal or ice cream, bread pudding or yogurt.


Recipes that call for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk

When you have this much buttermilk, you’ve really got some great choices.

Buttermilk Chicken

A picture of grilled chicken drumsticks on a platter

Buttermilk Chicken by She Wears Many Hats

Just as buttermilk tenderizes baked goods, it also works its magic on meat. Here you mix it with seasoning you’ve already got on your spice rack (Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and a generous amount of cayenne) to create a marinade for chicken parts. Once the chicken pieces have had a nice rest, pop them on the grill or in the oven, throw together a salad (with buttermilk dressing, perhaps?), and dinner’s ready.

Easy Buttermilk Brioche Buns

A picture of golden brioche buns on a cooling rack

Easy Buttermilk Brioche Buns by The Café Sucré Farine

Picture a hamburger. Now picture that burger on a bun with soft, eggy, lightly sweet insides boasting just a hint of tang. That’s right. These buns have the potential to transform your burger-eating life.

Snickerdoodle Buttermilk Pie

A picture of a pie sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and topped with dollops of whipped cream and a mint sprig

Snickerdoodle Buttermilk Pie by Melissa's Southern Style Kitchen

Buttermilk pie is a classic dessert, one you’ll find all over the South. This recipe takes that classic to the next level by topping the buttermilk custard with a heavy sprinkling of cinnamon sugar before it bakes. It emerges from the oven with the kind of crackly crust I can’t wait to dig into.

Buttermilk Tarts

A picture of creamy tarts topped with berries

Buttermilk Tarts by Magnolia Days

These adorable tarts have a similar filling to buttermilk pie, with a big difference: The filling is cooked on the stovetop, so it comes out more like a pudding. Once it’s chilled, all you do is spoon it into individual graham cracker crusts, top with some fruit, and enjoy.

Buttermilk Strawberry Sherbet

A picture of sugar cones topped with a scoop of strawberry sherbet

Buttermilk Strawberry Sherbet by Baked by Rachel

Fresh strawberries, honey, lemon juice, and buttermilk. That’s all you need to make a refreshing frozen treat sweet enough to entice your inner child. And thanks to buttermilk’s tang, the sherbet also feels sophisticated enough to serve on a special day.


Recipes for if you have 1 3/4 to 2 cups of buttermilk

Now we’re talking. These recipes place buttermilk front and center. 

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

A picture of a platter of browned and crispy pieces of fried chicken

Buttermilk Fried Chicken by Simply Recipes

If you ask me, this is the ultimate classic buttermilk recipe. An overnight bath in seasoned buttermilk tenderizes chicken parts, and then the buttermilk helps seasoned all-purpose flour adhere to the chicken when it hits the hot oil. Can’t you just taste it?

Buttermilk Mac & Cheese

A picture of a bowl of pasta in a creamy white sauce

Buttermilk Mac & Cheese by Mom Unleashed

Only five ingredients cook up into a bowl of creamy, cozy comfort. This mac and cheese uses buttermilk instead of plain ol’ milk. The slight tang accentuates the cheesiness, and the whole thing goes straight from the stove to your bowl—no need to fuss with a baking dish. 

Classic Buttermilk Waffles

A picture of two waffle squares stacked on a plate and topped with maple syrup

Classic Buttermilk Waffles by Mel's Kitchen Cafe

These are the kind of waffles that make other waffles jealous. Light and fluffy inside, crisp outside, I can’t think of a way to improve them—except for maybe the recipe’s suggestion to sprinkle some shredded cheddar on top of the batter before you close the waffle iron.

Buttermilk Pancakes

A picture of a stack of pancakes on a plate with a pat of butter on top and some syrup streaming over them

Buttermilk Pancakes by Tastes Better from Scratch

No waffle iron? No worries. Not only are buttermilk pancakes faster than waffles (pouring the batter into a skillet takes less time than loading and reloading a waffle iron; go figure), they’re every bit as iconic on your breakfast table. This recipe cooks up into large flapjacks, ready for syrup and fruit.

Buttermilk Cornbread 

A picture of a cast-iron skillet filled with wedges of cornbread, with bowls of butter and honey

Buttermilk Cornbread by Damn Delicious

Whether you’re serving it for breakfast or alongside a bowl of chili, cornbread just makes people happy. It’s that perfect combination of savory/salty/sweet, with the grit of cornmeal giving it a hint of crunch. Buttermilk helps with—you guessed it—leavening and tenderizing.

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As we're sticking close to home right now and avoiding extra trips to the store, we're more aware than ever of avoiding food waste, and we're guessing you may be, too. During the coronavirus, we're with you at Yummly to make home cooking as easy and flexible as possible. You'll find lots more ideas in our quarantine cooking collection.

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