America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo
Recipe Spotlight

The Secrets to Creamy Buttermilk Dressing

Make buttermilk your secret weapon in this creamy, tangy, and quick dressing. 
By

Published Jan. 12, 2024.

At its most basic, creamy buttermilk dressing is made by seasoning buttermilk with salt, pepper, and other aromatics and adding mayonnaise or sour cream to thicken it. It’s not a new concept; you can find recipes for buttermilk dressing in American cookbooks from the early 1900s. In 1912 the U.S. Department of Agriculture included a buttermilk cream salad dressing in its farmers bulletin titled, “Cheese and Its Economical Uses in the Diet,” claiming it was especially good with cucumbers.

Our version is good with cheese or drizzled over greens! To land there, we tested ingredients and ratios in every combination and landed on using equal parts mayonnaise and buttermilk with just a tiny splash of lemon juice to enhance the tang. After that, a minced garlic clove, salt, and pepper are all you need for a basic, delicious dressing that comes together in minutes. 

Recipe

Basic Buttermilk Dressing

Thick and tangy buttermilk makes a great base for salad dressing.
Get the Recipe

That said, one of the beautiful things about buttermilk dressing is its versatility. In French culinary school, you learn that French cuisine has mother sauces from which many classic sauces are built. Buttermilk works similarly, giving way to many spin-offs such as classic coleslaw dressing and America’s favorite, ranch dressing. (Yes, ranch dressing was ranked the favorite salad dressing in a study from the Association for Dressings and Sauces.) 

Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter

10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

So take this formula and have some fun. 

To bring it into the ranch category, add a bunch of chopped chives, cilantro, and dill. Swapping in white vinegar for the lemon and adding a pinch of cayenne brings you to a dressing equally great on iceberg lettuce or drizzled over pizza.  

Recipe

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Thick and tangy buttermilk makes a great base for salad dressing.
Get the Recipe

Or you can make it into a smoky, sweet chipotle dressing by adding some minced chipotle chile in adobo. A little ketchup contributes just a touch of sweet acidity, and some lime juice drives home that Southwestern flair.  

Recipe

Chipotle Buttermilk Dressing

Thick and tangy buttermilk makes a great base for salad dressing.
Get the Recipe

If you want something that would be great with buffalo wings, you can make a buffalo–blue cheese version by adding some Frank’s RedHot sauce and crumbled blue cheese (you’ll want to leave out the salt and pepper, since the cheese and hot sauce provide plenty of salt and heat, and reduce the buttermilk so that the dressings not too loose).  

Recipe

Buffalo–Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing

Thick and tangy buttermilk makes a great base for salad dressing.
Get the Recipe

If you want to go fancy and channel a steakhouse at home, try making a Parmesan-peppercorn version by adding a heavy hand of black pepper and some grated Parmesan cheese. 

Recipe

Parmesan-Peppercorn Buttermilk Dressing

Thick and tangy buttermilk makes a great base for salad dressing.
Get the Recipe

Whatever you do, make sure you use a good-quality buttermilk. The buttermilk found in the dairy case today is not your grandmothers buttermilk, which was the tangy, watery substance left behind when cream was churned into butter. The liquid buttermilk available today is made more in the fashion of yogurt, in which harmless bacteria are added to milk to break down the milk sugar (lactose) and, in the process, create lactic acid, which thickens the milk and helps produce a tangy flavor. If possible, look for one that is low fat rather than fat free. Since the buttermilk is the core of this dressing, you want all the richness you can get. 

This is a members' feature.