Grilled Piri Piri Chicken

This is an impressive, sweet, and spicy grilled chicken dish that will take your tastebuds on a flavor adventure.  Did I mention that it is also easy?

My love of Piri Piri chicken started when I discovered it on a trip to South Africa, where they served the whole chicken with a side dish of the luscious spicy, sweet sauce.  It was beautiful to look at, and utterly delicious.

The chicken is a tantalizing balance of flavors – spicy from the red chile, sweet from the brown sugar, honey, and red pepper, rounded out with a sweet bite of onion and garlic and a tang from vinegar and citrus.  I like to think of it as South African barbeque.

The name ‘Piri Piri’ literally means ‘pepper-pepper’ in Swahili.  The pepper that is traditionally used in the dish is the African bird’s eye chili.  Depending on the crop, the bird’s eye chile could be hotter than a Thai chile, which is upwards of 175,000 heat units on the Scoville scale.  Yeah, way too hot for me.  I used milder red chile peppers in my version.

Spatchcock grilled chicken with a peri peri sauce


The menu claimed that the chicken is presented spatchcocked.  What?  Well, it came out……flat.  Still pretty much whole, but both breasts faced upwards.  I had never seen that before, but I liked it.

Spatchcocking a chicken means to remove the backbone and flatten the bird out by cracking along the breastbone and pressing it flat.  This is a great technique that offers quite a few benefits:

  • Decreases the cooking time, which keeps the meat moist.  That’s never a bad thing.
  • Because it has been flattened out, the thighs, legs, and breasts cook more evenly.
  • Flattened out, there is more surface area, so the skin has more opportunity to crisp and get delicious.


  • Use sharp kitchen scissors to cut the bird along each side of the backbone.
  • Flip the chicken over, breast side up and flatten by pressing on the breastbone.
  • Grill or roast per your recipe.

a raw chicken being spatchcocked



This spicy, sweet, and tantalizing South African grilled Peri Peri chicken will be a summer favorite. It is a quick recipe, once the chicken has marinated and can be easily customized for heat and sweetness.



For The Marinade:

  • 1 large shallot, cut into quarters
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into quarters
  • 2 small red chile peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium lime
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 34 pound whole chicken, spatchcocked

For The Basting Sauce:

  • 1 cup reserved marinade
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar


  1. In a food processor, process the shallot, garlic, red pepper, red chile pepper, cilantro, paprika, oregano, citrus zest, citrus juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and brown sugar. Process until very smooth. Remove one cup of marinade and set aside.
  2. Place the spatchcocked chicken in a large ziptop bag. Pour in the marinade and massage into the meat. Seal the bag tightly and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  3. Make the basting sauce: Pour the reserved 1 cup of marinade into a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the red wine vinegar and honey. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce reduces and thickens – about 15-20 minutes. Pour into small bowl, cover and set aside.
  4. When ready to grill, preheat the grill to medium high. Oil the grates.
  5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place skin side down on the grill. Using a rubber basting brush, slather on some of the basting sauce.
  6. Cook for 15 minutes, until it is nicely browned, but not charred.
  7. Using large tongs, flip the chicken. Baste this side with the sauce. Continue to cook for 20 – 25 minutes. Baste again with the sauce. Continue to cook and baste until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees at the thickest part.
  8. Remove the chicken from the grill, tent and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  • Serving Size: Serves 4 -6

Need a bit more help on spatchcocking the chicken?  Here is a great, informative video.  You can do this!

If you liked this recipe, here are a few side dishes to serve beside it: