Spatchcock Peri Peri Chicken (Or Piri Piri)
The most delicious spatchcock chicken rubbed with homemade peri-peri sauce! Peri Peri Chicken is a whole chicken rubbed down with a spicy pepper sauce made from piri-piri or African bird’s eye chili peppers. Grill it outdoors or in the oven!
Things are getting tasty around here.
Homemade peri peri chicken (or piri piri chicken) has been in the works for quite some time. And I think I’ve finally nailed this recipe. For the sake of creating the perfect marinated chicken recipe, I have eaten my fair share of Nandos and plenty of other Portuguese and South African-inspired chicken over the years from various places. And after roasting, grilling, and spatchcocking countless chickens, I finally have what I consider one of the best homemade peri peri chicken recipes.
We’ll use plenty of simple ingredients to make this sauce, so don’t worry. The only ingredient that I find may be difficult to locate is the birds eye chilis. They aren’t sold everywhere. If you happen to have an Asian grocery store nearby, you can grab red Thai chillies (which are Bird’s eye chile peppers, just a different name for them.) Keep in mind these peppers are quite hot for those of us that don’t usually dabble in too much spicy food! So you’ll only need a few of them!
Ingredients for making the peri peri marinade:
- Chicken: I like to use a whole chicken that I’ll spatchcock by removing the backbone. This allows a whole chicken to cook much faster, both on the grill and in the oven. If you’re wondering if a batch of drumsticks or whole chicken legs, chicken thighs, chicken wings, and bone-in chicken breasts will work in place of using a spatchcock chicken will work, the answer is yes. You’ll marinate the chicken in the same exact way, and then you’ll grill or roast them in the oven. The only difference is that the cooking time will be much shorter.
- Red bell pepper: bell peppers add color and sweetness to the marinade.
- Onion: I typically use a red onion for this but a yellow or white onion will also work. If you happen to have shallots on hand, those are an excellent choice for this recipe.
- Herbs: You’ll need some fresh parsley, cilantro, and some dried oregano. These ingredients are very typical in a homemade peri peri sauce. You can even use basil as this is something I’ve noticed a lot of restaurants do use, but this one is optional in my opinion.
- Seasonings: You’ll need kosher salt, and smoked paprika to give the marinade both a source of sodium and a little bit of a smokey flavor.
- African Bird’s Eye Chilies: These peppers are common in South Africa and in Thailand. If you can’t find them fresh in your area, you can purchase dried peppers here.
- Lemons: You’ll need both lemon zest and lemon juice for this recipe. Make sure to zest the lemon before squeezing out the juice!
- Olive oil: helps carry the marinade throughout the chicken.
- Red Wine Vinegar: A bit of acid helps marinate the chicken and adds more flavor.
- Hot Sauce: gives it a bit more kick. I like to use South African hot sauce for this, but any kind that you have at home will also work. Valentina would be my next choice.
Instructions for peri peri chicken recipe:
- Start by prepping. Start by prepping the chicken. If you aren’t spatchcocking a whole chicken, and just using pieces instead, you don’t have to worry about this step. For a traditional spatchcock chicken, you’ll want to pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Turn the chicken breast side down, and use sharpened kitchen shears to find the spine and cut on both sides of the spine. When you remove the spine, flip the bird over and place it breast side up. Using the palm of your hand, press down the breast bone to flatten the breasts to the cutting board. Season the chicken with a couple of teaspoons of kosher salt. You can refrigerate the chicken for 4-12 hours. I suggest refrigerating uncovered to dry out the skin so it’s crisper. Use the chicken immediately if you don’t have the time to wait. Keep in mind that chicken is 10x more flavorful from the salt if you allow it to marinate in the salt.
- Make the marinade. In a blender or the bowl of a food processor blend together all of the ingredients until a paste forms.
- Marinate the chicken. Place the chicken breast side down in a large baking dish or baking tray. Then using food-safe gloves rub the chicken with the marinade. Pour half of the marinade over the chicken and rub it in. Flip the chicken over and pour the remaining marinade on the chicken breast. Rub the skin side with marinade. Let the chicken hang out breast side up for at least 35-45 minutes at room temperature or cover and marinade the chicken for longer.
- Roast the chicken. If you’re prepping this in the oven, preheat the oven and let the chicken bake for 40-45 minutes or until you reach a safe internal temperature. Then allow the chicken to cool for several minutes loosely tented with aluminum foil to help raise the internal temperature.
- Grill the bird instead. Preheat an indoor grill pan or an outdoor grill. Clean the grill grates and oil them. Then make sure to have a hot zone and a cool zone for the chicken. Start the chicken on the cool zone breast side up and cook the chicken almost all the way through, flipping every 15 minutes. Once the chicken hits 150ºF, we’re going to flip the chicken onto the hot zone with skin side down and let it sear on the grill for a few minutes until the skin cooks. I like to use a heavy bottom skillet wrapped in foil to help press the chicken down, but this is optional. When the chicken cooks through to 160ºF, remove it to a plate, tent with foil, and allow it to cool down.
- Serve it up. I love serving this with roasted potatoes, charred corn, a rice pilaf, or a salad.
FAQs about this recipe
There is quite a bit of debate on this topic. A lot of people believe the dish originated in Mozambique but also has deep Portuguese roots. Portuguese settlers brought the bird’s eye chilies to Africa circa the sixteen century.
A piri piri, pili pili, or peri peri sauce tastes like a red peppery sauce. The level of heat depends on the number of spicy peppers that you use. This sauce can be mild or fiery hot!
Piri Piri means pepper. It is the word used to describe the African Bird’s Eye chili.
Unlike a roasted whole chicken, a spatchcock chicken cooks more evenly and much quicker because of the amount of heat that hits the surface area all at once.
Keep the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. I like to reheat just what I need at 325ºF in an air fryer for 5-7 minutes or until warmed through.
I love serving this with homemade coleslaw, fluffy yellow rice flavored with saffron, sliced potatoes tossed with salt and cornstarch, and air-fried until tender, or a simple salad.
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Persian Chicken Kebabs (Joojeh Chicken)
- Easiest Grilled Chimichurri Chicken
- Chicken Shish Tawook
- Chicken Satay with Dipping Sauce
- 3½-4 pounds chicken (skin-on, spatchcocked)
- ½ red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- ¼ of large onion, roughly chopped (red, yellow, or white)
- ⅓ cup parsley and cilantro (combined, or use one or the other)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
- 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 4-8 dried Birds Eye chilies
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon + 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as peri peri sauce or Valentina, etc.)
- PREP: Place the chicken on a clean surface and pat the chicken dry with paper towels, breast side down. Use sharpened kitchen shears, find the spine, and cut on both sides of the spine, making sure you don’t remove excess meat. Remove the spine and save it to make stock later! See pictures for details. Flip the bird over so it’s breast side up and use your palms to press down the breast bone with force so it cracks and the breast and legs lay flat on the surface. Season the chicken with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. You can prepare the chicken immediately or refrigerate it, uncovered, for 4-12 hours. The long the chicken sits, the thinner the skin gets, ultimately resulting in a less flabby chicken later!
- BLEND: Add 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt and all the ingredients (except the chicken) to a food processor and blend until a paste forms.
- MARINATE: Wear gloves for this step as the peppers will burn your hands! Place the chicken breast side down in a large baking dish or sheat pan. Rub ½ the prepared sauce on the chicken. Flip the chicken over and pour the remaining marinade on the chicken breast. Slide your hands under the chicken skin and really get the marinade on the breasts any anywhere else that's accessible. Rub the skin-side with the marinade. Allow the chicken to hang out breast side up for at least 35-45 minutes at room temperature or cover and marinate the chicken in the fridge overnight. Make sure to remove the chicken from the fridge 45 minutes before roasting for a more even roast.
- ROAST: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF. Roast the chicken for 40-45 minutes or until an instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken reads 150ºF. At that point, move the chicken up to the top rack and turn on the broiler to give the chicken some color (about 1-2 minutes) check the chicken breast and make sure the temperature reads 155-157ºF at that point, remove the chicken from the oven, loosely tent it with foil, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Carryover cooking with raise the temperature to 165ºF.
- OR GRILL IT: Preheat an outdoor grill for at least 15 minutes. You want the grill to have a 'hot' zone set to high and a ‘warm’ zone set to medium-low. Clean and oil the grates as needed. Place the chicken on the medium-low side, with the breast side up, and close the grill lid. Let the chicken cook for 15 minutes, then using grill tongs, rotate the chicken 90º and continue to let it cook again for 15 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the chicken, it should be 150ºF, if it’s not, continue cooking and rotating every 15 minutes until the temp reaches 150ºF. Then flip the chicken so it’s skin side down onto the hot part of the grill (place a heavy bottom skillet wrapped in foil to get a better sear not the skin if you want) and let it cook for 2-3 minutes before rotating the chicken to get grill lines. When the chicken reaches 160ºF or above, remove it to a plate, and allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
- SERVE: Serve with potato wedges, charred corn, a rice pilaf, or a salad.