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"If You Don't Want My Love, Give It Back" Grilled Piri Piri Chicken

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If you're looking for an easy and delicious grilled chicken recipe, try piri piri chicken a traditional Portuguese dish.

This dish is marinated in a spicy sauce made with peppers, onions, and herbs, and it's perfect for summer BBQs. So fire up the grill and get ready to enjoy some tasty chicken!

This Piri Piri chicken recipe delivers crispy and moist chicken with an addictive garlicky and spicy sauce.

Have you ever dated someone that you always enjoyed their company but never really committed to? Well, this pretty much explains my relationship with Piri Piri. I've had it on many occasions, and it's always been an enjoyable experience, but unlike jerk, I've never been all in with it.

By all in I mean having multiple bottles of both homemade and commercially made ones at varying levels of heat intensities. For comparison Jerk gets more run than ketchup in my house whereas Piri Piri has been more like BBQ sauce; there are some I like, but buy or make on an as needed basis.

piri piri chicken grilling

Beats and Eats (Music Pairing for piri piri chicken)

Piri Piri is great, but not for everybody. It can be a little too spicy depending on how it's prepared. Don't worry, I provide tips for how to dial the heat level up or down depending on your taste preferences.

However, if you work-out the heat aspect, you'll find that piri piri flavor (whether as a sauce or spice) can do some serious heavy lifting as a flavor enhancer to any dish whether it's seafood like shrimp, chicken, vegetables like this grilled okra, or even sweet and spicy candied bacon. I highly encourage you to try it, and if you don't love it, well...

What Is Piri Piri?

Piri Piri sauce originated from African and Portugese cultures. It's grounded in the native African Birds-eye chili, and different versions are popular in Portugal and African countries like Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa.

It's serious business in South Africa where passions run deep like BBQ in Texas. Portugese colonizers imported the chiles back to Portugal which is home to more of a milder chili oil vs. the spicy blended sauce prevalent in African countries.

This piri piri recipe is my attempt to be more committed to spicy food.  A trip to Porto, Portugal which was part b-day celebration and part piri piri research cemented my love of this sauce.

My favorite spot was at a small, quaint spot called Casa Vasco near the coast. It's a spot frequented by locals so you know its good, but make sure to make a reservation if you're headed that way.

Their piri piri chicken is near perfect. The skin is extra crispy and when you bite into the juicy flesh it explodes in your mouth. The chicken is well seasoned with a dry mix and it's served with a spicy chili oil.

Though I'm a big fan of this style, I mashed things up by making tweaks popular more in the African tradition. The chicken is basted in a spicy sauce. I went for high heat profile, so I left all seeds in, but feel free to remove the seeds if you prefer a milder version.

So about the piri piri sauce recipe ingredients though!

I created a Piri Piri sauce recipe that is spicy, tangy, and garlicky. My starting point was my favorite Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. If you've made the recipe before, you'll notice some of the similarities.

I adapted it to feature the birds-eye chiles and increase the tanginess. I'm a garlic dude and since I went high heat, I chose to skew the sauce high on the garlic scale to balance against the heat, but feel free to dial it down if that's not your thing.

Birds-eye chilis are hot, but not habanero hot, so you don't get that burn right upfront. The heat comes on the back end so you can actually enjoy the flavor of the chicken. It's also easy to balance things out to get a full-flavored sauce that is also light and fresh. These latter qualities are achieved through the lemon juice and fresh herbs.

Sauce Ingredient List

  • Red Fresno or African bird’s eye chili peppers
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Onion
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Lemon Juice
  • Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Honey
piri piri sauce in a bowl

How to make piri piri chicken (step by step)

Step 1: Spatchcock the chicken

Using either a sharp knife or kitchen shears cut the backbone from the chicken by cutting along each side from the tail to the neck. Remove the bone and set aside. Flatten the chicken using your palms pressing down on the meat/skin side of the chicken.

Make sure the chicken is dry and you have a good pair of kitchen shears. A good knife works as well.
raw chicken being cut via butterfly technique
Just cut straight down each side of the backbone. You should be able to pull the backbone away from the chicken with a slight twist at this point. If not just clip the last remaining connecting portion.
Crack the breast bone by pulling the two breast bones back to open the cavity further. Then place open side down and apply firm pressure on the skin side to break the bones further ensuring a flatter bird.

butterflied cut raw chicken

Step 2: Marinate the chicken

Using a fork, prick the chicken all over to aid the marinade in penetrating deep inside the chicken. Mix marinade ingredients well and add to a plastic bag with the spatchcock chicken and let sit refrigerated overnight.

Step 3: Make the piri sauce

Char red bell pepper over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop bell peppers

Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender jar.

Blend for 30-60 seconds on high speed, until completely smooth. Adjust for flavor as needed including adding more sweetness to balance the heat.

piri piri sauce in blender
Blend all ingredients in a blender to sauce-like consistency. If using dried chilis you'll need to rehydrate them by letting them soak in hot water.

Step 4: Grill the chicken

Grill the chicken directly over hot coals that have been burned down to ashy white color. This will help prevent flare-ups. Cook Skin-side down (10-20 minutes depending on the size of chicken) to start.

Pro tip: Place a heavy brick on top for added weight to help the chicken develop a crispier skin. Flip the chicken and continue to baste with the piri sauce until ready (about 10-15 minutes).

chicken grilling over flame

Serving Suggestions

Chop the chickens into smaller chicken pieces for more communal eating. Make a simple dipping sauce with a few tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, and a teaspoon or two of the sauce.

I like my piri piri with fries and a cooling green salad. Keep a few lemon wedges on hand on hand to cut through the heat. Try any of these options:

Watermelon Salad

Cuban Avocado Salad

Cucumber Salad

Belgian Fries

grilled chicken pieces on a white plate

Meal Planning Tips

  • Have wet wipes on hand or prepare bowls of lemon water to remove the stains from your fingers, cause there will be stains
  • Make the marinade ahead of time and give flavors time to come together
  • Have wet wipes on hand or prepare bowls of lemon water to remove the stains from your fingers, cause there will be stains
  • Make the marinade ahead of time and give flavors time to come together
  • Leftover chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Cooking Tips and Considerations

Though I altered the flavor profile vs. Casa Vasco's Piri Piri Chicken I did mimic a few of their key techniques and highly recommend you do so as well to achieve that critical crispy exterior with tender flesh. Do the following:

  • Use a small bird. The smaller the better. I used a Cornish hen. I find it easier to cook the entire bird evenly. Plus there is just more flavor
  • Spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken
  • Season the chicken below the skin with dry rub
  • Cook the chicken skin side down for part of the process topped with a brick or heavy cast iron skillet. Besides getting excellent grill marks, this helps with that crispy skin.
  • As usual, let the bird rest for at least 5 minutes after cooking before diving in.
  • Adjust heat levels for the sauce per your preference. Fewer seeds, the milder the sauce.
  • Most red chilis are good substitutes for the African Birds-eye chiles. I actually brought a bunch of dried ones back from my trip and re-hydrated them for my sauce.
  • When handling hot peppers wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly. Macing yourself with hot pepper juice is a hard lesson, trust me!
  • This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled to accommodate a larger crowd.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about making piri piri chicken

What is piri piri chicken?

Piri piri chicken is a spicy, grilled chicken dish that originates from Portugal. The chicken is marinated in a piri piri sauce, which is made with chili peppers, garlic, and other spices. After being grilled, the chicken is served with a piri piri sauce on the side.

How long does piri piri chicken take to make?

This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make, including prep time and cook time.

What should I serve with piri piri chicken?

Piri piri chicken can be served with rice, potatoes, or any of your favorite sides. It also pairs well with a cool, refreshing drink like beer or lemonade.

What special tools or equipment will I need to make this recipe?

You'll need a food processor to make the marinade and piri sauce. To make grilled chicken you obviously need an outdoor grill. I grilled this chicken using a Traeger pellet smoker.

For similar recipes you might like, try these:

Piri Piri Shrimp

Beef Suya Skewers

Grilled Jerk Chicken Quarters

Grilled Boneless Chicken Thighs

Piri piri chicken is a spicy, delicious dish that is perfect for summer grilling. It's a chicken lover's dream! This recipe is easy to follow and results in tender, juicy chicken.

Whether you are looking for a new grilled chicken recipe or just want something different from your usual backyard barbecue fare, this dish is sure to please. So fire up the grill and give this grilled piri piri chicken a try!

If you make this Grilled Piri Piri Chicken recipe or any other please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.

You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

chicken grilling over flame

Grilled Piri Piri Chicken

Chicken marinated then grilled spatchcock style for a crispy exterior and moist, juicy interior. The full-flavored Piri Piri sauce is garlicky, tangy, spicy, and surprisingly light.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: African
Servings: 2 people
Calories: 1279kcal
Author: Marwin Brown

Ingredients

For the Marinade

  • 2 cup buttermilk juiced
  • ¼ cup fresh herbs Cilantro and Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt

For the Chicken

  • 1 small Chicken (whole) cut spatchcock style
  • ½ tablespoon Salt
  • ½ tablespoon Black Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Sauce

  • 4-6 Red Fresno or bird’s eye roughly chopped, seeds removed if you prefer mild
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • ½ medium Onion roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika
  • 1 medium Lemon juiced
  • ¼ cup Olive Oil
  • ½ tablespoon kosher Salt
  • ½ tablespoon Black Pepper
  • 6 Garlic Cloves
  • 2 tablespoon Honey

Instructions

Marinade the Chicken

  • Mix marinade ingredients well. Set aside.
  • Prick the chicken all over with a fork. Place chicken in ziplock bag and add the marinade. Refrigerate over night.

Make the sauce

  • Char red bell pepper over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop bell peppers
  • Place all ingredients into a blender jar.
  • Blend for 30-60 seconds on high speed, until completely smooth. Adjust for flavor as needed including add more sweetness to balance the heat.

Cook the chicken

  • Remove chicken from the marinade and wash away marinade. Allow chicken to reach room temperature. Add olive oil and spices rubbing the chicken all over.
  • Prepare grill for direct grilling.
  • Grill the chickens skin side down for 20-25 minutes. Flip, then brush on the Piri Piri sauce all over the chicken. Grill the chicken for another 10-15 minutes. To serve mix a ½ tablespoon of the sauce mixed with 2 tablespoon of olive and use as a dip for the chicken.

Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Use a small bird. The smaller the better. I used a Cornish hen. I find it easier to cook the entire bird evenly. Plus there is just more flavor
  • Spatchcock (butterfly) the chicken
  • Season the chicken below the skin with dry rub for next-level flavor.
  • Cook the chicken skin side down for part of the process topped with a brick or heavy cast-iron skillet. Besides getting excellent grill marks, this helps with that crispy skin.
  • As usual, let the bird rest for at least 5 minutes after cooking before diving in.
  • Adjust heat levels for the sauce per your preference. Fewer seeds, the milder the sauce.
  • Most red chiles are good substitutes for the African Birds-eye chiles. I actually brought a bunch of dried ones back from my trip and re-hydrated them for my sauce.

Nutrition

Serving: 0g | Calories: 1279kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 82g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 227mg | Sodium: 8884mg | Potassium: 1387mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 27g | Vitamin A: 9106IU | Vitamin C: 159mg | Calcium: 138mg | Iron: 6mg
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