delicious chicken on a grill

Portuguese Piri Piri chicken on your charcoal grill

The Portuguese call it Frango à Piri-Piri. Portuguese Piri Piri chicken is a spicy dish with roots in both Africa and Portugal. It has its origin in the era of discoveries when the Portuguese who went to Angola and Mozambique, brought back chile peppers enchanted by its flavour. In Swahili, the peppers were known as Piri-Piri and used to add “fire” to the food. Portuguese added garlic and the squeeze of lemon.

The sauce they create and combined with the typical grilled chicken became one of the simplest, usual and delicious delicacies of Portuguese cuisine. Also, the dish enjoys lots of fame in Anglo-Saxon countries.

The Portuguese Piri Piri chicken recipe is popular in the UK by a restaurant chain based in Johannesburg called Nando’s. The owners tried the recipe in 1987 at a Portuguese restaurant in Rosettenville. They knew they have tasted something that had to be shared. This is the reason why they opened the restaurant that has expanded in the UK and other countries and preserves the original Piri-Piri essence.

Timing note: Charcoal grilling takes its time. You need a charcoal grill to cook this recipe. Any other recipe that requires oven roasting, frying the peppers or braising the chicken won’t taste the same. Also, it’s a recipe that needs its time to marinate properly and for the flames and charcoal smell penetrate the skin. If you are looking for a 20-30 minutes recipe, this one is not for you. It would be worthy if you take the time to cook it.

You can add bay leaves to get a bitter taste to the chicken

The Portuguese Piri Piri chicken recipe

What you need

  • 1 large fresh chicken, about 2kg
  • Sea salt
  • Lemon wedges, to serve

For the Piri Piri marinade:

  • 4 plump red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 100ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • juice of 2 lemons, about 65ml
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika, sweet or hot
  • 20g bunch of parsley leaves with stalks (to use when grilling the chicken)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp flaked sea salt
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (optional)


  1. To make the marinade, put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until everything is well mixed and chopped up.
  2. Split open the chicken by removing the backbone but leaving it whole. Turn the bird on to its breast and carefully cut either side of the backbone with good cooking scissors. Cut off the foot joints and wing tips.
  3. Strip off all the skin from the chicken. (The wings skin is easier to remove after cooking). Remove any clear fat with the scissors.
  4. Place chicken, skin side up, on work the breast side is facing upwards.
  5. Using the palm of the hand, press on breastbone as evenly as possible to flatten the chicken. This will help it cook more quickly. Don’t worry if you can’t press hard enough to break the breastbone,  if the chicken looks flat, it will cook evenly.
  6. Pour over a significant part of the marinade and massage it into both sides are well covered. (Save the rest for when you cook the chicken)
  7. Cover it with cling film and let it chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. You can turn the chicken occasionally.
  8. Fire up your charcoal grill with coal or wood. Place the chicken high above when the embers are over their peak heat and are starting to look grey. Be careful so the flames don’t burn the skin.
  9. Let the chicken cook until it gets a fair golden brown colour. Then turn it over. Allow about 15 to 20 minutes each side.
  10. When you see that wings skin are starting to peel off, that means the chicken is almost ready. Dip the bunch of parsley leaves into the rest of Piri Piri marinade and baste generously into the chicken skin.
  11. Let it cook for almost 5 more minutes and then serve and eat immediately.

Note: Portuguese Piri Piri chicken recipe is all the rage at the moment. You can add more chillies to make this exquisite, moist chicken even hotter. If you don’t feel like preparing all the chicken you can use breasts and skinless chicken thighs instead.

Grilling on a charcoal grill

Charcoal grills are a bit of know-how required. It’s all a process from lighting the coals to cleaning when you finish cooking. It usually takes more time than gas models. However, they fill the food with that perfect smokey flavour that gets is well worth it. Whether if you are cooking the tenderest juicy meat or delicious Portuguese grilled sardines, coal and wood add up an incredible aroma to the environment.

You can add the chicken to the grill when the coal or the wood start to look grey

Looking for a charcoal grill? In our store, we have the best ones, from budget-friendly to the top greatest from the best brands in the market. We have Weber, Broil King, Napoleon charcoal grills and many more. Check our store!

Contact us or visit our store in Algarve for expert advice.

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