Weekend Recipe: Peri Peri Grilled Chicken

Peri Peri Grilled Chicken
America's Test Kitchen

The first step in making this spicy African grilled chicken dish from America's Test Kitchen is producing perfectly cooked meat and crisp skin.

To do this, we add plenty of salt to the spice rub and let the chicken sit overnight, which seasons the meat throughout and helps it stay juicy and moist when cooked. We then set up the grill with a cooler side and a hotter side, as well as a pan of water to help regulate the temperature. After rendering the skin and charring it on the hotter side, we move the chicken to the cooler side to finish cooking gently, placing the dark meat closer to the heat and the white meat farther away. The next step is giving the chicken robust flavor. We start with a paste of garlic, shallot, bay leaves, lemon zest and juice, and pepper. Five-spice powder, tomato paste and finely chopped peanuts give the dish complexity, depth and richness. Finally, we use more commonly available — and just as fruity-tasting — arbol chiles, along with some cayenne pepper, in place of hard-to-find peri peri peppers, including a range to accommodate different heat-level preferences.

Peri Peri Grilled Chicken
Serves 6 to 8


4-10 arbol chiles, stemmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons salt
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup juice (2 lemons)
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves, crushed
6 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (breasts, thighs and/or drumsticks), trimmed
½ cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped fine
1 (13 by 9-inch) disposable aluminum pan (if using charcoal) or 2 (9-inch) disposable aluminum pie plates (if using gas)
Lemon wedges

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This recipe requires refrigerating the spice paste-coated chicken for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours prior to cooking. When browning the chicken, move it away from the direct heat if any flare-ups occur. Serve the chicken with white rice.

1. Process 4 arbols, oil, salt, garlic, tomato paste, shallot, sugar, paprika, five-spice powder, lemon zest and juice, pepper, cayenne and bay leaves in blender until smooth, 10 to 20 seconds. Taste paste and add up to 6 additional arbols, depending on desired level of heat (spice paste should be slightly hotter than desired heat level of cooked chicken), and process until smooth. Using metal skewer, poke skin side of each chicken piece 8 to 10 times. Place chicken pieces, peanuts and spice paste in large bowl or container and toss until chicken is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

2A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent halfway and place disposable pan filled with 3 cups water on 1 side of grill. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over other half of grill (opposite disposable pan). Set cooking grate in place, cover and open lid vent halfway. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

2B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Place 2 disposable pie plates, each filled with 1 1/2 cups water, directly on 1 burner of gas grill (opposite primary burner). Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium-high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature between 325 and 350 degrees.)

3. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, skin side down, on hotter side of grill and cook until browned and blistered in spots, 2 to 5 minutes. Flip chicken and cook until second side is browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Move chicken to cooler side of grill and arrange, skin side up, with legs and thighs closest to fire and breasts farthest away. Cover (positioning lid vent over chicken if using charcoal) and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and legs and thighs register 175 degrees, 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes before serving, passing lemon wedges separately.

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