Piri Piri Chicken

Many people are familiar with the Portuguese dish piri piri chicken. “Piri Piri” means “pepper pepper” in the Ronga language of Mozambique, a former colony of Portugal. It refers to the African bird’s eye chili pepper. Over time, the spicy piri piri sauce made its way to South Africa, where crushed piri piri peppers are blended with onion, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and other herbs and spices. Chicken is marinated in the piri piri sauce and then grilled, giving it a spicy crust.

To capitalize on the dish’s popularity in South Africa, Nando’s, a small restaurant specializing in piri piri chicken, opened in Johannesburg in 1987. Today, Nando’s operates more than 1,000 restaurants in 35 countries around the world. This recipe is very close to Nando’s.

South African Piri-Piri Butterflied Chicken

Piri Piri Chicken

The chicken in this recipe is very spicy with a crispy crust and tender insides. It is first spatchcocked (butterflied), which is easy to learn (see below) and will quickly become your go-to for grilling or roasting poultry. After marinating for a few hours, the chicken is then grilled, sauced, and devoured. Serve with French fries and a nice green salad.
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Course: BBQ, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine: Portuguese, South Africa
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Marinade Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 50 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: My Hungry Traveler


  • Food Processor or blender
  • Poultry Shears
  • small saucepan
  • Disposable aluminum baking pan (to fit over ½ of grill)


  • 1 3½ to 4 pound whole chicken
  • ¼ cup Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Ginger, 2-inch piece peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 small Onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 cloves Garlic, peeled
  • cup Piri Piri sauce, Jamaican hot sauce, or Sriracha
  • cup Commercial BBQ sauce
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup `Olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 Lemon, juiced
  • 1 tsp Each, salt and pepper

Piri Piri Sauce

  • 3 tbsp Butter
  • 3 tbsp Cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp Piri Piri hot sauce or another favorite hot sauce
  • 2 tbsp Lemon juice


  • In a food processor or blender (or by hand), finely chop cilantro, ginger, and garlic. Add piri-piri sauce, oil, lemon juice, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Process until blended.
  • Flatten spatchcocked chicken skin side down. Pour ½ of marinade into a ceramic 11x7x2-inch baking dish. Place chicken skin-side down in dish, opening it like a book. Pour remaining marinade over. Cover and chill at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.
  • To grill, remove grate and heat ½ of the grill. When medium hot, place aluminum baking pan across unlit part of grill and put grate back on. Place chicken skin-side up over pan on unlit side of grill. Cover and cook for about 40 minutes, until thigh reads 165°F (74°C). Move to hot part of grill skin-side down and crisp skin for no more than 5 minutes, being careful not to burn it. Transfer to a platter and pour warm sauce over.


  • While chicken is cooking, heat 3 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves and 2 minced garlic cloves. Cook about 2 minutes until garlic begins to change color. Add 2 tbsp piri piri sauce (or another hot sauce) along with 2 tbsp lemon juice. Turn heat to low and cook 2 minutes more, stirring.

How to Splatchcock a Chicken

  • Lay the chicken flat on a surface, legs down.
  • Hold the neck and cut down 1 side of the back with shears until the end. Do the same thing on the other side or the backbone. Remove backbone
  • Pry open the chicken, turn over and press-pound until it's flat with the legs splayed.


  • Save removed backbone to use later for homemade chicken stock.
  • If it’s not possible to grill, put the spatchcocked chicken on a baking rack set over a baking sheet. Cook chicken in a 350F (177C) oven until thighs reach 165F (74C), about 30 minutes. 


Calories: 646kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 43g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 22g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 1328mg | Potassium: 649mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 381IU | Vitamin C: 45mg | Calcium: 88mg | Iron: 3mg

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