Grilled Piri-Piri Chicken

Spicy piri-piri (or peri-peri) sauce is thought to have its origins in Portugal and was brought to Africa in the 15th century. Now, in addition to Portugal, it is most popular in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

The Portuguese Empire was both one of the first to establish colonies throughout the world and also one of the last to quit their colonies. Portugal claimed ownership of the West African nation of Guinea in 1446 AD, and this is where their massive enslavement of Africans began. Mozambique (Southeastern Africa) and Timor Leste (in Southeast Asia) only gained independence in 1975 after the fall of the authoritarian "New State" government of Portugal in 1973.

The national language of Mozambique is Portuguese and the majority religion is Roman Catholicism. Many, if not most, of the staple foods of Mozambique were brought to the country by the Portuguese from the Americas, and include cassava, cashews, maize, potatoes, chili peppers. Many of the piri-piri chefs in South Africa came from Mozambique.

Piri-piri marinade is a combination of chilies, garlic, lemon juice and other spices. By adjusting the number and specific kinds of chilies used, it can range from mildly hot to inferno level. Although piri-piri sauce can be used with other meats, it most often used with chicken. Chicken wings, drumsticks, thighs or even a spatchcocked whole chicken can be grilled with piri-piri.

** To learn how to spatchcock a chicken, visit:

Piri-piri is actually a type of hot chili (Capsicum frutescens) similar to bird's eye chili (commonly known as Thai chilies, although again all chili peppers have their origin in the Americas). Piri-piri also goes by the names African Devil or African Red Devil. Piri-Piri chilies are a little hotter than Thai Chilies and a little less hot than a standard habanero. "Peri" is the Swahili name for pepper so saying "peri-peri pepper" is triply redundant!

Piri-piri chicken has gained a great deal of popularity thanks to the South African restaurant chain Nandos, which now has over 1000 sites in over 35 countries. Currently in the US, there are Nandos restaurants in Washington D.C., Illinois, Virginia and Maryland. You can buy Nando's Peri-Peri Sauce on Amazon or at Ralphs. Or you can make your own, as we will show you how!

You can buy Piri-Piri Seeds to plant or dried Piri-Piri Seed Pods to make your own sauce. If you find online piri-piri powder online, be sure to read the ingredients because at least some (like "Spice House" brand) don't contain any piri-piri peppers. If you are in rush for a super spicy version, you can use more commonly available habanero peppers, slightly less hot Thai red chilies or cayenne chilies.
For this recipe I used a combination of Thai red chilies and fresh red cayenne chilies. The result was only medium hot.

Important Note: The chicken should be marinaded in the sauce for a minimum of 4 hours, preferably overnight. If you purchase piri-piri sauce, it is a good idea to add all the other ingredients to the marinade as well.

Piri-Piri Marinade Ingredients and Preparation:


Either in a mortar and pestle or a food processor, create a paste from the all the listed ingredients.

Grilled Piri-Piri Chicken Preparation:



  1. Wearing gloves, thoroughly coat the chicken in the piri-piri sauce and place in a container.
  2. Refrigerate chicken for 4 or more hours.
  3. Grill the chicken on a medium-hot grill for 10 to 15 minutes on each side.
  4. The chicken is done when it reaches 165°F.
  5. Serve with rice or fried potatoes and a vegetable of your choice.

Bom Proveito!

Recipe and photos by T. Johnston-O'Neill

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