BBQ Piri Piri Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Onion Salad

In the era of Nando’s – the ubiquitous South African restaurant chain specialising in peri-peri chicken – this fiery chicken recipe has become a favourite across the UK. It’s a dish born of European colonisation and global trade. The Portuguese traded chillies and many other products from the Americas to Europe, and across their colonies in Africa and Asia. There is some debate about whether the dish originated in Portugal (and was thereby introduced to Mozambique and the rest of Southern Africa) or whether it was the other way around, but the name itself comes from the Swahili pilipili (meaning pepper), from which the Portuguese derived piri-piri. It’s most commonly spelled peri-peri in English.

This recipe is from Live Fire by Helen Graves and is inspired by a piri piri pilgrimage Helen made to Portugal, guided in her quest by Marco Mendes, founder of London’s Casa do Frango Portuguese restaurants.

Piri Pri Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Onion Salad

Helen has brought together elements of the piri piri chicken she enjoyed in Portugal with the much-loved flavours of the famous high-street chain.

We found this dish easy to make and absolutely delicious. Confession: we dialled down the chilli level a bit to suit our tastes!

Piri Pri Chicken Thighs

To find out more, read my in-depth review of Helen Graves’ Live Fire cookbook.

Piri Piri Chicken Thighs with Tomato and Onion Salad

A few years back I went on a piri piri pilgrimage to Portugal with a group of journalists and Marco Mendes, founder of London’s Casa do Frango restaurants. Marco grew up eating at traditional piri piri restaurants (‘frangarias’) around the Algarve and he took us around some of his favourites, the kind with multiple rotisseries spinning chickens over charcoal and lazy Susans on every table, for whizzing chips to your mates. Piri piri originated with the first chilli plants in South and Central America, which were spread around the world by Portuguese explorers. The piri piri chicken dish, reckons Marco, was a product of immigration back to Portugal from Africa in the ’70’s, and the fact that chicken was abundant and affordable around the same time.
I think we can all agree that piri piri did pretty darn well for itself. Here’s my version, which falls somewhere between the traditional Portuguese recipes and modern takes popularised by the high-street chain.
Prep Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings 4
Author Helen Graves



  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 5 garlic cloves,crushed or finely grated
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1.3 kg/3 lb)

Piri piri sauce

  • 5 mild red chillies
  • 2 bird’s eye chillies
  • 2 teaspoons smoked hot paprika
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar

Tomato and onion salad

  • 4 large or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • a generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


(Prep time includes 1 hour marinating time)
Setup: Indirect cooking
Equipment: Tongs


  • Combine the lemon juice, garlic and salt to make a marinade. Spread all over the chicken thighs and set aside (room temperature is fine) for 1 hour.
  • Prepare a barbecue for indirect cooking over medium heat, with the coals banked to one side.
  • Make the piri piri sauce by combining all the ingredients with a generous pinch of salt in a blender and blending to a coarse paste. Reserve half the paste for brushing the chicken as it cooks (the other half is to serve).
  • Cook the marinated chicken thighs on the side without any coals with the lid closed for about 30 minutes and vents half open, brushing them regularly with the piri piri sauce and turning with tongs to ensure even cooking. Crisp up the skin over direct heat, if necessary.
  • Make the tomato salad by combining the tomatoes and onion on a serving plate. Sprinkle over the oregano. Add the lemon juice and a big swirl of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve the chicken with the tomato salad and the remaining piri piri sauce. This is also great with chips (obviously).

To Cook Indoors:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas 4).
  • Cook the chicken in a roasting tray in the oven for 40–45 minutes, brushing regularly with the marinade.

This is a really straightforward crowd-pleaser! The flavours are so good and the chicken comes out beautifully tender inside with a lovely charring on the surface.

Piri Pri Chicken Thighs (Ribs and Tomatoes also shown)


Kavey Eats received a review copy of Live Fire: Seasonal Barbecue Recipes and Stories of Live Fire Traditions Old and New from publishers Hardie Grant. This recipe is published with permission. Book photography by Rob Billington. 

Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating