Growing up Italian in the 1950s wasn’t too difficult in Brooklyn. After all about 50% of my neighborhood shared my ethnic heritage. But when my parents purchased a summer home in a private lake community in northern New Jersey, I began to understand the struggles that my family had when they first arrived in the United States.

The community where we spent most of our summers was predominantly WASP. My uncle Al had bought home there and was approved to join the community club largely because he was a physician. A few years later my father’s application was accepted for a similar reason, he was an attorney. Over time, more Italian families gained entrance, but somehow we were always regarded with some skepticism.

I recall sitting on our patio one afternoon as our neighbor, a long time member with staunch German heritage once commented to my mother and aunt how we were different from other Italians she knew. “You’re not what we expected,” she said. “No babushkas, not loud, not…”

When she left, I asked my mother how she could tolerate such talk. “That’s what prejudice is all about,” she said. “You’ll never change her. But don’t give her a chance to find fault with you.”

A few days later, my feisty aunt, however, decided to address our neighbor’s comments not so much with words, but with food. On our outdoor grill, she cooked a chicken that was marinated in olive oil, lemon, and plenty of garlic. As the chicken cooked, she basted it with the marinade using a parsley brush. Twenty minutes into the cooking, our neighbor came by asking what that lovely aroma was. My aunt escorted her to the grill and said “grilled chicken; it’s the aroma of garlic that you’re probably picking up. A recipe we brought over with us from the old country.”

After our neighbor left, my aunt said, with a subtle smile, “I think she got the message.”

The other evening I decided to recreate this recipe on our small outdoor electric grill.

Italian Grilled Chicken

2 lemons, zested and juiced

1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or rasped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 to 4 pound chicken, spatchcocked and pressed flat, wing tips removed (Here’s a link to instructions for spatchcocking a chicken.)

  1. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients except the chicken and whisk until well combined. Set aside 1/4 of the marinade to used as a dipping sauce.
  2. Place the spatchcocked chicken in a gallon-size zip-lock bag and add the remaining marinade. Seal the bag and make sure the marinade is well distributed over the chicken. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 3 hours or so.
  3. Place the chicken in a two-sided hinged grilling basket to keep the chicken flat. Place on the grill skin side down, baste well with the marinade, and allow to cook for about 25 minutes. Turn the chicken, baste with remaining marinade, and cook for another 20 to 25 minutes.*
  4. Remove from the grill and let the chicken rest covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into quarters and serve with the reserved marinade.


*My cooking times are based on my small electric grill with the lid closed as much as possible. I’m not a grill master and you may need to adjust the cooking times based on your own experience with your grill.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

4 thoughts on “Italian Grilled Chicken

  1. Lovely way to do a chicken, indeed. But “Babushkas”? Half my family is Polish, and that’s what they called our older women. Your German neighbor must not have been too clear in the area of geography!

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