Italian Grilled Chicken


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

Spicy Grilled Chicken Roman Style


Last night, we grilled on the terrace for the first time this year. Not allowed by our building to use charcoal or propane, we have a small outdoor electric grill which does have its limitations (size, heat, etc.). Nevertheless, the grill is large enough to accommodate a splayed chicken held in place with a clamp grill, like the one used to grill hot dogs.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite Italian cookbooks, Cooking the Roman Way. (The book is out or print, but is available in an affordable Kindle edition.) It calls for a four-pound chicken with its backbone removed and then flattened with a mallet. You can either do this at home or, if you’re like me, ask you butcher to do the dirty deed.

The result is a juicy lemony chicken, fragrant with rosemary and garlic, with crispy skin and moist meat.

Galleto alla Diavola (Adapted from Cooking the Roman Way by David Downie)
4 pound chicken, back bone removed , spread, and flattened with a mallet or rolling pin.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 sprigs of rinsed and dried rosemary (remove the leaves from two and chop fine; leave the other 4 whole)
2 lemons juiced and halves flattened
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (The recipe says you can also use 2 peperoncini, Italian hot chili; but these can be rather hard to find.)
2 strips bacon
Kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper (The recipe specifies fine salt, but I chose coarse Kosher.)

1. Rinse and pat dry the chicken and place it in a baking dish large enough to accommodate it spread open.

2. In a small bowl, place the minced garlic, 2 sprigs of minced fresh rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon (or a tad more if you really like things hot) of crushed red pepper flakes, the juice of two lemons, and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Flatten the juiced lemon halves and reserve. Mix thoroughly.

3. Using a basting brush, spread this mixture on both sides (skin and meat) of the chicken.

4. Secure 1 slice of bacon with a toothpick to each inner side of the chicken. And then place two sprigs of rosemary over each slice of bacon. Top these with the flattened lemon halves. Season the chicken generously (or to taste) with Kosher salt and fresh coarsely ground black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and/or foil and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for at least one hour or even better over night. (I went for about 8 hours.)

5. Preheat your grill or build a medium-hot charcoal fire. (You can also do this dish in the broiler, but unless you’re good at broiling, I would not attempt it.)


6. Place the chicken in the clamp grill with the rosemary. (I removed the lemons.) Clamp it shut and place the chicken on the grill. (I started skin side down.) Cook turning frequently until cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. (Given my grill, I cooked the chicken for almost 50 minutes and turned it almost every 10 minutes.) You can tell when the chicken is done by pricking it with a fork and the juices run clear. You can also use an instant-read thermometer.

The book gives directions for cooking the chicken either under a broiler or on a grill without the clamp grill using a steel spatula. Given the frequent turning and the size of the bird, I think it’s better shelling out a few bucks for the clamp grill.

Serve hot.

We served with fingerling potatoes roasted with garlic and herbs followed by an arugula salad.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc