Harissa chicken is an African dish featuring a quick marinade with zesty, smoky and spicy flavors. Use this recipe to make chicken thighs on the grill taste better than ever!
The flavor of this African dish is bold, vibrant and spicy, with smoky and slightly sweet undertones. Those flavors come primarily from ONE ingredient; harissa, a Tunisian hot chili paste. It's the primary ingredient for the spicy chicken marinade.
Adding Flavor with Marinades
Harissa paste is a condiment made with warm spices and dried arbol chilis. Although it's simple and unassuming, chili paste has the ability to add big flavor to otherwise bland foods like plain chicken, pork, ground beef, you name it!
Don’t misunderstand, though. If it's properly cooked to perfection, boneless, skinless chicken is usually juicy and tender but it it still lacks in flavor a bit. To boost the flavor, you can add seasoning to a basic chicken marinade.
But my favorite way to add flavor to a chicken marinade is by using a thick, spicy condiment like harissa paste. Adding it right into the marinade adds flavor, but it also gives the chicken a vibrant color!
Harissa Chicken Thighs on the Grill
There are several ways to make harissa chicken. Some people like to bake or roast it in the oven, and others like to slowly cook it on a stove top. During the warm months of summer, you can keep your kitchen cool by making harissa chicken on the grill.
You can make it with bone-in or boneless chicken breasts or thighs. Occasionally, I'll make harissa chicken wings, and legs/drumsticks are great too.
For this recipe, I recommend using boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which take less than 15 minutes to cook on a grill. Quick summer dinner, anyone?
Making the Spicy Chicken Marinade (Recipe video)
Watch the recipe video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post to see how easy the marinade for chicken harissa is to make!
Start by roasting a few peppers to make the harissa paste. Yes, you can buy it, but it's tastes so much better when it's fresh!
After you make the hot chili paste, making the harissa sauce marinade is as simple as stirring in a few extra spices, some honey, lemon juice, and olive oil.
Marinating Time for Chicken
There are people who marinate chicken in the harissa sauce overnight. While I'm sure that it makes meal prep easier, I don't recommend it.
Marinating for hours is needed to tenderize tough cuts of beef and other meats that have connective tissue, but poultry doesn't have that.
Because pultry doesn't require tenderizing, the sole purpose of marinating chicken is to add flavor.
For this reason, I recommend a marinating time for chicken of 30 to 60 minutes at the most.
After an hour, the acids in lemon juice will begin to break down the protein, causing it to become mushy.
What to Serve with Grilled Chicken Harissa
Keep the meal light, fresh and healthy by serving it with healthy sides like Pomegranate Barley Salad, warm Moroccan carrots in yogurt sauce.
Other great options are bulgur salad or Moroccan vegetable couscous cakes and Greek beans.
For even more citrus flavor, make a quick lemon pickle to serve with the meal.
Harissa Chicken on the Grill
- 2 lbs chicken thighs boneless skinless
- ½ cup harissa paste
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 4 lemons
- 2 plum tomatoes sliced lengthwise
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- To a medium bowl, add harissa paste, honey, olive oil, paprika, black pepper and juice from 1 lemon. Whisk ingredients to combine.
- Use paper towels to pat boneless skinless chicken thighs dry. Use tip of knife to make small slits over the thick parts for marinade penetration. Season both sides with kosher salt. Place in the bowl with harissa mixture and turn to coat evenly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the remaining 3 lemons in half for grilling and preheat grill to 350°-375°F.
- Grill chicken thighs for 4 minutes on each side. In the last 3 minutes of grilling, add the lemons and tomatoes to the grill.
- Remove all foods from grill and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serve immediately with garnish of chopped cilantro and extra harissa paste on the side.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.