Fire up your grill to whip up this Iraqi grilled chicken recipe! Tender chicken is coated in a homemade Middle Eastern-inspired spice rub, then grilled for charred and delicious results. It’s the ultimate barbecue dish!
I originally published this recipe on my sister site, Kevin is Cooking, back in 2014, after reading about it in an article on Saveur.com. It was shared by an American soldier who tasted (and subsequently craved) the grilled chicken while stationed in Iraq.
Local Iraqis call this dish, Djaj Bil-Bahar Il-Asfar, named for bahar asfar (yellow-spice), the feisty spice rub that's used to season the poultry. It is believed that the spice blend was brought to the Middle East via the Silk Road trade route coming from South Asia.
I love hosting barbecues when the warm weather hits and I’m constantly on the hunt for new recipes from the Silk Road that I can throw on the grill. Some of my favorites include shashlik (pork shish kabobs), grilled saffron chicken, and these grilled lamb skewers (yang rou chuan). Today, I’m taking things to the Middle East to present this Iraqi grilled chicken recipe!
Course: Main Dish
Recipe Difficulty: Easy 🥄
Bone-in chicken halves, quarters or single pieces, rubbed with aromatic Middle Eastern spices, marinated overnight, then grilled to perfection.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Chicken - I prefer the serving size of chicken quarters, but as you will see in the photos, I used bone-in chicken breasts the last time I made this dish. If you're cooking for a large group, you may want to grill individual pieces. You can also spatchcock the chicken.
- Spice Rub - The rest of the ingredients for this grilled chicken recipe are for your special spice rub:
- Cardamom Pods - This spice boasts a warm herby flavor that’s similar to a cross between mint and pepper.
- Dried Arbol Chiles - Nutty and smoky, these chiles work wonderfully with the other flavors.
- Whole Cloves - Another warm spice to add to the mix.
- Coriander Seeds - These seeds are fresh and almost citrusy in taste.
- Black Peppercorns - Spicy without being too over the top. This spice tastes delicious when grilled!
- Dried Rose Petals - For a floral and fruity addition.
- Curry Powder - Make my homemade version!
- Ground Cinnamon - The unique thing about this spice rub is the use of warm spices like cinnamon.
- Ground Sumac - Often used in Middle Eastern recipes, sumac is also fruity and citrusy.
- Ground Ginger - Spicy and sweet and a lot less intense than fresh ginger.
- Allspice - This ingredient marries well with the cinnamon.
- Nutmeg - In keeping with its name, this spice is nutty and warm in flavor.
- Ground Fenugreek - This spice is also nutty, with a hint of sweetness.
- Salt - To taste.
- Garlic - Mash up 8 cloves to create a garlic paste.
- Lemons - You’ll need them for the spice blend as well as for a garnish.
- Olive Oil - Oil makes rubbing the spice mix onto the chicken easier.
Recipe Video: Grilling Iraqi Chicken
Watch the video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post for tips on how to grill bone-in chicken.
HOW TO MAKE IRAQI GRILLED CHICKEN
- Toast The Spices. Place a skillet over medium heat and add the cardamom, chiles, cloves, coriander, cumin, and peppercorns. Toast until you hear the seeds pop, or about 1-2 minutes. Allow them to cool and then transfer them to a spice or coffee grinder along with the dried rose petals. Grind the mixture together until it forms a powder.
- Create The Spice Marinade. Place the ground spices into a bowl and add in the curry, cinnamon, sumac, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, fenugreek, salt, garlic, the juice of one lemon, and olive oil to form a paste for your marinade.
- Coat The Chicken In The Spices. Rub the spice blend over the chicken pieces making sure to press so that it sticks. Don’t forget to lift the wings up to get the spices there as well. You want to spice mix to completely cover everything! Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Grill The Chicken. The next day, preheat your grill to 400°F. Make sure that the grates are clean and brush them with oil to prevent sticking. Remove the chicken from the fridge and shake off any excess spices. Rub the poultry again before placing it on the grill, skin side up. Roast for 40-45 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165° F. Baste the chicken with the juice of a lemon, a bit of water, and any remaining spice mix at least two times as it roasts.
- Remove From Grill & Garnish. If you find that the outside of your grilled chicken starts to burn before the interior is fully cooked, move it to a cooler area of the grill. You can also tent it with foil until it’s done. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes after you remove it from the grill and serve with lemon slices.
As written, the chicken dry rub yields about ½ cup of seasoning. That is more than enough to season a 4-pound chicken, so don't worry if some of the blend falls off.
Use indirect cooking if necessary.
If the skin is getting too dark for your liking, move the pieces over to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking.
Use a cooking thermometer.
As mentioned earlier, bone-in chicken cooks much differently than boneless pieces. The bones helps to keep the meat juicy while it's cooking, but you will need to use a cooking thermometer to know for sure that the meat is cooked through.
Iraqi grilled chicken quarters are safe to eat when the internal temperature at the thickest portion reaches 163°F. You'll want to allow the meat to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. During that rest time, cooking will continue for a few minutes, bringing the internal temperature up to 165°F.
Should I Put Oil On Chicken Before Grilling?
That’s not necessary for this grilled chicken recipe. Thanks to the olive oil in the spice rub marinade, you don’t have to worry about it sticking. If you prefer to be extra careful, make sure to put some oil on the grill grates before adding the chicken.
How Long Do I Grill Chicken?
It depends on what kind of chicken you use. If using smaller pieces like breasts or wings, you should only have to grill it for about 12 minutes. For larger pieces like chicken quarters, you’ll have to let them roast for 40-45 minutes. The most important thing is to check that it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
How Do You Keep Chicken Moist On The Grill?
The key is in basting it! Remember that you can create a baste for this grilled chicken recipe by mixing the juice of 1 lemon with water and a bit of leftover spice mix from the marinade.
What to Serve with Iraqi Grilled Chicken
This post, originally published on Silk Road Recipes August, 2021, was updated with new content, photos and/or video in August, 2022.
Iraqi Grilled Chicken
- 4 lb bone-in chicken whole, cut in half, quarters, or single pieces
- 6 cardamom pods
- 6 dried arbol chiles stemmed
- 4 whole cloves
- 3 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 3 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 3 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoon dried rose petals
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground sumac
- 3 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoon allspice
- 1½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 cloves garlic mashed into a paste
- 3 lemons separated
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- Heat the cardamom, chiles, cloves, coriander, cumin and peppercorns in a 10″ skillet over medium heat until seeds pop, 1-2 minutes. Allow to cool and transfer to a spice grinder (or coffee grinder) with the dried rose petals and grind. Transfer to a bowl and with a whisk stir in curry, cinnamon, sumac, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, fenugreek, salt, mashed garlic, the juice of one lemon (2-3 tablespoons) and olive oil. This will be a loose paste.
- Rub the spice mix all over chicken pieces and press the spice mixture to coat and adhere. Lift the wings up, get under there and rub it in. Get every nook and cranny of that bird! Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Heat your grill to 400°F. Clean grill and oil the grates to prevent sticking.
- Shake off excess spice rub or clumps from chicken. Give each chicken piece a good rub all over once again prior to roasting. Place chicken on grill skin side up and roast for 40-45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken reads 165°F.
- Juice second lemon and mix with ¼ cup water and remaining spice rub in bowl or bag used to marinate chicken in. Use this mixture to baste the chicken twice while roasting.
- If outside starts to burn before chicken is cooked, move to cooler area of grill or tent with foil until done. Rest chicken 10 minutes and slice third lemon. Serve lemon slices with chicken.
If the skin is getting too dark for your liking, move the pieces over to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. Use a cooking thermometer.
As mentioned earlier, bone-in chicken cooks much differently than boneless pieces. The bones helps to keep the meat juicy while it's cooking, but you will need to use a cooking thermometer to know for sure that the meat is cooked through. Iraqi grilled chicken quarters are safe to eat when the internal temperature at the thickest portion reaches 163°F. You'll want to allow the meat to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. During that rest time, cooking will continue for a few minutes, bringing the internal temperature up to 165°F. Recipe adapted from Saveur.
*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.