Cooking Italy: Grilled Chicken alla Diavola, Roman Style

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If it were not for the olive oil, one might not recognize this as “Italian.” It might seem to simply be “chicken on the grill.” But, the intense amount of peppercorns awaken the palate to something a bit special and devilish, thus the term, “alla Diavola.” Some recipes call for rosemary or other herbs, perhaps even hot hot pepper. But this is much more simpler, but not lacking in taste.

I chose this particular chicken recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for our cooking Italy group, because for most of us, it’s time to light the grill, and because I wanted to challenge myself.

Grilling chicken with bone and skin has always intimidated me, because it seems, it always burns and gets dried out. If you have those same fears, this is the dish to try, and you will be so pleasantly surprised as you impress new dinner guests with your amazing outdoor cooking abilities. At least, that’s how I think. And, as one who rarely prepares tasteless, skinless, boneless chicken breasts, summer chicken is back for Spinach Tiger!

Chicken needs and deserves it’s bones and skin when it isn’t to be fried in fat and garnished with sauce. A grilled boneless breast just doesn’t have the taste power of a piece of chicken on the bone.

I learned a secret from the Zuni Cafe signature chicken dish that I now apply to all chickens that get roasted or grilled. Salt and wrap in plastic for two or three days. The white meat will be just as tender a a thigh and takes all the “dry chicken” worry away.

Chicken alla Divalolo requires a bit of aggression. Cracking bones and crushing peppercorns with a hammer is part of the fun.

I am not the best at properly butchering chicken, but I followed the directions to cut up through the back of the chicken. Using kitchen shears and a boning knife, I removed the back bone and wrapped away to freeze and use for stock. Then I smashed the chicken breasts down to flatten out the chicken, while still being somewhat careful to not destroy it.

I salted the chicken for three days, rinsed patted dry and began the process. I placed peppercorns in a ziploc bag and crushed with a hammer, and placed all over the chicken on both sides. Then it was placed in the olive oil marinade for 3 hours. If you don’t do the salt process, you could marinate overnight or all day for a similar tender result.
Before grilling, I took the chicken out for one full hour to bring down the temperature. Even though I placed it on a very high heated grill, the skin did not burn. Some recipes call for using a brick to place over the chicken. I skipped this part and I had very satisfactory results. The brick can cause the chicken to dry out and char too much.

I was expecting a charred chicken with skin I would throw out, and was happily surprised that this turned out so beautifully cooked. The skin was the best part, so crispy but not charred at all. I still eat chicken skin and just can’t understand people who buy chicken on the bone with skin removed. It’s the best part. I ate the leg and both wings, while my husband was happy with a leg and thigh. Neither of us ate much of the breast even though it was tender and that remains our dinner for tonight.

Tell me, are you the type that eats the skin and sucks the bones or do discard most of the chicken and only eat the white meat? And does the idea of leftovers excite you or distress you? I adore left overs because I get to eat my food again without cooking, and it’s usually better.

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Cooking Italy: Grilled Chicken alla Diavola, Roman Style

A succulent way to grill chicken.
Prep Time4 hours
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time4 hours 30 minutes
Course: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Author: Angela Roberts


  • 1 teaspoon sea salt and more for seasoning
  • 3 1/2 pound organic chicken
  • 2 tablespoons peppercorns
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon or more


  • - 3 days in advance: Rinse and pat dry chicken. Cut up the middle of the back, press down. Cut out the back bone.
  • Salt inside and out, pat dry, wrap and refrigerate.
  • On cooking day, rinse chicken, pat dry, put in large bowl.
  • Crush peppercorns in a ziploc bag with hammer or mallet. Pour over chicken, pat into both sides.
  • Mix olive oil and lemon juice. Pour onto chicken. Marinate for 2 - 3 hours in refrigerator.
  • Take out of refrigerator, for one hour before cooking,
  • Light grill 30 minutes before grilling to get very hot.
  • Cut up through the back of the chicken and flatten chicken before placing it on grill.
  • Cook for 20 to 30 minutes until chicken is done (registers 160 with thermometer).

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