Iraqi Spice-Crusted Grilled Chicken

If you reside in the camp of bold flavors, then this bird is calling your name. Not only does it smell and taste wonderful, but the meat remains juicy while the skin gets nice and crispy. We paired ours with mixed vegetables that were grilled alongside the chicken, and an easy boxed rice dish. Some stores even sell the chicken already spatchcocked, but we prefer to buy it whole so that the extra parts can go into our poultry “body bag” and used to make stock.

To shorten the very long list of spices that make up the aromatic rub for traditional Iraqi grilled chicken, both curry powder and garam masala are used. These two Indian seasoning blends add up to about a dozen different spices at play in this recipe. Ground sumac in the rub lends the chicken earthy, citrusy notes and, along with the paprika, a deep, brick-red hue. But don’t omit the additional few spices listed!

Spatchcocked and grilled, the bird cooks in under an hour and is rich and complexly flavored, with smokiness from the grill. (If you’re using charcoal, don’t forget to open the grill vents, both on the bottom of the grill and on the lid. This is will allow airflow so the fire does not extinguish during the covered cooking time.)

Iraqi Spice-Crusted Grilled Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 2½ Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 Tbsp. ground sumac
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. sweet or hot paprika
  • ¾ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground cardamom
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs.
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


  1. In a small skillet over low, combine 1½ tablespoons of oil and the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and sizzling, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In another small bowl, stir together the sumac, coriander, curry powder, garam masala, paprika, cumin, cardamom, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture to the garlic oil and stir to form a paste.
  3. Place the chicken breast down on a cutting board. Using sturdy kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone, from top to bottom; remove and discard the backbone (or save to make broth). Open up the chicken, then turn it skin up. Use the heel of your hands to press down firmly on the thickest part of the breast until the wishbone snaps. Loosen the skin over the chicken’s breasts and thighs by gently working your fingers between the skin and the flesh.
  4. Using your fingers, evenly distribute the garlic-spice paste under the skin and rub it into the flesh. Sprinkle the remaining spice mixture evenly on both sides of the chicken, patting gently to help it adhere. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for about 45 minutes.
  5. Prepare a grill for indirect, high-heat cooking. For a charcoal grill, spread a large chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents and the lid vent. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate.
  6. Using tongs, rotate the chicken to bring the breast side closest to the heat. Cover and cook until the thickest part of the breast reaches 160°F and the thighs reach 175°F, another 25 to 35 minutes.
  7. Brush the skin of the chicken with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Using tongs and a wide spatula, flip the chicken skin down onto the hot side of the grill. Cook until the skin is lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Transfer skin up to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve with lemon wedges.

Adapted from a recipe found in Milk Street Magazine

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