Chicken al Mattone with Thyme Pesto

June 10, 2010
1 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 24 hours
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

Al Mattone means "with a brick". This Tuscan technique for grilling makes use of heavy bricks to weigh down a butterflied chicken so that it is pressed against the grate. The result is a juicy, smoky, perfectly cooked chicken with crispy golden skin. In this recipe, the chicken is marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and thyme overnight before it is grilled. It is served with a thyme pesto sauce. I knew it was going to be good. The aroma from the grill was intoxicating. The dogs were going berserk. The children came into the kitchen asking what smelled so good. We were not disappointed. This is a perfect meal for a casual summer dinner party, but it is simple enough to make anytime. —Waverly

Test Kitchen Notes

This is not one of those birds you need to reserve for a weekend BBQ. Waverly's use of larder staples, combined with the set and forget marinade and make-ahead pesto, means this is perfect for a Tuesday night meal that requires only crusty bread, a green salad and a bottle of wine. Seriously, the hardest part of this dish is finding the right sized stone along the garden path. —cheese1227

What You'll Need
  • 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds), rinsed and patted dry, and backbone removed
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme or lemon thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1-foot-square paving stone wrapped in aluminum foil (use a cast iron skillet if you can't find one)
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. To marinate the chicken: Place chicken, skin side up, in a glass baking dish. Press down on the center of the breast to break the sternum. The chicken should lie flat now. Rub it with marinade, making sure to loosen the skin and rub the marinade under the skin as well. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
  2. To grill the chicken: Remove chicken from refrigerator. Drain the marinade and pat the chicken dry. Season it with salt and pepper. Wrap your paving stone in foil (I pulled a cement paving stone out of my garden and washed it off). Prepare your grill. (Note: I threw a few mesquite wood chips onto my grill to give it a little something extra.) Brush your grill rack with a bit of oil. When the fire reaches medium-high heat and you can hold your hand over the grill about 5 seconds, place the chicken skin-side-down on the grill grate. Brush your wrapped paving stone with a little oil and then place it on top of the chicken. Grill for 12 to 15 minutes. Using grilling gloves, very carefully remove the stone. Flip the chicken, replace the stone on top, and grill until chicken is done, about 12 to 15 minutes longer. About five minuets before chicken is done, grill the lemon wedges. Transfer everything to a serving platter. Let chicken rest, covered with foil, for 5 to 10 minutes, and then cut into quarters.
  3. For the pesto: Combine parsley, thyme leaves, lemon zest, Parmesan, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor. When finely chopped, add olive oil in a steady stream until pesto is smooth. Season to taste with salt. (Note: this can be done up to 1 week ahead.)
  4. Serve grilled chicken with a dollop of pesto and a lemon wedge. Tell your diners to squeeze the lemon over the pesto. Enjoy.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Kathryn
  • Robin Compo
    Robin Compo
  • NatWhit
  • Midge
  • Printz
Waverly used to be a lawyer and is now a mother 24/7. She has made a commitment to cooking for her family and absolutely loves it even when her family does not. She is teaching them, one meal at a time, to enjoy wholesome homemade food. She abhors processed food but recognizes its insidious nature and accepts the fact that her children will occasionally get some Skittles, Doritos, or the like. Her philosophy and hope is that if she teaches them well at home, they will prefer wholesome healthy foods when they go out into the world without her.

25 Reviews

Jimbo May 28, 2017
From and old meat cutter, Once you have removed the back of the chicken, take your knife and make a slit down the middle of the breast then put your middle finger on the skin side of the breast and your other 2 fingers on the inside of the breast and you can pop the sternum out of the breast to make it lay flatter.
Kathryn May 17, 2017
I'm grill-less, could I roast this chicken in my oven with success? Any tips?
mm June 9, 2015
Maybe I did something wrong. Mine turned out bland. The technique of grilling was great, but the marinade did nothing for me
Audra May 24, 2021
I inject flavor by brining it for a day or two, in a mixture heavy on the spices, letting it sit at room temp a few hours before grilling then mopping the chicken with a slurry of the flavoring agent the last 10 minutes of cooking. For example I used sea salt, fresh garlic cloves, fresh habanero, and thyme in my brine. Then I mopped it with a slurry of lemon with peel, olive oil, thyme and fennel seeds. BTW, I don't add acid to my brines, it changes the texture of the meat. The heat with the habanero is very subtle, not really hot but flavorful.
Robin C. May 29, 2014
this can be done with a small turkey also
NatWhit September 13, 2013
This looks delicious. If I used bone-in split breasts instead of a whole chicken, do you think I should still use a brick?
Waverly September 13, 2013
I would. Pressing the chicken into the grill really encourages browning and thus the flavor. Without the brick, you still have a great grilled chicken breast, but it is not quite the same thing.
Midge July 15, 2013
We tried this last night and it was AMAZING. Thanks for another keeper Waverly. Your bbq shrimp has been in heavy rotation this summer too.
Foodiewithalife July 1, 2013
Everything about this sounds just right! I'll be making this chicken for a weekday dinner.

Printz June 30, 2013
I've made chicken this way for years & we love it. The pesto is a new slant tho and am anxious to try it. I use the double cast iron skillet trick- which I preheat in oven 1st.
Stefania K. June 30, 2013
I can't tell enough how good is the chicken like that!!!! mouth watering!
ChefJune May 24, 2013
This not only sounds good, it LOOKS gorgeous! Have to try this one.
kweber May 24, 2013
This is going to sound lame, but do you grill this with the grill lid down or up?
Waverly May 24, 2013
I did not close the lid on the grill for this recipe. Closing the lid promotes even cooking, but that is not a concern here since the whole chicken is flattened by splitting it and then placing a heavy paver on it. That said, I am sure your chicken would still be successful grilled with the lid on - just be sure to watch the cooking time as that might change.
LittleMissMuffin January 1, 2016
Wow - I am really surprised you can grill with the lid open and maintain a high enough temperature. I grill chicken and other food all the time and as soon as I open my grill lid, the temperature plummets. I will have to try this though!
QueenSashy May 23, 2013
cheese1227 May 20, 2013
The flavor of this chicken is fabulous!! Thanks for sharing!
Waverly May 24, 2013
Thank you for the generous review, cheese1227! I am happy that you enjoyed it.
AntoniaJames June 10, 2010
Love this! I use my largest, very heavy cast iron skillet, with one of my Dutch ovens sitting inside it, whenever I need a "brick" for this purpose. It works really well! (I also cook butterflied chickens using this method in the oven during the dead of winter when it's pouring down rain outside . . . lightly browning the chicken on the stove first.) Great recipe. ;o)
Waverly June 10, 2010
You absolutely make bricked chicken in the oven - you can even make it on the stove. And, if you don't have a one foot paver, please don't go out and buy one. Use what you have - like Antonia who used a Dutch oven to weigh her chicken down. Dr.Babs uses a cookie sheet with bricks on it. The point is to crush the chicken down onto the grate so that it browns. Bon apetit!
Printz June 30, 2013
I too use my oven for this recipe when outdoors cooking isn't possible- I prefer cast iron as my bricks :)
TheWimpyVegetarian June 10, 2010
I love to grill chicken this way! And it cooks so much faster. I can't eat nuts, but your pesto sounds really great.
drbabs June 10, 2010
So glad you posted this--it's how I grill chicken, too! You can also put a cookie sheet over the chicken and then weigh it down with bricks rather than put the paving stone directly on top of the chicken.
aargersi June 10, 2010
This sounds fabulous, we have been wanting to do a flat chicken and have not gotten around to it - now we will!! Plus I love plucking the stone out of the garden and throwing it on the grill.
mrslarkin June 10, 2010
This sounds really great! Thanks for the recipe.