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Grilled Za'atar Chicken with Garlic Yogurt and Cilantro

Grilled Yogurt Marinated Chicken with Za'atar.
Grilled Yogurt Marinated Chicken with Za'atar.Ryan Liebe for The New York Times
Cook Time:
30 mins
Prep Time:
10 mins

Chef notes

This spicy, herby chicken is full of bright, zesty flavors and is very easy to make. The yogurt tenderizes the chicken as it marinates, making the meat very tender. It goes with everything — but is especially nice with pita or other flatbread bread and a big cucumber-tomato salad.

Technique tip: If you're broiling instead of grilling, you can line your sheet pan with foil for easier clean up. Don't use parchment paper, it can burn.

Za'atar is the name for both a traditional Middle Eastern seasoning blend (available in large supermarkets and online) and also pungent green herb that traditionally gives the blend its intense, earthy character. The hardy herb, which grows wild, tastes like a cross between oregano, marjoram, savory and thyme — all of which are often used in dried za'atar spice blends. Like all spice blends, recipes vary widely depending on the region and the cook, but most include ground sumac berries for acidity, toasted sesame seeds for their rich, toasty notes and a little salt as well.

Swap option: You can swap in chicken breasts for the thighs, just watch them carefully; they may cook faster than the dark meat.


  • 6 cloves garlic, finely grated, pressed or minced
  • 2 lemons, zested
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional sprigs for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • tablespoons za'atar, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram, plus additional sprigs for garnish
  • teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs



In a large bowl, combine 5 grated garlic cloves, half the lemon zest, 1/3 cup yogurt, cilantro, oil, za'atar, oregano or marjoram, 1¾ teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add chicken and toss until well-coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 24 hours.


When ready to cook, light the grill to medium-high or heat your broiler with the rack 3 inches from the heat source. Remove chicken from bowl, reserving the marinade, and grill until charred in spots, 4 to 7 minutes, or place on sheet pan and broil for 4 to 7 minutes. Using a pastry brush or spoon, brush with reserve marinade, flip the chicken and grill, or broil, for another 3 to 6 minutes, until just cooked through.


While the chicken is cooking, place remaining 2/3 cup yogurt in a small bowl. Stir in the reserved grated garlic clove and lemon zest, and remaining salt and pepper. Cut one zested lemon in half and set aside for serving (save the other zested lemon for another use).


To serve, place chicken on a serving platter and drizzle with olive oil and a large squeeze of lemon. Top with cilantro and oregano or marjoram sprigs and serve with yogurt sauce.