We are very funny about BBQs on the whole in the UK. We seem very happy with the idea of sausages, burgers and even, these days, some pulled pork, but rarely anything on the bone.

Now, as most cooks will tell you, meat or fish cooked on the bone often has a better flavour than that cooked off the bone. So, here’s an idea!

We all love a pigeon breast, and I know it’s a simple, clean, quick and convenient way to deal with the birds – particularly if you are lucky enough to live where there are plenty of them – but the younger birds really are better cooked on the bone. They are tender and delicate enough to make it really worthwhile, and this recipe will work very well indeed – it’s a fingers dish though, none of that cutlery nonsense, please.

You are all expert pigeon shots I am sure, so I won’t bore you with the details of how to recognise a younger bird, but for those of you new to the sport these are the ones without the neck bar, with a slight brown mottling to the feathers and a suicidal approach to the decoys.

Once you have selected some lovely young specimens, pluck them and eviscerate them in the usual way. This recipe will benefit from a little time in the marinade, but don’t let that put you off if you are a last minute kind of person – just crack right on and get them over the fire.

You will need some bay twigs for this recipe to work at its best. The way the aromatic wood flavours the meat as it cooks is unique and there is no other way to get that flavour, so find a bay tree and make yourself some stout skewers for the spatchcock job.

And, just to be clear, a barbecue is a live fire or smouldering coals, it is never a gas grill. Ever!


For the Pigeons

  • 4 young pigeons, plucked and dressed
  • 8 small bay wood skewers
  • 2 tablespoons of rape seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon cracked green peppercorns
  • a little chopped rosemary, thyme and mint
  • salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced

For the dressing

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig each parsley, basil, mint and coriander
  • a good pinch of garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
  • Plus a nicely burned down charcoal BBQ.


  1. Begin by spatchcocking your young birds. I do this simply by using a stout pair of scissors and snipping up each side of the spine. Then, place the spineless bird breast-side up on a chopping board and press down firmly to flatten it out a little. You may need to crack the breast bone from the inside with a knife, but you also may not.
  2. Using your lovely bay tree skewers – or whatever you prefer – spit the flattened bird cross ways so that it will stay flat over the fire. This may require you to puncture holes in the birds using a knife as you go – bay is not the stiffest of twigs I have ever come across – but you will find your way easily enough.
  3. Now, mix the garlic, rosemary, thyme, mint, green peppercorns and salt with the rapeseed oil and smear this all over the birds. Leave them for a while if you can. To make the dressing, just chuck all the ingredients in a blender and whiz them up to make a paste. Season as required – with some chilli if you like?!
  4. Cook the birds over the coals until just cooked – turn them a bit, but not too often. I tend to start them breast-side up so the carcass is heat facing and, once flipped, you may find you need to prop them up against each other to get at the edges and achieve a good even cook. Don’t overdo them – they will be a bit livery if you do. Leave them somewhere warm to rest for a few minutes and then tuck in with some of the dressing on top.
  5. Sometimes, I will pull the meat from the bones, dress with a little of the herb paste and stuff into a pitta bread – but only if I am feeling very refined at the time. Mostly, I just tear them from the bones like a maddened cave dweller… it’s rather satisfying.