Grilled Pigeons Egyptian Style

5 from 3 votes
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A plate of grilled pigeon with rice pilaf.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Pigeons are an unloved species. Scorned as flying rats, denigrated both in the field and at the table. How this came to be so has a lot to do with Columbia livia’s habit of nesting en masse in cities. Yes, I have seen city pigeons eat cigarette butts and half-chewed Doritos. But take the pigeon out of the city and you have one of the finest game birds in the world.

Don’t believe me? Well, for starters, pigeons are fast. Really fast. Doves happen to be fast, with a top speed of around 55 miles per hour. What about ducks? Aren’t they speedsters? Yep, a canvasback can top 70 miles per hour.

Now consider the pigeon. He normally flies around 45 to 50 miles per hour, but if you freak him out, a fast pigeon can top an astounding 90 miles per hour. No other game bird flies this fast.

And even if you hit one, you better hit it squarely or use something bigger than dove loads. Pigeons can absorb an enormous amount of punishment. I’ve hit pigeons dead on with target loads and they just shrugged it off. Lesson learned. Now I hunt them with No. 6 shot. Doves will die with No. 8s or even No. 9s.

But don’t pigeons taste terrible? Absolutely not. If if you like doves or squab, you like pigeons. They are basically the same.

The only thing about pigeons you need to remember is that they are larger, smarter, tougher and older than doves. A typical pigeon you might shoot can be between 3 and 6 years old. Think about that for a second: A six-year-old deer is getting up there. So yeah, an old pigeon can be tough.

All of this brings me to a recipe. You see, several cultures not only eat pigeons, but enjoy them very much. The British are one; wood pigeons are widely eaten in the United Kingdom. But it’s the Egyptians who are mad for pigeons.

grilled pigeons recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

One of their national dishes is hamam mashi, a stuffed pigeon that’s either grilled or roasted. My friend Soraya, who lived in Cairo for a while, told me that you can pretty much get grilled or roasted pigeon anywhere — it’s like the hot dog vendors in New York City.

This dish is a version of the Egyptian favorite. Instead of stuffing the pigeons, I made the stuffing into a side salad.

It’s pretty easy to make, and is everything you might want from Middle Eastern food: a beguiling mixture of aromatic, fiery and sweet spices, some smoky charcoal flavor, lots of olive oil and lemon.. and the pigeon.

Just remember that the key to cooking small birds on a grill is very high heat and doing most of the cooking with the breast side up. I cooked these pigeons on an open grill with no cover, and I prefer it that way: You get more of a smoky flavor without overcooking the meat.

Grilling pigeons under a brick
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What does a grilled pigeon taste like? A lot like a skinny duck. Pigeon is red meat, very dense and close-grained and savory; it’s flavor is a little like venison or beef, but concentrated. For small birds, you’d be surprised how filling they are. One is a fine serving, and two will satisfy most people.

So the next time you’re out hunting Mr. Pigeon flies a little too close, take a whack at him. If you’re lucky enough to bring him down, he may just surprise you at the table.

A plate of grilled pigeon with rice pilaf.
5 from 3 votes

Grilled Pigeons with Green Wheat Salad

I got my inspiration for this recipe from a similar one in Paula Wolfert's great book, Mediterranean Grains and Greens. Paula bakes her pigeons, however, and I prefer them grilled. My friend Soraya says grilled pigeons are all over the place in Cairo, where she used to live, so there you have it. What the hell is green wheat? The Egyptians call is freekeh, and it's slightly unripe wheat that's been parched (slightly burned) and dried. It cooks really fast and has a great smoky flavor. But... you can only get it in specialty shops, or online. If you want to go an easier route, use bulgur wheat, which is readily available in most supermarkets. Still too hard? Use rice.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: North African
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes


  • 4 to 6 pigeons or 8 to 16 doves, plucked
  • Olive oil to coat them


  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt


  • 2 cups freekeh or bulgur wheat
  • 2 cups pigeon or dove broth or chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 tablespoons high-quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Lemon juice to taste


  • Mix all the spices for the rub together. Coat the pigeons or doves with oil, then dust with the spice rub. Put the birds in a covered container in the fridge for 3 hours, or up to overnight. An hour before you plan to cook them, take the birds out of the fridge and let them rest on the counter to come to room temperature.
  • Meanwhile, make the green wheat salad. Bring the broth to a boil and add the freekeh or bulgur. Stir, let it come back to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat. It should be ready in 30 minutes or so.
  • Put the olive oil in a frying pan and turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, saute the shallots for a minute or two, or until they just start to brown. Add the garlic and bell pepper, saute for another minute, then turn off the heat.
  • Get your grill hot. Charcoal is your best bet here, but any sort of open flame will work. When the grill is hot, drizzle a little more olive oil on the pigeons and set them on the grill, breast side up. Let them cook like this for 10 minutes, making sure they don't get burned to a crisp. You want to do most of the cooking with the breast side up. Flip the birds and set them breast side down on the grill, making sure the middle of the breast slips between the grill grates -- this helps the birds lie flat. If you want to get better contact with the grill, place a brick on the pigeons while they cook on this side. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is and how well done you like your birds; I prefer my doves and pigeons to be pink inside. Take the birds off the grill and let them rest, breast side up.
  • To finish the salad, mix the green wheat or bulgur into the frying pan and add the olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper, plus lemon juice to taste. Serve alongside the pigeons.

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. Top of the pigeon world are Racing Homers. These birds can cover hundreds of miles averaging 50 + mph. With the lonest races being 1000 miles and taking 48 hours, and yes they sleep at night.

    1. Bullet: Getting disease from pigeons is largely an urban myth. Can it happen? Yes, but the chance is infinitesimally small. And I have never seen any parasites in country pigeons.

  2. I love your website, I hunt pigeons year round with my slingshot so I eat pigeons all year and I love to try new recipes.


  3. In Queensland, Australia we shoot topknot pigeons and savour a ragout of pigeon, they are delicately gamey and tender, also bronzewing pigeon. In Egypt I love the grilled pigeon prepared as for spatchcock with the spices you list at the top, but I am sure there was honey glaze making it even more delicious. Egypt has huge cone shaped pigeon coops 2 stories tall everywhere, so they are chosen for tender flesh.

  4. This looks delicious, Hank. Can’t wait to get out and shoot a few and get them on the grill!

  5. I can’t wait to try this. I’m new to California but not dove hunting. I was excited to hear that Imperial county is open to hunt Eurasian Collared Doves all year with no limit. We were VERY successful our first weekend and I have a feeling we’ll be eating a LOT of doves this fall and winter. Keep the dove recipes coming!

  6. Heading to do some dove shooting on the 21st. I’ll certainly keep an eye out and hope for some pigeons as well. In Lebanon, similar to what Egyptians do, many people raise pigeons in coops for the table. They are delicious grilled and are great basted with pomegranate molasses.

  7. Peter,

    Out here in Cali those Eurasian don’t even count toward the 10 dove limit and yes they are significantly bigger than the morning dove, but just as tasty! Hey limitless flying meat, who wouldn’t like that?


  8. We don’t get pigeons with our doves in West Texas, but the Eurasian dove can get close to a pigeon in size and are also tough to bring down. Shot 3 Eurasians so far this season. Looking forward to using them in this recipe. Sounds delicious.

  9. I love pigeon! I’ve made the traditional ‘Mrs Beeton’ version of pigeon pie (minus scalded feet sticking out of the top of the pastry though!) but mainly I just breast the birds and give the back and legs to my dogs. Pigeon breast, seared, juices still flowing, with seared spinach and just a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper is heaven on a plate! Sometimes there are ferals mixed in with the flock when we shoot woodpigeons and they taste just as good. Woodpigeons are a major crop pest here but not generally sold unless you go to a fancy restaurant, so I’m lucky I get them all year ’round

  10. Hank,

    Right on! It is true that during dove season the opportunity for country raised “feral” pigeons is there. How do i know?, you ask. Because while hunting dove opener at a local Ranch, we also bagged some pigeons. Although I am sure pigeons are tougher than doves, we (my dad and friend) had no problem dropping them out of the sky with No. 8s and a wide open choke. Killed 3 with three shells in the morning at 35 yards and then while waiting out the doves in the afternoon heat, a single pigeon flew by us and my father commented that “only a stud could drop that bird out that far?”, the bird was quartering away at 50+ yards. I pulled up, lead the bird, and squeezed off one shot…needless to say, I must be a stud. Stoned him! It was a lucky shot and in the moment, but with the words my dad uttered still in the air, he turned and said, “Nice shot stud!” and we all had a laugh. Will have to try this recipe. I have done quail under brick and they were delicious. Thanks and to good hunting.