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A birds eye view of take away bags of hot chops and chargrill chicken with someone reaching for a piece of chicken and some chips
Photograph: SEVAK BABAKHANI

The best charcoal chicken in Melbourne

We scoured Melbourne, from north to south, east to west for our top charcoal chooks; the crown jewel of suburban living

Written by
Sonia Nair
&
Rushani Epa
Contributors
Adena Maier
,
Jade Solomon
&
Lauren Dinse
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The unmistakable smokiness and charry, rendered skin are the best things about charcoal chicken, and these qualities are what sets charcoal chook apart from its roasted relatives. It has to be moist and tender with concentrated flavour. But it’s not all about the chicken – no one goes to the chicken shop without ordering a few sides, whether it’s chips, salads or a potato cake. And we are here to judge it all. 

We've rounded up our top picks below to ensure you're getting the best crispy, smokey chook that Melbourne has to offer.

Prefer your chicken with cheese and passata? These are Melbourne's best chicken parmas. Like your meals cheap? Here are our favourite meals on a budget

The best charcoal chicken in Melbourne

  • Restaurants
  • Bentleigh
  • price 1 of 4

We crown Centre Charcoal Chicken in Bentleigh the best charcoal chicken shop in Melbourne. Of every place we've tried, Centre Charcoal Chicken’s has the most pronounced smokiness from being rotated over coal for 80 minutes, culminating in crisp skin and moist flesh. The Lilydale free-range chicken is marinated in housemade chicken salt, the very same that generously seasons the chips that come straight out of the deep fryer, which are fluffy with a good crunch. The gravy is smooth and velvety with strong peppery undertones that complement everything we dunk into it, from the rice bubble-coated sweet chilli chicken strips to the creamy scalloped potatoes interspersed with diced fried bacon. Dimmy fans will also be pleased to know there are chicken dim sims here with thickly battered exteriors and ample cabbage. Centre Charcoal Chicken does a roaring takeaway business, but there are a few tables inside and outside for those who would rather eat their chicken fresh. If you don’t feel like chicken, this place is equally known for lamb gyros meat – also cooked over charcoal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Middle Eastern
  • Preston
  • price 1 of 4

When the first El Jannah opened shop in Sydney in the late '90s, word of its delicious Lebanese charcoal chicken spread like wildfire and a cult-like following followed suit. Over the next two decades, the franchise grew to more than a dozen locations across NSW, but it took until 2022 for the first Melbourne shop to open its doors in Preston. Melbourne has no shortage of charcoal chicken joints lining its streets, but now Melburnians can pop over to High Street to find out why this particular franchise is held in such high regard. The signature charcoal chicken is cooked over an open wood flame to achieve the crispy and charred skin, and you can get it in serves perfect for everything from a solo meal to a family feed. Pair your meal with a serving of chips generously sprinkled with chicken salt, a serving of warm Lebanese bread and mixed pickles and the famous creamy garlic sauce. 

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Chargrill Charlie's has a cult-like following in Sydney, and after tasting the tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned chooks now that they have set up shop in Melbourne (in Camberwell and Malvern), we understand why. Charlie clearly knows how to chargrill a chicken, having been in the business since 1989, and with 19 stores across Sydney and Melbourne today, there are no signs of slowing down. You can taste the love put into food at Chargrill Charlies, with some top-quality takeaway salads and sides on offer. And we are calling it, Chargrill Charlie's chips are some of the best takeaway chips going around town.  

  • Restaurants
  • Lebanese
  • Windsor

Roll up your sleeves, Melbourne: Sydney export Henrietta’s finger-lickin’ good Lebanese charcoal chicken has finally landed on Chapel Street. It’s the first interstate venue for the ESCA Group’s beloved chick and we couldn’t be more cluck cluck cluck-in’ thrilled! So what can you expect? Far from your traditional local chicken shop, Henrietta fires things up a notch with flame-fuelled meats, the garlic toum of your dreams and classy arak-based cocktails. The menu also sees plenty of other diverse Middle East-inspired eats thrown into the mix, with a splash of modern Aussie flair. Take the juicy barramundi with saffron marga and caviar or the delicate kingfish with baharat and rhubarb, for example. Oh, and don’t go past Henrietta’s Lebanese spin on a creamy tiramisu. It’s heaven. 

 

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  • Restaurants
  • Preston
  • price 1 of 4

One of many shops bordering the Preston South Shopping Centre, Preston Chicken Shack is easy to miss – look for the plastic strip curtains. The family-run chicken shop is a local favourite, with many of them greeting owners Cathy and William by name. The portion of chicken leg includes more breast and thigh than other shops, and it has pleasantly charred skin and an immense concentration of flavour from the herbs and salt in which it’s cooked. Preston Chicken Shack serves stuffing with its chickens, which has the savouriness of Coles rotisserie chicken stuffing, but with the flavour turned up to 10. Like all the best charcoal chicken we try, it’s very moist. The chips are a standout, with a well-balanced chicken salt-to-chip ratio, and the chips themselves are fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. If you’re a potato cake fan, you’ll find that these are just as crisp as the chips. If you’re looking for a green side, the tabbouleh, cucumber and tomato salad is generously dressed with olive oil and hasn’t been hanging around in the bain marie for hours.

  • Restaurants
  • Caulfield South

When you see the utter adoration that the husband-and-wife duo behind Chicken Workshop have for each other, you just know the food here is going to be a delicious labour of love. And delicious it certainly is. This isn't the spot for fried dim sims and potato cakes, but the spot for knockout Reuben sandwiches with housemade pastrami (courtesy of their Polish Ukrainian heritage) and chicken stuffing you could eat by the handful. Silky gravy is loaded with herbs and chicken fat drippings, juicy roast chooks spin around on a rotisserie and gyros are readily available to purchase, too. It's a one-stop sandwich/burger/chicken/souvlaki shop that will cater to every kind of hunger pang.

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  • Restaurants
  • Richmond
  • price 1 of 4

Richmond residents know Sachin of the friendly, family-run outfit Smokey Chooks by name. The paper-thin, melt-in-your-mouth, rosemary-and-salt-spiked chicken skin is the crispiest of all the chickens, while the free-range Bannockburn chook itself is tender from being brined before taking to the coal rotisserie. The chips are a dead ringer for Grill’d’s due to the rosemary seasoning, the thick battered potato cakes stay crunchy beneath their generous coating of chicken salt, and the roast pumpkin, zucchini, pine nut and spinach salad is fresher than your average chicken shop salad. We would also recommend the chicken nuggets and the roast vegetables – in this case, zucchini, pumpkin, carrot and capsicums drizzled in an oily spice rub. Coeliacs will be pleased to know the chicken at Smokey Chook’s is gluten-free (no stuffing), and it’s also halal. 

  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4

Housed in an ornate building with beautiful leadlights and floor-to-ceiling windows, Cookshop Rotisserie doesn’t look like your average chicken shop, and it isn’t – former Mamasita head chef Andrew Logan is at the helm. Nominate if you want leg or breast meat and be rewarded with your choice of La Ionica or Bannockburn free-range chicken that falls off the bone. The light brown gravy is smooth without being overly thick – it has the overt savouriness of chicken with a mildly sweet aftertaste. The salads are the most exciting of any chicken shop we visited – the eggplant, dukkah, rocket and tahini salad looks and tastes more like it is from Rumi than a chicken shop. Cookshop has ample bench seating inside as well as outside if you feel like enjoying your chicken in the sun.

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  • Restaurants
  • Fitzroy North
  • price 1 of 4

Cookshop’s main rival in the inner north is Super Tasty Rooster, where the clientele is as diverse as the speciality wine shops and cafés surrounding it. Super Tasty Rooster’s quarter chicken is ample and tasty, and its crowning glory is its golden chips, doused to high heaven in chicken salt. The thinly battered potato cake receives the same chicken salt treatment as the chips, while the chicken croquette and a creamy pasta au gratin peppered with capsicum and streaky bacon are equally successful sides. The salads are basic but substantial. Owing to Super Tasty Rooster’s Greek provenance, you may also find rizogalo (rice pudding) to be a fitting dessert, though it is cloyingly sweet in this particular rendition. 

  • Restaurants
  • Seddon
  • price 1 of 4

Expect to wait a while at McManos – the crinkle-cut chips are fried fresh to order. Dave Chen, who has owned McManos for the past 18 years, keeps the paper box lid ajar for your takeaway orders so the chips don’t get sweaty on your way home. It’s a nice and necessary touch, as the chips retain their crunch and generous dustings of housemade ‘secret’ chicken salt clings to every ridge – which might explain why they were crowned the best chips in Melbourne in a 2019 Nova100 poll. They’re particularly a treat when dunked in the dark brown gravy. The chicken is cooked for two hours, and the buttery scalloped potatoes are the best of any chicken shop. The Keen’s curry powder-infused pasta salad reminds us of British colonial-era dishes like kedgeree.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sunshine
  • price 1 of 4

Though Sunshine Charcoal Chicken does a regular charcoal chicken, it’s the Filipino-style Spanish chicken the shop is known for – and it doesn’t disappoint. The bird is marinated in garlicky sweet soy and then cooked between two metal grills, culminating in chicken that’s tender inside with caramel undertones in its blistered skin. If you haven’t had enough chicken, the nuggets are mini morsels of battered, moist breast. The potato cakes are similarly well fried and go a treat alongside Sunshine Charcoal Chicken’s house-made vinegary Sriracha sauce. The chips are decent without hitting the ball out of the park, but steer clear of the salads – the coleslaw and pasta salads fall victim to too much mayonnaise. 

  • Restaurants
  • Fairfield
  • price 1 of 4

Rooster Bar has an abundance of seating inside and outside, with bain marie salads as far as the eye can see. Rooster Bar has Portuguese chicken available, and we recommend ordering this over the regular charcoal chicken – it’s fused with far more flavour and a pleasantly caramelised, crisp skin. The texture, consistency and integrity of the chips are top-notch, but they suffer from a paucity of chicken salt, so ask for extra. If you’re after a salad, stick to the predictably refreshing coleslaw or pasta salad, which is lifted by sun-dried tomatoes, parsley and a generous glug of olive oil.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cheltenham

Single-use plastics are nowhere to be seen, free-range chickens take centre stage and burger patties don a wholewheat bun. Seasonal salads are on offer along with classics like Greek salad and coleslaw, but a word to the wise: the salads here are so good that they sell out quickly. Chips are crisp and gluten-free and can be loaded with a bed of melted cheese, grilled onions, the Hot Bird's signature sauce and whorls of spring onion, and the chicken is juicy and tender – just how it should be.

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