Jerk Chicken

For simplicity and authenticity, chicken marinated in jerk spices and cooked slow over a charcoal and wood fire can’t be beat—though if you have a gas grill, never fear, it’ll still be amazingly good. Some people find marinades more convenient to use than spice pastes. This marinade is thicker than most. The flavor may strike you as a bit harsh when you first make it, but I assure you, the flavors will mellow as the meat cooks. To increase the heat of this rather mild marinade, add a splash of hot pepper sauce or more hot peppers. If you want less heat, remove the seeds and ribs of the chiles before grinding them. This is an excellent marinade for chicken, beef, or pork.–Helen Willinsky

LC Chicken & Dumplings Revisited Note

We’re quite, quite content with a plate of jerk chicken and nothing else. Well, but napkins. And okay, maybe some Red Stripe. While we’re at it, white rice laced with lime and cilantro, if you please. But in Jamaica, folks are accustomed to teaming smoke-infused, falling-apart-tender jerk chicken with festival. Not festival, though of course an authentic jerk chicken is always worth celebrating, but festival—the Jamaican bread dumpling with the party-in-a-recipe name that’s dense and deep-fried and robust enough to sop up any jerk paste that remains on the plate. We gotta say, we vastly prefer the Jamaican duo of chicken and dumplings to the more staid and soggy American version. No contest. Now, about that Red Stripe….

Jerk Chicken Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 2 H, 25 M
  • Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients

  • For the jerk marinade
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 habañero, serrano, or jalapeño chile, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (or substitute tamari, which is gluten-free)
  • 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
  • For the jerk chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups jerk marinade
  • One 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into pieces

Directions

  • Make the jerk marinade
  • 1. In a blender or food processor, combine all the ingredients and process until smooth. The marinade will be quite thick. You should have about 1 1/2 cups. (You can store the marinade in a tightly closed jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)
  • Make the jerk chicken
  • 2. Place the chicken in a large glass bowl or baking dish and dump 1 cup jerk marinade over the chicken. Turn the pieces to coat them completely. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.
  • 3. Build a low fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to 225°F (107°C). [Editor's Note: For authentic flavor, build a low fire in a charcoal grill with a combination of charcoal and pimento wood and hold the temperature around 225°F (107°C). If you don’t have pimento wood, substitute hickory or apple wood, or use all charcoal.]
  • 4. Place the chicken on the grill, skin-side down. The marinade will cling to the chicken; that’s okay. Cover the grill and cook the chicken, basting frequently with the remaining 1/2 cup jerk marinade and turning every 10 minutes or so, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The chicken is done when the flesh feels firm and the juices run clear when the meat is pricked with a fork. Pile it onto a platter.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Dan Kraan

Jul 23, 2013

This recipe for Jerk Chicken is very close to what I had when in Jamaica. It was so good, I had to make the recipe twice! Once with the skin on and once with it removed. The chicken came out quite tender both ways. The total cooking time was around 2 hours and I really recommend using pimento lump to get the smoke effect going. Adding some soaked bay leaves to the top of your charcoal at the beginning will work quite well, too. The cooking does temper the heat of the chicken somewhat and, along with the smoke, helps to bring the flavors together. The jerk marinade is really easy to make, and only takes about 15 minutes to whip together. Both times, I ended up with about 1 1/3 cups. The onion I used was about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and I don’t think I’d want much more than that. I also used a portion of the green from the scallions. If you can get the purplish scallion from the Caribbean, I think the taste would be even more authentic. You could even substitute fresh lime juice for the vinegar. One habenero for me was just under 2 ounces in weight. That should prove to be enough heat for most palates. For those who dare to like it hot, there’s room to play!

Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

Jul 23, 2013

I got excited about this recipe as soon as I made the marinade. The allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon in the oniony slush gave it a wonderful smell. The finished chicken didn’t disappoint. I cooked this on my Big Green Egg, which made holding a steady low temperature very easy. I think the low temp is crucial here, as it allows the marinade to form a flavorful crust on the chicken without burning. The only thing I’d change about this recipe is to up the amount of chile peppers in the marinade. I used one jalapeño plus one Thai chile, but I’d have liked a little more heat. I think habaneros would be ideal here.

Testers Choice
Lori Widmeyer

Jul 23, 2013

This is the only jerk marinade recipe you’ll ever need. Sweet, savory, with just the right amount of heat. I made this a second time with boneless chicken breast that I chopped up for a salad and served with a papaya dressing, and it was so good that it’ll be served at my next ladies’ luncheon!

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

Jul 23, 2013

We all enjoyed this recipe very much. The chicken came out moist and tender. The final taste was not as strong as other jerk that I’ve had in the past. It was a very delicate and flavorful taste, and it was a very easy marinade to make. I look forward to trying it on pork. Next time I’ll add a bit more chile pepper, though, as I’d have liked it a tad spicier since we like a little heat. As is, it’s a perfect way to introduce kids to spiciness.

Testers Choice
Carol Mattox

Jul 23, 2013

[Carol Mattox] This recipe is for flavorful, slow-grilled marinated chicken. The thick marinade is easy to prepare in the blender. The recipe is simple, but takes a while due to the marinating and long grilling times. I used a ripe jalapeño pepper and cider vinegar. This makes a very thick marinade. I placed the chicken and marinade in a resealable plastic bag, which made it very easy to squish around so the marinade completely covered all the chicken pieces, and also made for very easy cleanup.

The recipe said to "baste frequently with the remaining 1/2 cup jerk marinade" while turning the chicken every 10 minutes or so for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This was such a thick marinade that it was used up after the third time I basted the 3 1/2 pounds chicken. My sense is that it’d be better to use all chicken thighs, for example, or all chicken breasts or all wings. That way they’d all finish cooking in about the same amount of time.

The final result was flavorful, tender, juicy chicken. I’d make it again, but next time I’d increase the heat either by adding a second jalapeño, trying one of the other hotter chile peppers, or adding a splash of Sriracha. I’d also make 1 1/2 times the marinade yield to allow more for basting, and I’d use only thighs. Because the jerk seasoning is unique, I’d suggest a side dish that doesn’t detract from it.

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Jul 23, 2013

I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe. It’s delicious, pretty darned simple and straightforward. I used 1 split chicken and it cooked evenly. I think it’s important to invest in Jamaican allspice for this dish. The marinade created a glossy, mahogany crust that made the dish look as beautiful as it tasted.

Testers Choice
Ayanna Fews

Jul 23, 2013

So I admit that I didn’t actually barbecue the chicken; it was just too hot outside! However, I really wanted to try this recipe, so I decided to roast the chicken instead and it made for what I thought was a wonderful Jerk Chicken! I pan-seared the chicken first, then roasted it and basted it a couple times with the extra marinade. I can only imagine how good it’d be if I’d actually been able to grill it low and slow with the woodchips! There will definitely be a next time for this recipe. The flavors of this marinade are so good and the ingredients are things that I already had on hand, so it made for a very easy recipe to pull together. I loved the spiciness with that slightly sweet note that’s typical of jerk recipes. (I used brown sugar instead of regular sugar, but that’s the only other change.)

Testers Choice
Brenda Carleton

Jul 23, 2013

Jerk recipes intrigue me. I also have a thing for rubs and marinades, so this recipe practically leapt off the page at me. As the preamble states, the marinade mellows as the meat cooks. It was the mildest jerk I’ve ever had. I’m used to more robust flavors so the only thing I’d change is to add more serrano peppers. That’s just a matter of taste, though. Everything was so very delicious. The allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon were subtle but there, and the flavors were very well balanced. We used cut-up chicken and pork chops and both of us preferred the chicken. We grilled it low and slow and had to force portion control before we got carried away. As an added note, the recipe recommends marinating the chicken for 4 to 6 hours. We marinated ours for 8 hours, and it certainly wasn’t too much. In fact, I’d recommend marinating for at least that long for the best flavor, as our meat was still lovely and tender. In my opinion, 4 to 6 hours wouldn’t have been enough.


Comments
Comments
  1. I have 2 chickens in my fridge waiting for a marinade like this! I’ll have to substitute the peppers for piri piri, but I’m sure it’ll still come out fantastic!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Was anyone else’s marinade greenish and not the rich, smooth brown that is served in Jamaica?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Hey Jennifer, none of our testers complained of this. May I ask, what type of chile pepper did you use? Also, we only used the white and pale green portions of the scallion, but if you used the dark green ends, that could definitely skew the coloring to a very Kermit-like hue…more importantly, what did you think of the taste?

      • Jennifer says:

        I used 1 jalapeño pepper. My scallions were rather light. My chicken is marinating now, when I tasted it it, was more tang than sweet so I added brown sugar. The taste was better. But still a grainy dark green rather than smooth brown.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Hey Jennifer, thanks for getting back in touch. I gotta admit, I’m at sorta a loss. I make jerk pastes rather a lot, including this one, and they have some green in them but overall tend to have a brownish cast. I’d venture to say the jalapeño in place of a habañero may have something to do with it? At any rate, the taste is what matters, so I’d love if you let us know how you like it on the finished bird. Jerk tends to have more heat than sweet, but of course, I’m glad you tweaked it to your preference.

          • Jennifer says:

            It was YUM! Great smoky and bold flavors. It had a hint of the jerk taste but not much… I am going to be trying this recipe again so I can get it spot on… I tasted its potential, it definitely can go all the way!

            • David Leite says:

              So glad you enjoyed it, Jennifer. When you make it again, let us know how you like it when you amp up the peppers!

            • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

              Swell to hear it, Jennifer! Yes, this recipe is a tad tame, intentionally so for timid palates, but can easily be gussied up. Soooo glad you love it!

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