Few things make us quite as content as a plate of authentic jerk chicken like what you’d experience in the Caribbean. This authentic recipe has all the taste of tradition, though a touch milder, which can easily be remedied for those who prefer it by tossing in more chile peppers.

–David Leite

What Do I Serve With Jamaican Jerk Chicken?

In Jamaica, folks are accustomed to teaming smoke-infused, falling-apart-tender jerk chicken with festival. Not festival as in a party, although of course an authentic jerk chicken is always worth celebrating, but festival as in 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.

A sliced jerk chicken breast on a round cutting board, with a man's hand holding a cleaver above it

Jerk Chicken

5 / 2 votes
August 6th is Jamaican Independence Day. Celebrate! This jerk chicken relies on an easy marinade you toss together from Jamaican allspice, scallion, thyme, cinnamon, chile pepper, and vinegar that tastes just like what you’d experience in the Caribbean. With easy instructions on how to cook it without fail.
David Leite
CourseMains
CuisineCaribbean
Servings4 servings
Calories647 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients 

For the jerk marinade

  • 1 small to medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated or light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 habañero, serrano, or jalapeño chile, or 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
  • 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut into pieces

Instructions 

Make the jerk marinade

  • 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 a couple weeks.)

Make the jerk chicken

  • 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.
  • 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 applewood, or use all charcoal.]

Grill the jerk chicken

  • 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 the jerk chicken onto a platter and have at it. Originally published July 23, 2013.
Jerk from Jamaica Cookbook

Adapted From

Jerk from Jamaica

Buy On Amazon

Nutrition

Serving: 1 portionCalories: 647 kcalCarbohydrates: 8 gProtein: 52 gFat: 44 gSaturated Fat: 12 gMonounsaturated Fat: 18 gTrans Fat: 0.3 gCholesterol: 202 mgSodium: 1207 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 4 g

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

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2007 Helen Willinsky. Photo © 2007 Ed Anderson. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

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 habañeros would be ideal here.

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.)

So I admit that I didn’t actually grill 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 and 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 wood chips!

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.

This is the only jerk marinade recipe you’ll ever need. Sweet, savory, and 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!

We all enjoyed this recipe very much. The chicken came out moist and tender. The final taste wasn’t 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.

This 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 jerk marinade is really easy to make and only takes about 15 minutes to whip together. 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 habañero should prove to be enough heat for most palates. For those who dare to like it hot, there’s room to play!

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.

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.

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.

Jerk recipes intrigue me. I also have a thing for rubs and marinades, so this recipe practically leapt off the page at me. 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.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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12 Comments

  1. This is similar to mine. I use 1 bunch green onion, 6 garlic cloves, zest and juice of 2 limes, fresh ginger, olive oil and 6 habaneros. Marinate 1 day, cooked in my pit barrel 275 degrees. Dont be afraid of this many habaneros.

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

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 5 stars
            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!

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

          3. 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!

  3. 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!

    1. Let us know, Rochelle. Did you see this recipe for Festival? They would be great with the jerk.