Jamaican jerk chicken is of the most popular foods from Caribbean and Jamaican cuisines. Jerk chicken is aromatic, smoky, fiery hot and has an earthly flavor.
Chicken is marinated for at least 24 – 48 hours. It is cooked for a longer period, which gives the chicken a smoky flavor and also keeps the chicken good for longer periods of time even after cooling.
Jerk is not a spice nor a sauce. It is a cooking technique. There are two theories on how the term ‘jerk’ originated. One theory is Spanish word charqui, meaning dried meat which became jerky or jerk in English.
The other is jerking which is poking holes (gashes) to meat so spices are easily absorbed. Nowadays, jerk refers to both jerk spice and also the cooking technique.
Traditionally chicken and pork are the two meats for jerk however, nowadays shrimp, beef, lamb, vegetables and tofu are also common.
The two main ingredients for Jamaican jerk chicken marinade are scotch bonnet or habanero peppers and allspice.
Habanero peppers are one of the spiciest peppers and food gets hotter (spicy hot) the longer the peppers are in it. Just one pepper goes a long away and jerk meat is usually marinated for at least 24 – 48 hours, making the meat spicy hot.
In Jamaica, allspice wood is used to cook Jamaican jerk chicken and ground allspice is a good substitute, which gives smoky flavor to chicken/meat. Other common ingredients in jerk marinade are ginger, thyme and scallions.
- Chicken – We prefer drumsticks for grilling and that is our preferred choice. However, you can use chicken breast and tights as well.
- Peppers – Scotch bonnet is usually used but habanero pepper is a good substitute. If you can not source either of the peppers, use jalapeno or green chillies.
- Seasoning – Prepare it from scratch with spices already available in your pantry or use your favorite brand of jerk seasoning. Here, I make it from scratch.
- Clean chicken and make gashes.
- Prepare marinade by processing peppers, ginger, scallions and rest of the seasoning ingredients.
- Pour it over chicken, marinate for 1-2 days, bake or grill until chicken is juicy and tender.
Serve chicken with some plantains, roasted potatoes, potato salad, mango salsa or a salad with a combination of these vegetables. You can also serve it with your favorite salad or grilled vegetables.
Jerk chicken also pairs well with some flavored rice prepared with coconut milk, Spanish rice, rice and beans or Caribbean rice and peas.
More Caribbean Recipes
Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking.
Detailed, Printable Recipe
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- Food Processor
- Baking Sheet
- Aluminium Foil
- 1.4 – 1.6 lbs Chicken Drumsticks 6 pieces
- 2 Scallions roughly chopped
- ½ Shallot I used a ¼ of a small onion
- 1 Scotch bonnet or Habanero Pepper I used a latter
- ½ inch Ginger peeled
- 1-2 Cloves Garlic
- ¼ tbsp Dry Thyme or 1 tbsp Fresh Thyme
- ½ tbsp Allspice Powder
- ½ tsp Cinnamon Powder
- ¼ – ½ tsp Nutmeg Powder
- ½ tbsp Soya Sauce
- ½ tbsp Brown Sugar
- ½ tbsp Salt adjust to taste
- ¼ tbsp ¾ tsp Black Pepper Powder
- ⅛ cup Oil (2 tbsp)
- ¼ tbsp White or Apple Cider Vinegar
- ½ Lime juiced
- Wash chicken, make gashes on chicken. Make sure not to tear the drumstick skin.
- In a blender or food processor take remaining ingredients and make a coarse paste.
- Pour it over chicken and rub on to skin and under the chicken skin.
- Marinate for 12 – 36 hours in the refrigerator. I left it for 48 hours.
- Before grilling, bring it to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil. This is for easy of cleaning. I used a roasting pan with rack.
- Place chicken on the rack. Sprinkle some allspice powder and salt over chicken. This is in addition to what is listed in ingredient list and is optional. I didn’t.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the chicken around and basting with marinade at least once in between.
- Cook until chicken is cooked and juices run clear when cut with a knife or chicken drumstick temperature reads 180-185 F.
- Remove from oven, transfer to a platter, loosely cover with a foil and let rest for 15 minutes. This will let chicken retain it’s juices as it cools.
- Serve with beans and rice or Caribbean rice which is cooked with beans.
- Chicken – I used drumsticks as we prefer drumsticks for grilled chicken.
- If using breast pieces or thighs, place the chicken skin side up when baking/grilling. Bake/grill until chicken temperatures read 165- 170 F for chicken breast pieces and 180-185 F for thighs.
- Other Meats – Substitute chicken with pork, beef or seafood and cooking times will vary depending on the meat.
- Veg Option – For vegetarian option, use tofu, vegetables, mushrooms and peppers.
- Nutrition – Nutritional values are approximate values.
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