Jerk Chicken is a fragrant, flavorful, and delicious grilled chicken recipe representative of Jamaica and the Caribbean islands. Quick and easy to prepare, this Jerk marinade includes all the classic flavors of true Jamaican Jerk cooking including scallions, ground allspice berries, and hot chiles (Scotch bonnet peppers).
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Jerk chicken has been a long-time obsession for me and my husband. Even in the dead of winter, I’ll marinate and grill enough of this popular Jamaican chicken to feed a small island because, yes, it is that delicious (and equally versatile).
It really is one of the best marinades you’ll ever learn how to make. And while Jerk chicken is intended to be quite spicy, it’s easy to modify the recipe to make it as mild as you’d like.
What is Jerk Chicken
The word jerk refers to a dry spice rub, a wet marinade, and to a particular style of cooking.
Jerk chicken is a spicy marinated grilled meat, usually chicken, but sometimes pork, beef, boar, seafood, or vegetables. As a style of cooking, the meat is coated in spices and slow-cooked over a fire traditionally made of long sticks of green pimento wood set over hot coals. The smoke from the green pimento wood creates a smokey flavor unique to the dish.
Jerk Chicken Ingredients
- Allspice berries
- Yellow and Green onions (scallions)
- Scotch bonnet peppers
- Garlic cloves
- Chinese five-spice
- Olive oil
- Soy sauce
Jamaican jerk spice comes in two forms- a dry rub and a wet marinade. Each depends on two primary ingredients- Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice.
- Scotch bonnet peppers. Red, yellow, and orange, these bright bonnet-looking peppers are native to the Caribbean Islands and Central America and come with a heat rating of 80,000-400,000 Scoville units (most jalapeño peppers fall somewhere between 2,500-8,000 Scoville units).
- Allspice (Jamaica pimento). The dried unripe fruit of the Pimenta dioica, this bold and flavorful spice is one of the most important ingredients in all Caribbean cooking, including Jerk chicken. Derived the name “allspice” by the English in 1621 who thought it combined the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Given the addition of these two ingredients (and others), it’s important to note that authentic Jerk chicken is spicy. And that’s exactly how it’s meant to taste. Reduce or omit the scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros) if you’re sensitive to spicy foods.
Can Jerk Marinade Be Made Ahead of Time?
Yes. This marinade can be prepared up to 3-4 days ahead of time. Keep in mind that this jerk chicken marinade calls for fresh ingredients and no preservatives. Keep stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
How to Make Jerk Chicken
First, grind the allspice berries in a small food processor or spice grinder. Once the allspice berries have been ground to a coarse powder, transfer them to a larger food processor filled with the other marinade ingredients (the onion, scallions, Scotch Bonnet Chiles (or Habaneros), garlic, Chinese five-spice, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, salt, and sugar). Then, pulse until the ingredients are coarsely chopped and combined. With the food processor still running, slowly add 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or canola oil) and the soy sauce. Continue to process until combined.
To marinate the chicken, add the chicken to a large baking tray, mixing bowl, or heavy-duty ziplock bag. Coat the chicken in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and black pepper. Add the marinade, making sure to coat the entire surface of the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
To grill the chicken, transfer the chicken pieces to the grill (discard the marinade). Cook for about 5-7 minutes undisturbed before flipping to cook on the other side for an additional 5 minutes. Then, reduce heat to medium-low and cover the grill. Let the chicken cook, low and slow, checking every few minutes for hot spots and flipping as needed. The chicken is finished cooking when the internal temperature registers 157-160 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a digital meat thermometer.
Finally, remove the chicken to a clean baking dish and cover with foil. Allow the chicken to rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
How to Make Jerk Chicken in the Oven
- Prepare the marinade as outlined above and marinate the chicken for (at least) 4 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- Arrange the chicken on the prepared baking sheet. Discard any remaining marinade.
- Bake until internal temperature reaches 160-165 degrees F as read with a digital meat thermometer.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Always try to use the freshest ingredients possible.
- Marinate your meat. Ideally 4-12 hours, but any amount of time is better than no time at all.
- Use a digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your chicken. This helps prevent undercooked or overcooked chicken from ending up on your plate. You know your chicken is ready when the thickest part reaches between 160-165 degrees F.
- Gently rub the marinade under the chicken skin for even more flavor.
- Keep the skin on on your chicken for juiciest results.
How to Serve
Have you tried making this Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 1.5 tablespoon Allspice berries - coarsely ground
- 1 large yellow onion - peeled and roughly chopped
- 5 scallions - chopped
- 2 Scotch Bonnet Chiles (or 3 habanero peppers) - chopped
- 3 cloves garlic - peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1.5 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoon oil - olive oil or vegetable oil, divided
- 1.5 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 (4 pound) chickens - quartered
- Fresh lime juice - for serving
- Grind the allspice berries. Use a small food processor of spice grinder to coarsely grind the allspice berries (see notes). Transfer to the bowl of a large food processor.
- Prepare the marinade. Add the onion, scallions, Scotch Bonnet Chiles (or Habaneros), garlic, Chinese five-spice, pepper, nutmeg, thyme, salt, and sugar to the bowl of your food processor with the ground allspice berries. Pulse and process until everything is coarsely chopped and combined. With your food processor running, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the soy sauce to the marinade. Remove lid and double check that all the ingredients have been fully processed. Set aside.
- Marinate the chicken. Transfer the chicken to a large baking tray, mixing bowl, or heavy-duty ziplock bag. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the chicken, mixing and turning well to coat the entire surface of the chicken with marinade. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for at least 4 hours to overnight.
- Prepare the grill. Remove chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature. Clean grill grates and preheat grill to medium-high heat.
- Grill the chicken. When ready to cook, transfer chicken pieces to your grill. Discard marinade. Cook for approximately 5-7 minutes undisturbed before flipping and cooking the other side for an additional 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover your grill. Allow chicken to cook low and slow, checking every 3-5 minutes for hot spots, and flipping as needed, until internal temperature of chicken reaches approximately 157-160 degrees F. as read with a digital thermometer. Immediately remove from the grill to a clean baking sheet or pan and cover with foil for 3-5 minutes to allow chicken to rest and finish cooking. Serve warm with Jamaican Rice and Peas, fresh lime wedges, or other favorite sides. Enjoy!
- The allspice berries are essential to the overall flavor of this Jerk Chicken Marinade. I do not recommend skipping them.
- You will need to grind the allspice berries before processing them with the remaining Jerk marinade ingredients. To do this, you will need to use a small food processor or spice grinder as a large food processor will be too large.
- Scotch Bonnet peppers are the traditional pepper used in Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Extremely hard to track down, habanero peppers make an excellent substitute.
- Jerk chicken is spicy and this recipe is no exception. To make a more mild marinade reduce the number of Scotch Bonner peppers (or habanero peppers) used, or don’t use any at all.
- I asked my local butcher to quarter two 4-pound whole chickens for me. They turned out moist, juicy, and perfect. However, feel free to use your favorite chicken pieces (chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken legs, boneless, skinless, etc), just note that cooking times may vary.
- Always use a digital meat thermometer when grilling chicken. You want the internal temperature at the thickest point to reach between 160-165 degrees F.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, swap regular soy sauce for a gluten-free version, coconut aminos, and Tamari.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)