Grilled Jerk Chicken

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What I love about this dish, other than the fact that it’s a breeze to make, is that it’s got distinct Caribbean flavor without being too spicy or exotic for more conservative palates. I made it for a big family gathering on Sunday night and everyone, from my picky six-year-old daughter right on up to my 93-year-old grandfather, enjoyed it. (Of course, my grandmother claimed it was “the best chicken she ever ate” but take that with a grain of salt — she doles out praise very liberally when it comes to her grandchildren.)

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Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. Some people believe the term comes from the word charqui, a Spanish term for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became jerky in English; others claim it’s related to the constant turning or jerking of the meat to load it with the spice blend and cook it thoroughly.

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As you can see from the ingredients, it’s a perfect example of Caribbean cooking, which is a unique blend of African, European, Indian and Asian flavors.

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Begin by making the marinade. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until the vegetables are finely pureed.

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Place the chicken and marinade in a Ziploc freezer bag and let it marinate in the refrigerator at least eight hours or overnight.

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When you’re ready to eat, preheat your grill to medium-high. Cook the chicken until the skin is brown and crispy, then turn the heat down or move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill to finish cooking.

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And one final note: be careful when working with Scotch Bonnet or habanero peppers. They are extremely hot and if you touch your eyes while handling them, it will be very painful. Wear disposable gloves or be sure to wash your hands well when you’re done.

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Enjoy! And if you’re looking for other ideas to kick off grilling season, try my Perfectly Grilled Chicken Breasts or Greek Style Lamb Burgers.


Grilled Jerk Chicken

Print Recipe
Servings: 4


  • 1 small yellow onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 scallions, quartered
  • 1 Scotch bonnet or Habanero chili pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon Asian five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2-1/2 - 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks or breasts)


  1. Make the marinade: In the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except for the chicken. Process until the vegetables are finely puréed and the mixture is relatively smooth (the texture will be slightly gritty). Place the chicken pieces and the marinade in a large Ziploc bag; squeeze air out and seal tightly. Mash the chicken around to coat evenly with the marinade. Place the bag in a bowl (in case of leakage) and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight. Allow the chicken to come to room temperature before grilling.
  2. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Lightly dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and, using tongs, carefully rub over the grates several times until glossy and coated. Place the chicken on the grill skin side down, making sure it is well coated with marinade for maximum flavor (discard any leftover marinade). Cover and cook, turning occasionally, until the skin is browned and crisp but not charred, about 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces skin side up and either turn the heat down to medium-low or move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill. Continue cooking, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Serve immediately.
  3. Note: Be extremely careful when working with Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers. They are extremely hot and if you touch your eyes, it will be very painful. Wear disposable gloves or be sure to wash your hands well when you’re done. You can use more or less peppers depending on how fiery you like your chicken.
  4. Note: I recommend using bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks for this recipe, mostly because the flavor is better but also because they are much easier to cook on the grill. Bone-in chicken breasts can be tricky; if you want to use them, look for smaller ones so they won't burn on the outside before the inside is fully cooked. Or you can start them on the grill and finish them in the oven.
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  • ieatdarkchocolateeveryday

    I LOVE (love love love!) Jerked Chicken – made it, too, on Monday! I’ve been using a commercially available jar of pre blended jerk spice paste that I add a few things (like a bulb of garlic) to before marinading. I am very excited to try a ‘from scratch’ recipe!!!! Thank you!!!
    One question – did you use the entire Scotch Bonnet pepper for the batch of chicken that your 6 year old and grandparents found tolerable? We all like spicy down to our 7 y/o but we have been known to um burn our guests a little.

  • Hey Tony,

    I did use a whole habanero pepper. The marinade itself tastes quite spicy but the end result is not. I’ve made it many times it’s always just right (and my kids don’t like things too spicy). That said, all peppers are different. You might want to try it with half the pepper the first time and see how your family likes it.

  • Hi there, I have been following you and your blog for quite some time now. I really enjoy it, being a retired chef myself. Love your recipes, really like your photography and it has encouraged mt to take better pictures on my barbeque blog. But I just wanted to drop a line and say how much I enjoy reading your work here. Anyway, I will let you be and you can trust that I will be staying in touch with what you are doing here. It is very professional and very nicely laid out. I have enjoyed it immensely, (and not just this post). Mike

  • vicky levy

    As usual, love your recipes. Due to high spicy intolerance in my family – my hubby cannot even get close to it- I’m going to try the jerk chicken with a variation – will let you know how it works.
    Congratulations on you wonderful blog!

  • jerk chicken recipe
    looks is so delicious.This recipe is so easy and delicious.I love this recipe,thank you for telling the whole recipe.

  • tawni

    Cannot wait to try this…too cold for grilling in Chicago just yet

  • Emma

    As with all of the recipes I have tried from Once Upon a Chef, this chicken came out perfectly!

  • Brecken

    Oooh. This looks like a perfect summertime recipe. I can’t wait for summer.

  • This was dinner last night, with a package of yellow rice, it was delicious. And another great dish I can make with my gluten free diet.

    It was so easy to make, I had to substitute ground ginger, but I will get fresh, as I am sure it would taste better. A great substitute for my jamaica jerk wings at BW3.

  • Katzzz

    I LOVE this recipe! I have made it a few times now, my three year old eats it as well!! If I make a large batch of the blended jerk sauce, can I freeze it? Will it be as good?

    • Jenn

      Hi Katrina, I think the sauce would freeze just fine.

  • Katzzz

    Stop right now….you have to make this jerk chicken! It’s amazing! I made it ALL summer long! I would buy a large amount of chicken from the butcher and poor the jerk sauce over it in ziplock bags and freeze it, if you are having last minute company you can just pull it out and BBQ it …’ll be a superstar! Thanks again Jennifer, your talent and passion is much appreciated!!

  • Ziad

    I am on a mission to try all the recipes on this site. I have made this jerk chicken twice already and it is awesome. Easy enough to prepare in a hurry and let marinade.
    Thanks a bunch

  • Renee

    Hi Jenn! I plan on making this for some friends next weekend and was wondering if you can recommend a couple side dishes that would compliment the chicken. Thanks!

    • Jenn

      Hi Renee, You could serve it with so many things! It’d be delicious with my Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers and Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette or my Caramelized Bell Pepper Medley. You could also just keep it simple with corn on the cob or rice. It’d also be good with a mango salsa — unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe for that on my site but this is Bobby Flay recipe looks good:

      MANGO-CILANTRO RELISH (from Bobby Flay)

      2 mangoes, peeled and diced
      1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
      2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
      3 tablespoons lime juice
      3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
      Salt and freshly ground pepper

      Combine the mangoes, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and orange juice in a bowl and gently mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

      • Renee

        Thank you so much for the suggestions! The chicken turned out great! I’ve never had jerk chicken before but I’ll definitely be using this recipe again as the flavors were amazing. I ended up making your caramelized bell peppers and that was fantastic as well! Thanks again!

  • This was delicious! I thought it would be too spicy for some tastebuds, but it wasn’t hot, very flavorful. It’s a keeper for sure! I will definitely make the mango salsa exit time as suggested. I also like the idea of freezing with the marinade for a later date.

  • I am hoping to make jerk chicken sandwiches for an upcoming party. The food situation is multi bin roasters and the people just eat all day long as they feel like it. What I was wondering is……

    Do you think this jerk chicken recipe would work good if I made it as directed, but then shredded the chicken and transferred it to a roaster along with extra of the marinade to keep it moist for sandwiches?

    I will DEF be looking forward to your reply

    • Jenn

      Hi Traci, I do think this would work. I would just recommend using only thighs and drumsticks, as the dark meat will stay moist. Also, I would cook the extra marinade for a bit, otherwise the raw onion flavor might be overwhelming. Hope that helps!

  • I would love to make this chicken but I don’t have a grill. Is there a way to adapt this to cook in the oven?

    • Jenn

      Hi Thea, Yes it would be fine to make it in the oven. You might want to flash it under the broiler towards the end to brown and crisp the skin.

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