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Grilled Jerk Chicken

5 stars based on 12 votes

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What I love about this jerk chicken, 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 less adventurous 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

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 (use gluten-free if needed)
  • 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.

Reviews & Comments

  • 5 stars

    I’d love to win the cookware you’re offering. My review is for your delicious Grilled Jerk Chicken.

    I marinated the chicken for two nights and cooked it on the third day (just because I didn’t get around to cooking it).

    For the marinade, I upped the amount of garlic and I used two jalapeño peppers I had in my freezer; it really could have used more heat, so next time I’ll get a habanero or Scotch Bonnet, or use more jalapeño peppers. All the other ingredients remained the same, except I had canola oil.

    I didn’t grill the chicken, but baked them in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees; checked one breast by cutting into it with a knife; it wasn’t quite done (my bone-in chicken breasts were on the larger size), so I upped the heat to broil for 10 minutes, without raising the pan the chicken was in.

    I found the skin wasn’t as crisp as it might have been on the grill, or even if I’d broiled first, or even raised the pan closer to the broiler.

    However, the chicken was so moist (husband even commented on the moistness – and, he doesn’t know about the contest) and delicious! I’m usually a dark meat person, because I find the white meat drier, but this recipe is perfect for a truly moist chicken breast.

    I loved finding a recipe for bone-in chicken; I found a good sale on them – now I wish I’d bought more.

    The chicken had the back on, but I cut those off. I was too lazy to make broth with them, so decided to throw them in the pot, too. They probably added some more delicious chicken flavour to the pot. I course, if I’d grilled the chicken, I would have made a bit of broth from the backs.

    I had three chicken breasts. Two were used and the third, along with the backs, have been de-boned and put in the fridge for leftovers.

    Thanks for a very nice recipe. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve used from your site, and am happy to be on your newsletter list 🙂

    - Sandra Dowkes on September 16, 2017 Reply
  • Will a jalapeño work instead of scotch bonnet?

    - Jean on August 23, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Jean, it will work but it won’t be as spicy. Feel free to double the jalapeno if you like heat!

      - Jenn on August 23, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I halved this recipe on chicken that’s been in the freezer a while. I just had to see if this recipe is any good before using it on 3 lbs of fresh chicken breasts for tomorrow’s BBQ! The use of 5 spice powder convinced me to even try the recipe, since I had plenty. I could only pan-fry the chicken, since only my dad knows how to operate the grill. And I do declare, this is WAY better and WAY simpler than the Jamaican jerk chicken recipe I used to use, so much so that it blew my mind! The flavor is very, very reminiscent of the Asian 5 spice wings I used to (attempt to) make, minus the crunch. Would recommend this to anyone who loves an extra kick to their chicken and wants daring, adventurous flavor!

    - Natalie A. on July 5, 2017 Reply
  • How do you think would work with chicken wings?

    - joanne on June 25, 2017 Reply
    • I think it’d work beautifully with wings, Joanne. Please lmk how it turns out if you try it!

      - Jenn on June 26, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    A 10 in our book! Everyone had seconds. This paired very well with Callalloo. We also served Red Stripe Jamaican beer. Will do this one again and again.

    - Bill650 on June 10, 2017 Reply
  • Just made the marinade. OMG! It made my eyes water like crazy! I think this will be wonderful. I plan to grill the chicken pieces tomorrow evening. Thanks the for recipe.

    - Richard on May 18, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made this tonight with the last habaneros from our garden and chicken thighs. Turned out very moist and taisty, I’ll be making it again. Thanks for your hard work.

    - Tom on October 26, 2016 Reply
  • 5 stars

    The marinade was absolutely spot on. I’m so glad I don’t have to buy the bottled stuff anymore. The chicken was soooo good that my husband went back for more. I served it with rice and beans which really completed the Caribbean theme for tonight’s dinner. Thanks Jenn.

    - Gilly on November 8, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made these last weekend, they are fantastic, the only negative was people turned up unexpectedly and we had to share!!! 🙁

    Love your style, all the pictures certainly guide you and keep you in the right direction. As sometimes when you are making things they look like they shouldn’t but it is right!! Also all the tips are excellent.

    Thanks again.

    Have a great weekend and keep up the good work

    - Joecool on August 27, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hi there
    Ive made this recipe twice already. First time I used chicken breasts and it turned out great! Second time I tried to make the drumsticks but the jerk flavors didn’t come through as strong and it was barely spicy (even though I doubled the ingredients including the hot peppers….)
    I baked it for a little over an hour in my oven at 450 f
    Any idea what went wrong or what I should look out for next time? I really like this recipe and your site in general so I want to be able to make this again on a bone in chicken and have it taste good!
    Thanks for any advice you can share

    - Val on July 7, 2015 Reply
    • I scored the flesh on my drumsticks and marinated them for 24 hrs, flavours were excellent. Hope this helps

      - Joecool on August 27, 2015 Reply
  • Has anyone tried this with pork?

    - Bonnie on March 5, 2015 Reply
  • 5 stars

    My boyfriend LOVES jerk chicken. After he had been talking about it for weeks, I decided to give this recipe a try! It was great. I added more garlic – probably 3-4 cloves in total (I always seem to add more garlic to every recipe). The heat was great, not too much and not too little. Made me feel like I was back in Jamaica, minus the 20 degree weather we have been having!

    - Theresa on December 3, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Amazingly complex flavors and easy to prepare! Everyone loved it, but as is my way I used 4 cloves of garlic. Will definitely make it again.

    - Rick on September 21, 2014 Reply
  • 4 stars

    I worked with this as a base and then added a couple things that someone in Jamaica once told me they put on their jerk; about 1T grated fresh ginger, just a little bit of brown sugar, a splash of dark Rum, then about 30 min or so before you take it out of the marinade add the juice and zest of one lime. The Rum adds something special to it. You don’t really taste any liquor but it does add an additional layer of flavor. I love the idea of the five spice powder in this, by the way.

    - Debbie Chiet on July 22, 2014 Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I have a question for you. I just made the marinade and coated the chicken tonight. I tasted the marinade and it was very, very salty. Is this how it’s supposed to be?


    - Sandy on July 9, 2014 Reply
    • Hi Sandy, Yes, it should be fine. Please let me know how it turns out!

      - Jenn on July 10, 2014 Reply
      • 5 stars

        Hi Jenn,
        Just had the chicken and it turned out perfectly. All of the flavors came through and the chicken was so juicy! Thanks! 🙂

        - Sandy on July 10, 2014 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Really liked your Jerk Chicken recipe, full of flavor. I usually don’t like to grill but your grilled recipes have changed that, you’ve made them fool proof and the cook times seem perfect.
    Thanks for sharing!

    - Char on July 3, 2014 Reply
  • 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?

    - Thea on November 16, 2013 Reply
    • 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.

      - Jenn on November 18, 2013 Reply
  • 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

    - Traci on September 27, 2013 Reply
    • 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!

      - Jenn on September 27, 2013 Reply
  • 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.

    - Connie on September 27, 2013 Reply
  • 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!

    - Renee on June 30, 2013 Reply
    • 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.

      - Jenn on July 1, 2013 Reply
      • 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!

        - Renee on July 8, 2013 Reply
  • 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

    - Ziad on April 7, 2013 Reply
  • 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!!

    - Katzzz on October 9, 2012 Reply
  • 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?

    - Katzzz on July 21, 2012 Reply
    • Hi Katrina, I think the sauce would freeze just fine.

      - Jenn on July 22, 2012 Reply
  • 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.

    - Karen Pugh on June 21, 2012 Reply
  • Oooh. This looks like a perfect summertime recipe. I can’t wait for summer.

    - Brecken on March 8, 2012 Reply
  • As with all of the recipes I have tried from Once Upon a Chef, this chicken came out perfectly!

    - Emma on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • Cannot wait to try this…too cold for grilling in Chicago just yet

    - tawni on March 1, 2012 Reply
  • 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.

    - Jvad on May 17, 2011 Reply
  • Hi!
    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!

    - vicky levy on April 21, 2011 Reply
  • 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

    - Mike Linley Sr on April 7, 2011 Reply
  • 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.

    - Jennifer on April 7, 2011 Reply
  • 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.

    - ieatdarkchocolateeveryday on April 7, 2011 Reply

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