Grilled Jerk Chicken

Tested & Perfected Recipes

jerk chicken

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. What I love about this version, 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.)

how to make jerk chicken

As you can see from the ingredients — like soy sauce, all spice, nutmeg, Asian 5-spice powder and a Scotch bonnet pepper — Jerk chicken is a perfect example of Caribbean cooking, which is a unique blend of African, European, Indian and Asian flavors.

how to make jerk chicken

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

how to make jerk chicken

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

how to make jerk chicken

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.

how to make jerk chicken

My Recipe Videos

Grilled Jerk Chicken

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 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 to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks or breasts)

Instructions

  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 fewer 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.

Pair with

Reviews & Comments

  • I so wanted to make this for a party this weekend. NOWHERE can I find the Asian 5 Spice Powder. I tried Whole Foods, Stop and Shop, Shop Rite and some smaller groceries that carry a lot of ethnic foods.
    Plus Walmart and Target. No one had it!
    I should have ordered from Amazon, but kept thinking I’d find it and now too late. I did not expect it to be that hard to find.

    • — cheryl wilk on August 3, 2018
    • Reply
    • I’m surprised, too, Cheryl – should be easy to find.

      • — Jenn on August 6, 2018
      • Reply
  • Made the jerk chicken last night. It was AWESOME!!! Followed recipe exactly except I added a heaping teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger. The flavors of the marinade are incredible; so full of spices and the chicken was so moist (I used drumsticks and thighs).
    Jenn, your cookbook is one of my personal favorites. So detailed, precise, and beautiful photography! Thanks so much!!

    • — WeeGrousie on July 24, 2018
    • Reply
  • This was amazing! Thank you for featuring the recipe. The 8 hour marinade turned into 48 hours when plans changed last minute. We grilled it all tonight, even the chicken breast piece which took longer of course, but it was all so flavorful. I think it’s the best chicken dish I have made ever. My husband and 3 boys agreed! Can’t wait to look in your cookbook for more.

    • — Christine on July 22, 2018
    • Reply
  • Made this tonight after it sat in marinade overnight. My husband said it was the best Jerk Chicken I’ve made at home so far. He cooked the chicken (whole cut up) on combination coals and propane. It turned out amazing and the marinade lingered beautifully. The flavors were perfect together. Thought a whole habanero might be too much but it just right!

    • — Naz Sicherman on July 22, 2018
    • Reply
  • I made this a few days ago and was very happy with the result. We used to live in the Caribbean and had some amazing Jerk so this was a nice treat and almost as good as old family recipes. The only thing I was wondering is, I found it salty. I did use Kosher salt and I know you use sea salt, could that be the difference? Next time I miss making Jerk wings. Yum!

    • — Daniella on July 22, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Daniella, I don’t think that kosher salt would make it too salty; you may just prefer less salt. Next time, try cutting the salt in half. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on July 24, 2018
      • Reply
    • Soy sauce has a lot of sodium. Try using low salt soy next time.

      • — Denise Paige on July 24, 2018
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  • This chicken is absolutely delicious! Thank you Jenn once again! The smell while it is cooking is heavenly! My new fav of your recipes. You never ever disappoint! Amazing!

    • — Donna on July 21, 2018
    • Reply
  • If using the oven what temperature would you suggest for leg quarters? Thank you.

    • — Marsha on July 20, 2018
    • Reply
  • How far ahead can you make the marinade/how long will it keep in the fridge?

    • — Karen on July 20, 2018
    • Reply
    • It should keep fine in the marinade for up to two days. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 20, 2018
      • Reply
  • Hi, I wonder where you find Asian five-spice powder?
    Regards,
    Marjanne

    • — Marjanne on July 19, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Marjanne, Most large supermarkets carry it, or you could try Whole Foods or an Asian grocer.

      • — Jenn on July 19, 2018
      • Reply
  • Can this recipe be done with boneless skinless chicken breast?

    • — Denise on July 19, 2018
    • Reply
  • Hello Jenn, Welcome Ollie. Keep us up to date on his growth. Thank you for this newsletter. Perfect summer recipes as we have been in the midst of on going heat waves in Winnipeg, Canada.
    Would you consider a second Cook Book to include your former recipes?
    Enjoying your new Cook Book so much.
    Great thank you for it!
    Yvonne Adams

    • — Yvonne Adams on July 19, 2018
    • Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, I’m sure I’ll mention Ollie in future posts (and whatever he’s currently chewing on in my house)! While I’m flattered that you’re asking about a second cookbook, I’m still trying to recover from the first, so no promises! 🙂 (But thank you for your support!)

      • — Jenn on July 19, 2018
      • Reply
  • Hi Jen!
    I’m making this for July 4th and wanted to know if I can marinate it 2 days in advance? Will it be too salty?

    • — Shanna on July 1, 2018
    • Reply
    • That’s fine, Shanna. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 1, 2018
      • Reply
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

  • 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

  • Has anyone tried this with pork?

    • — Bonnie on March 5, 2015
    • Reply
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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?

    Thanks!
    Sandy

    • — 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
      • 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
  • 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?

    • 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

    • 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.

  • 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 …..you’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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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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