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Grilled Jerk Chicken

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Spicy, smoky and aromatic, Jerk chicken is Jamaica’s most iconic dish.

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. The ingredients for jerk chicken marinade –  soy sauce, allspice, nutmeg, Chinese 5-spice powder, and Scotch bonnet peppers – exemplify Caribbean cooking, which is a distinct blend of African, European, Indian, and Asian flavors. This grilled jerk chicken recipe, adapted from Food & Wine, is my go-to recipe. It’s spicy, but you can tone down the heat level by removing the seeds and membranes from the hot peppers.

For best results, marinate the chicken overnight. The marinade is also great on beef, pork, or shrimp (although for shrimp, marinate for only 30 minutes to 1 hour), so feel free to double and freeze it for other uses. If you don’t have a grill (or grilling weather), the chicken can be roasted in the oven instead.

What You’ll Need To Make Jerk Chicken

jerk chicken ingredients

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few notes on the ingredients:

  • I recommend using bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks over bone-in breasts for this recipe; the flavor is better and they are easier to grill without drying out. If you’d like to use bone-in chicken breasts, look for smaller ones so they won’t burn on the outside before the inside is fully cooked. Or, start them on the grill and finish them in the oven.
  • The recipe calls for either Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. These two peppers are varieties of the same chili pepper species, and they have a similar flavor and level of heat. Scotch bonnet peppers are native to the Caribbean and are used to make authentic jerk chicken, but they can be hard to find; habanero peppers, grown primarily in Mexico, make a great substitute. The heat comes from the seeds and membranes, so throw in the whole peppers for spicy jerk chicken. For a milder dish, remove the seeds and membranes from one or both of the peppers.
  • Be very careful when working with hot peppers. If you touch your eyes while handling them, it will be very painful. It’s a good idea to wear disposable gloves or wash your hands very well when you’re done.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by making the marinade. Combine all of the ingredients except for the chicken in a food processor.

jerk chicken marinade ingredients

Process until the vegetables are finely pureed.

jerk chicken marinade

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

chicken marinading in bag

Preheat the grill to medium heat (about 350°F). Clean and oil the cooking grate. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the cooler side of the grill and cook, covered, turning and moving occasionally to prevent burning and flare-ups, for 35 to 40 minutes.

chicken on the grill
If the skin is not yet crispy, move the chicken, skin side down, to the hotter side of the grill; cook, keeping a close watch to prevent burning, until the skin is rendered and crisp, a few minutes.

jerk chicken on grill

Transfer the chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.

How To Cook Jerk Chicken In The Oven

As mentioned above, jerk chicken can be roasted in the oven if a grill is unavailable. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up, and set an oven-proof rack on top. Spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chicken on the rack, skin side up, and roast until lightly browned and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. Turn on broiler (leave the pan on the middle rack), and cook 1 to 3 minutes more, or until the skin is golden brown and crispy.

If you happen to have leftover chicken, it’s delicious in tacos, wraps, quesadillas, or burrito bowls.

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Grilled Jerk Chicken

Spicy, smoky and aromatic, Jerk chicken is Jamaica’s most iconic dish.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 45 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour, plus at least 8 hours to marinate

Ingredients

  • 1 small yellow onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 scallions, quartered
  • 2 Scotch bonnet or Habanero chili peppers, stemmed (and seeded, if desired; see note) and roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2½ to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks or breasts)
  • Lime wedges, for serving

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 heat (about 350-375°F). Clean and oil the cooking grate. Place the chicken, skin side up, on the cooler side of the grill and cook, covered, turning and moving occasionally to prevent burning and flare-ups, for 35 to 40 minutes. If the skin is not yet crispy, move the chicken, skin side down, to the hotter side of the grill; cook, keeping a close watch to prevent burning, until the skin is rendered and crisp, a few minutes. Transfer the chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.
  3. Note: Be very 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. It's a good idea to wear disposable gloves or wash your hands very well when done. The heat comes from the seeds and membranes, so throw in the whole peppers for spicy jerk chicken. For a milder dish, remove the seeds and membranes from one or both of the peppers.
  4. Note: If you don't have a grill (or grilling weather) the chicken can be roasted in the oven instead. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up, and set an oven-proof rack on top. Spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chicken on the rack, skin side up, and roast until lightly browned and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes. Turn on broiler (leave the pan on the middle rack), and cook 1 to 3 minutes more, or until the skin is golden brown and crispy.

Pair with

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Comments

  • Love this recipe! One question Jenn, how would you recommend roasting this in the oven if I used chicken thighs that are boneless and skinless? Also if I was to use this marinade for roasting a whole chicken, would you adjust the quantities for the marinade, or keep it the same? Thanks for your help, I think this Jerk chicken recipe might be Xmas dinner for the family this year 🙂

    • — Mel on November 1, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Mel, so glad you like this! If cooking it in the oven, I’d follow the guidance from this recipe. (You obviously won’t be brushing glaze on as the recipe indicates, so just follow the cooktime in the instructions) And for a whole chicken I’d keep the amount of marinade the same. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on November 2, 2022
      • Reply
  • My partner loved this as much as Jenn’s peruvian chicken – and that’s saying something! Served well with the Thai cucumber with peanuts recipe on this same website. Definitely adding to our regular rotation and looking forward to serving at our next dinner get-together. Thanks Jenn

    • — Mel on October 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was delicious! Recipe was perfect. Made with Jen’s black bean/corn/avocado salad with the chipotle/adobe dressing and the lime cilantro rice.

    • — Kim on August 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi! I made this last weekend, served it with the cilantro rice and curry roasted carrots. I used serrano peppers and, since I did not have allspice, used cloves instead. It was such a perfect meal that I’m going to repeat it this weekend! Thanks for the great recipes!

    • — Margaret F on July 21, 2022
    • Reply
  • My Jamaican born husband said it was good. Enough said!! I will make again.

    • — Christina W. on July 20, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen! What cut of beef would you recommend for this recipe?

    • — Joyce Rasada on July 15, 2022
    • Reply
    • This would be nice with flank or flat iron steak. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on July 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hello! Is there a way to cook these on a Trager Grill/Smoker which is what I have. Thank you!

    • — Kim on July 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, I think it’s doable. I would follow the cooking directions from this recipe. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • I live in the Washington DC area (like you) and wondered where you have found scotch bonnet peppers. I have never been able to find them. I know I can substitute habanero but would like to be authentic with this recipe, if possible. Thanks!

    • — Jenn on July 14, 2022
    • Reply
    • I can’t! I use habanero (and they will give you the same result). 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 16, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made this and it was alright, but it’s crying out for some kind of citrus. Next time I’ll add orange or lime juice, or maybe pineapple.

    • — James DiSalvo on August 8, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen
    I just wanted to confirm that the 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable is the correct amount or is it a Typo?
    Thanks,
    Diane

    • — Diane on July 12, 2021
    • Reply
    • That’s actually correct – hope you enjoy if you make it! 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    How can I modify this recipe to make chicken wings in the oven?
    Thank you.

    • — Nitza on June 24, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Nitza, I’d actually still grill them and use the timing from this recipe. You could bake them, but unfortunately they won’t turn out crispy at all.

      • — Jenn on June 24, 2021
      • Reply
  • The chicken was moist and juicy, but the flavor was disappointing. I have had jerk chicken before, and is always has done heat to it. This was very bland with no heat at all.

    • — Michelle Q on May 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • My husband doesn’t like jerk chicken, but he loved this!!! I followed the suggestions and marinated for 24 hours. Thank you. I’d add a picture but I don’t know-how

    • — jill griffin on March 12, 2021
    • Reply
  • WHOA this was so good!! I took others advice and marinated 24hours, and used boneless skinless chicken. The chicken had so much flavor. I served it with fried green plantains and a citrus slaw from this website too!

    • — Christie Weaver
    • Reply
  • So good and so easy! Funny, I have no trouble finding five spice everywhere (here in Canada). Sometimes I have trouble finding scotch bonnet, but when I do, I get several and freeze them. Since I often puree them in marinades, the texture isn’t important but the flavour certainly is. For me, it doesn’t quite taste like jerk unless the scotch bonnet is there. When I read all the ingredients, I knew this was going to work!

  • Sad disappointment, I’m sorry to say. I’ve loved nearly every recipe I’ve tried of yours, but this one is a miss. Chinese five spice was too forward. It wasn’t spicy enough. Maybe ‘Caribbean Chicken’ or something. This isn’t jerk chicken.

  • I have had great success to date with your recipes and just purchased your cookbook. This jerk chicken recipe, however, turned out very bland. I used low salt soy sauce and a jalapeño pepper. Could that have made the difference? Did I undermine the recipe? I could not find a scotch bonnet or habanero pepper.

    • Hi Debbie, I suspect it was the low salt soy sauce. The dish probably just didn’t have enough salt. (The pepper may have made a slight difference but not significant.) Hope that helps!

  • Unfortunately I did exactly what you said not to do and got on a phone call and my chicken skins scorched even at the 15 min mark so make sure you check on it. I was able to manage the grill so the other side cooked beautifully. Although we had to remove the skin as it was inedible (sigh) the flavor from the marinade on chicken was perfect and can only imagine how this would have been even more delicious if I would have cooked the skin just to crispy stage. Not spicy but just great flavor profile. I couldn’t find the chinese five spice anywhere and went to 4 different stores so had to order through Amazon as I didn’t want to try it without it. Will cook again for sure…so so good!

  • Would love to tackle this recipe…
    Is Asian 5 spice the same as Chinese 5 spice ?

    • Yep – hope you enjoy!

  • ***** This was AMAZING! Thank you Jen! I love your website and recipes! I made this chicken last night! The only thing I would change is to marinade it for 24 hours instead of only 8. The flavors were so delicious! I was hesitant at first, because I don’t like real spicy foods, but it was totally perfect! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I will definitely put this on my chicken rotation!

    • So glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

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