Jerk Chicken

Caribbean jerk chicken full of flavor and and a good amount of heat, using habaneros (or scotch bonnet chili peppers) and allspice.


  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros), with seeds, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 green onion tops, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme or 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • 1 (5 or 6 pound) roasting chicken, cut in half, lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • Salt and pepper

Safety note. Scotch Bonnet and Habanero chile peppers are very hot and can cause extreme pain if they come in contact with your eyes. We strongly recommend wearing protective gloves while handling the chilies and the jerk paste.


1 Put vinegar, rum, hot peppers, onion, green onion tops, thyme, olive oil, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and molasses into a blender. Pulse until mostly smooth.

jerk-chicken-1.jpg jerk-chicken-2.jpg

2 Place chicken in a large freezer bag, or in a large roasting pan or baking dish. Pour lime juice over the chicken and coat well. Add the jerk paste to the chicken pieces and coat well. Seal the bag or cover the chicken in the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

3 When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove chicken from the marinade bag or pan. Put the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to use as a basting sauce for the chicken. If you want you can reserve a little of the marinade (once boiled for 10 minutes since it has been in contact with raw chicken) to serve with the chicken or to mix with some ketchup and a dash of soy sauce for a serving sauce.


4a Grilling Method
Preheat grill to medium high. Sprinkle chicken halves with salt and pepper. Place chicken halves, skin side down on the grill grates. Cover. Cook for approximately one hour, keeping the internal grill temperature between 350°F and 400°F, turning the chickens occasionally and basting with marinade, until the chicken halves are cooked through. The chicken is done when the juices run clear (not pink) when a knife tip is inserted into both the chicken breast and thigh, about 165-170°F for the breast and 180-185°F for the thigh. Transfer chicken to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes.

4b Oven Method
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place chicken halves in a rimmed baking pan, skin side up. Roast until chicken halves are cooked through, about 50-60 minutes. The chicken is done when the juices run clear (not pink) when a knife tip is inserted into both the chicken breast and thigh, about 165-170°F for the breast and 180-185°F for the thigh. Transfer chicken to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes.

Cut chicken into pieces. Serve with black beans and rice.

Serves 6 to 8.

Recipe adapted from several sources, including Bon Appetit magazine.


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  • Gary in Massena

    I still remember the first time I had Jerk Chicken. It was in a Jamaican restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. I was eating alone and remember that the waiter brought me a gallon pitcher of Iced Tea. Funny thing, I drank the whole thing.

    I attribute that lunch to converting me over to be a chili head.

    Hot, but oh so flavorful.

    Gary in Massena

  • bunchi

    The first time I had Jerk Chicken was at Jay’s Cafe in Ithaca, New York [no longer there]. It was fabulous, served with fried plantains, coconut rice…yummy! There’s a recipe posted here: Thanks for bringing back good food memories :)

  • Nancy

    Oh! The insanity pepper episode when he coats his throat with candle wax! That’s a classic.

  • Rich

    Even better with a cold bottle of Ginger Beer!

  • Paul Dearing

    We too love Jerk Chicken. This is a recipe we’ve employed and enjoyed for years. It is such a staple in our dinner rotation that my wife Carrie grew me a Habenero plant.

    Jamaican Jerk Chicken

    Don’t let the long list of ingredients scare you, this is easy to make. We recommend a sweet wine as an accompaniment to help put the fire out.

    1 tablespoon ground Allspice
    1 tablespoon dried Thyme
    1 ½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
    1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black Pepper
    1 ½ teaspoons ground Sage
    ¾ teaspoon Nutmeg
    ¾ teaspoon ground Cinnamon
    1 tablespoon Sugar

    ¼ cup Olive Oil
    ¼ cup Soy Sauce
    ¾ cup White Vinegar
    ½ cup Orange Juice
    Juice of 1 Lime

    1 Habanero Pepper – seeded and finely chopped
    3 Green Onions – finely chopped
    1 cup White Onion – finely chopped
    10 Garlic Cloves – crushed

    4 to 6 Chicken Breasts

    Combine all of the dry stuff, the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine all the wet stuff, Olive Oil, Soy Sauce, Vinegar, O.J., and lime juice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Then slowly pour and whisk the wet stuff into the dry stuff. Once that is all mixed together stir in the vegetables, Habanero, Onions, and Garlic. Add Chicken, cover the bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for at least an hour.
    Cook the chicken on the grill for about six minutes on a side, brushing on more of the marinade while cooking. Bring the leftover marinade to a fast boil for at least 4 minutes and serve as a dipping sauce.

  • Tom

    Our first taste of Jerk chicken was in Jamaica. That’s the place for it.

    I’ve never tried to make it from scratch. We always used WalkersWood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning. (Which we brought back originally, then found at local Jamaican grocers.) The “Jerk Seasoning” from the local mega-mart had little flavor, just heat.

    We like it with Yeast rolls, Mac & Cheese and Sweet Tea to cool the palate.

  • lazy chef

    For those who are lazy, you can find Walkerswood Jerk seasoning at Cost Plus, and Bevmo in California. It’s actually a pretty good rendition, nice and hot. Recently got the penzey’s jerk powder, just add water – nice and easy too.

  • The TriniGourmet

    Mmm. My mom is Jamaican :) We usually use Jamaican jerk seasonings :) If you like scotch bonnets you may like this recipe for authentic Trinidadian pepper sauce as well :)

  • Rebecca Smith

    I made this chicken for 15 people last weekend and served with icebox salad (recipe follows) and grilled corn. The chicken was a hit (way to go, Elise!) and they’ve decided I will have to cook dinner every Sunday from now on!!! What have I gotten myself into?!

    1 bag Lettuce (I like the “trio) with iceburg,butter, and romaine lettuces)
    1 cucumber, diced (about the 1/3 size of a sugar cube)
    6-8 radishes, sliced thin
    3/4 lb sugar snap peas, coarsely chopped
    1/2 box frozen peas – leave frozen
    1 bunch green onions, chopped
    1 batch Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk Dressing mix, prepared
    1 container shredded paremsan or other italian cheese combo (I prefer asiago and romano)

    Layer the first 6 ingredients in an aluminum roasting pan. Drizzle the ranch dressing over the top until completely covered. Top GENEROUSLY with shredded cheese. Chill for 2-6 hours and enjoy. Serves 10-12.

  • Giselle

    The first time I tried this recipe, I was so in shock something like chicken can taste like that, but looks can be deceiving, for anyone who is thinking about trying it, but unsure, I would tell them try it you’ll fall in love with it.

  • isis

    Jamaican jerk was originally used to preserve meat – marinated then slow roasted which could then be packed away and eaten over a few days. The spice is to ensure plenty of protein to go around, the acid from lime juice and vinegar to ensure the meat preserves well… You can use the mellow malt vinegar, but white vinegar is a bit harsh… I would recommend a white or red wine vinegar.

    This is a similar approach to meat preservation as found in the Vindaloos from some parts in India, which were used to preserve meat for long voyages. The meat was layered in the vindaloo marinade for days, then slow cooked and packed in wood barrels for transport.

    You MUST use fresh ingredients to make this successfully, and one main, critical ingredient missing in this recipe is fresh lime juice.

  • april

    Wow! This was fantastic! Maximum respect–as they say in Jamaica. This recipe was the BOMB!

    Thanks Elise!

  • Leah

    We discovered this recipe last year and it has become a part of our grilling repertoire. We totally love it. Thanks so much for such a great food blog. I check your site regularly for new ideas and it never disappoints. Keep up the great work!

    Eat well!

  • Parin

    Hey Elise! Recipe looks delicious and by the way…my first time having jerk chicken was at Delta of Venus in Davis and ever since I have been obsessed with it! The flavor is amazing!

  • june yoo

    Ha ha I definitely love Iwaca’s jerk chicken over at the Delta of Venus as well, that’s what inspired me to put in a search for jerk chicken on google and this is what I found. irie vibes

  • Lacey

    I make jerk chicken all the time! In bulk for the week usually!

    My two favorite recipes, are a variation on a salad I used to always get at a little Jamaican joint near my old job and delicious quesadillas.

    For the salad, I use a bed of green, usually romaine and some spinach. Then I chop up red onion and tomato – or use cherry tomatoes, sometimes I add carrots and whatever other typical salad fixin’s I may have around. The real trick to the salad though is berries and candied nuts! I’ve tried both candied pecans and walnuts, strawberries or raspberries. Top it with your warm sliced chicken and a raspberry vinigarette and your lunch will be turning heads!
    I have added bleu cheese to this, but typically do forget! :P

    For my quesadillas, I make the chicken first with Jamaican jerk seasoning, I add more garlic, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to taste – cooked all with olive oil. Let the pan get really sticky. I let the chicken really simmer to get nice and tender. Once the chicken is cooked through I shred it or slice it finely on a plate. I then put the tortilla right in the sticky spice pan, add my mixed cheese, chicken, and spinach! Voila! The tortilla will get nice and crispy with a little bit of spice. I have had this with feta as well, its nice.

    I’m currently working on a jerk chicken chili recipe for a chili cook off, we’ll see how it goes!!

  • Southern Patriot

    In our recent trip to Jamaica we observed the jerk cooks carefully and most did not preserve the moisture in the chicken and the chicken which came immediately from the fire or that which rested a few minutes was hot but dry. We challenged our hosts in Jamaica that we could prepare jerk chicken better than he usually had from the road side jerk stand and he said that was not possible until he watched us do exactly that. The difference? We brined the chicken in jerk seasoning and salt and then covered it as it roasted on the charred wood. We used scotch bonnet peppers for them and then for us we used roasted jalapenas (chipotle) which we enjoyed much better. We prepared pigeon peas with rice and also cole slaw and all enjoyed the dishes and refreshments. We returned to prepare the same for hundreds of hungry men and women of the U.S. military, which was a great honor.

  • Bob

    I started to make this recipe until I got to the 4 teaspoons of spices each. Are these measurements correct? That makes for an expensive marinade and I would think it would be way over-spicy.

    Anyone make it as listed?

    The measurements are correct, but if you want to reduce the amount of jerk paste you make, that will work too. Jamaican jerk chicken is very very spicy. ~Elise

  • Val

    My grandmother used to grow scotch bonnet peppers in our backyard garden. I love jerk chicken and my jerk sauce is very similar to yours. I got the recipe from a Jamaican friend some years ago.

  • Steve

    Haven’t had Jerk this good since I was in Jamaica. Great recipe, thank you for the upload.

  • Steve

    Forgot to add, if you’re going to use a shop bought paste then buy Walkerswood. It was recommended to me by my hotels Jerk chef (Yup, thats all he did, all day long!) and is very good. Not as good as this recipe though! Thanks again Elise.

  • Princezz

    In the DC area there are a few great restaurants or “hole in the wall” joints that have great jerk chicken. A few years ago I worked with a woman from Jamaica who made jerk chicken,she turned me on to a great substitue when you do not have the time, patience or skill to prepare authentic jerk. Her recommendation was “WalkersWood Traditional Jerk Seasoning” you can find it in authentic markets and some of the main grocers that have Caribbean or Jamican food sections (in a jar in both mild and spicy).
    Rinse the chicken and clean with vinegar or lemons, season chicken with Adobo seasoning or onion, garlic powder, salt and/or pepper as you wish. Spoon and rub the desired amonut of jerk seasoning. Then add 1/2 cup of diced onions and 1 tbs chopped garlic. To lessen the heat and add some sweetness add a few tablespoons of honey or brown sugar. I suggest letting it marinate the fridge in a covered container overnight or for 4 hours before cooking. I prefer to prepare it in a crockpot on high for 4 hours or until the meat falls off the bone. When I have less time I cook it for about an hour or more in a covered pan on the stove or the oven and serve with beans and rice. Note: Add 1 to 2 tbls of oil to the pan with a clove of garlic and 1/4c of diced onions.

    Great on top of a grean salad.

  • rome

    I don’t know what I did wrong, but my Jerk Chicken did not come out as I expected, I followed the exact recipe to the tee, the only thing I didnt do was use fresh lime juice, I used bottled instead…..but I don’t see how it would make the chicken sour/bitter/and spicy. I also didn’t grill it, I put it in the oven.