Jerk Chicken

Caribbean jerk chicken sings with flavorful heat, thanks to plentiful spices and potent chili peppers. Marinate this jerk chicken recipe overnight and cook it in the oven or on the grill.

Overhead view of jerk chicken on a platter.
Ciara Kehoe

Do you like heat? As in chili heat? If you do, then jerk chicken is made for you.

This is a dish popular in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. Jerk seasoning is based on two main ingredients: Scotch Bonnet chili peppers (or habaneros) and allspice.

Jerk Chicken Tip

Scotch bonnet and habanero chili peppers are HOT. As in be-really-careful hot, and as for goodness sake do not touch your eyes or anything sensitive after handling them hot.

The following jerk chicken recipe isn't blazing hot, but it is still plenty spicy, and great the next day in a chicken salad. Serve it with black beans and rice (to spread out the heat) and a very large glass of cold beer. You can choose to make jerk chicken in the oven, or make grilled jerk chicken.

Do you have a favorite jerk seasoning recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Overhead view of jerk chicken on a platter with dipping sauce.
Ciara Kehoe
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Watch This Jerk Chicken Recipe

What is Jerk Chicken?

Jerk is a cooking method traditionally used in throughout the Caribbean and often associated with Jamaica in particular. Spices coat chicken—or beef, pork, seafood, and even vegetables—that's cooked slowly over a fire.

The method may have started with the Taino, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, in the 15th century as a way to preserve meat (the word jerk is related to jerky). It's believed they taught the method to African slaves who adapted it. That adaptation became the Caribbean residents' method today to make jerk chicken.

Using Chicken Parts Instead of a Whole Chicken

You can use chicken parts instead of a whole chicken for this recipe. Use 5 or 6 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken parts such as breasts, legs, thighs, or drumsticks. Marinate as directed Step 2 and grill or bake as directed. However, since individual pieces are smaller than two chicken halves, the cooking time may be less. Use a meat thermometer to judge when the chicken is fully cooked (165°F).

Common Ingredients in Jerk Marinade

The two essential ingredients in jerk marinade are scotch bonnet peppers and allspice. (Habaneros can replace the scotch bonnets if necessary.) Without the super hot peppers and the allspice, the marinade won't be jerk. Other ingredients commonly used include red onions, green onions, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, garlic, sugar (or another sweetener), ginger, orange juice, soy sauce, lime juice, and pepper.

This jerk marinade uses several of those ingredients, but not all of them. There are many different versions of the marinade. We find this one, with molasses as the sweetener, to be balanced and addictive. And, yes, the amounts of all of the spices are correct. This is a very richly spiced dish.

Preparing Jerk Chicken in Advance

If you're looking for a recipe that doesn't require a lot of work the day you're cooking it, this jerk chicken is perfect. It marinates overnight, so the work of creating the marinade happens a day before you cook it. You can even make the marinade up to a week in advance and refrigerate it.

We don't recommend cooking the chicken in advance, because it will lose some of its crispness and juiciness. However, if there are leftovers, refrigerate them for up to five days and eat cold. Or, strip the meat from leftover jerk chicken and use it in salads.

Great Jerk Chicken Side Dishes

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Jerk Chicken

Cook Time 60 mins
Overnight 24 hrs
Total Time 25 hrs
Servings 6 to 8 servings

Scotch bonnet and habanero chili peppers are very hot and can cause extreme pain if they come in contact with your eyes. I strongly recommend wearing protective gloves while handling the chilis and the jerk paste.

Recipe adapted from several sources, including Bon Appetit magazine.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar (or white vinegar)

  • 2 tablespoons dark rum

  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers (or habaneros), with seeds, chopped

  • 1 red onion, chopped

  • 4 green onion tops, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin 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

  • 1/2 cup lime juice

  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) chicken, cut in half lengthwise

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

  1. Make the jerk marinade:

    Put the 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.

    Overhead view of a food processor with jerk chicken marinade inside.
    Ciara Kehoe
  2. Marinate the chicken:

    Place the chicken in a large freezer bag, or in a large non-reactive bowl or baking dish. Pour lime juice over the chicken and coat well.

    Rub the jerk paste over the chicken pieces and coat well (it helps to use gloves!). Seal the bag or cover the chicken in the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

    A baking dish of chicken and sauce to show how to make jerk chicken
    Ciara Kehoe
  3. Cook the chicken, simmer marinade:

    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.

    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 about 40-50 minutes, 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°F for the breast and 170°F for the thigh when checked with a meat thermometer.

    Transfer chicken to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm and let stand 15 minutes.

    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 40-50 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, or a meat thermometer reads about 165°F for the breast and 170°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.

    A pot of of gravy that shows how to make jerk chicken.
    Ciara Kehoe
    Chicken on the grill to make a jerk chicken recipe.
    Ciara Kehoe
    Basting chicken to make a jerk chicken recipe.
    Ciara Kehoe
    Checking the temperature of grilled chicken to make a jerk chicken recipe.
    Ciara Kehoe
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
888 Calories
50g Fat
8g Carbs
94g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 888
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 50g 65%
Saturated Fat 14g 69%
Cholesterol 299mg 100%
Sodium 849mg 37%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 94g
Vitamin C 14mg 72%
Calcium 99mg 8%
Iron 6mg 31%
Potassium 897mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.