Jerk Chicken

If you’ve never had Jerk Chicken, it’s a sweet and spicy Caribbean chicken dish that is popular in Jamaica. I spent a week in Negril a few years back and I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s gooood.

Don’t let the heat fool you in this dish, even though it’s considerably spicy, the sweet flavors balance out the heat.

What makes traditional jerk chicken unique is the spices used in the marinade. You don’t season your chicken any other way before grilling; just letting it soak up the flavor. The marinade is a combination of pimento berries – what we call allspice – mixed with nutmeg, cinnamon, thyme and cloves.  But for my take on it, I found a really good jerk chicken seasoning that combines all these.

For the chicken, I use a 5lbs whole bird that I cut into pieces myself. But you can use a pre-cut chicken – or just about any pieces of the chicken you like. And since it’s pretty cheap, this dish will feed a lot of folks. And it’s a great recipe for summertime grilling.

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 3-4 green onions (diced)
  • 1-2 scotch bonnet pepper (depending on how hot you like it)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 2 TBS salt
  • 1 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TEA cracked black pepper
  • 1 Heaping TBS Jerk Seasoning

You combine all those ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Quick side note: The scotch bonnet pepper is extremely hot. I suggest always wearing gloves when handling them and remove all the seeds and veins. When you’re finished working with them, make sure you wash your hands really well with soap and water. You do not want to get this stuff in your eyes… or worse. Trust me here.

Place the cut-up chicken in a gallon size ziplock bag and pour the marinade over the chicken. Remove the air, mix the bag around to make sure all the pieces are covered. Place it in a shallow dish and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 4 hours). I also like to mix the bag around every couple of hours to make sure it’s all getting marinated evenly.

When you’re ready to grill, take the chicken out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before it hits the grill. This just brings it up to room temp so the chicken cooks evenly.

The Weber kettle is perfect for grilling this style chicken because you want to sear it fast for a few minutes and then cook it slow to finish. And this weber is easily set-up for 2-zone cooking. So all the heat is on one half of the grill – and the other half is a cool zone.

I use Weber’s charcoal trays to keep the hot coals corralled in one place.  And lump charcoal because it produces high heat for searing; it also gives you plenty of burn time to last the entire cook.

I put my cast-iron cooking grates over the hot zone for the searing. This just keeps the fire from flaring and it gives me some great grill marks.

But before you get rolling, just make sure you coat your grill grates and your cast iron grates with cooking oil so this chicken doesn’t stick.

Once the grill is oiled and hot, the first step of the process is to sear the outside of the chicken. I start with the skin-side down for 2.5  – 3 minutes then flip it over for another 2.5 – 3 minutes.

After you have a good sear on both sides, move the chicken to the cool zone and let it cook. I like to turn mine every 10 minutes or so just to make sure it’s cooking properly. And after about 30 – 40 minutes cooking on the cool zone, the breast should be 165 internal and the thighs should be 175.

And while the chicken was cooking, I made a final glaze. Here is my recipe:

  • 3-4 scallions sliced thin
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper finely chopped – once again I stress safety with these peppers
  • 1 TBS fresh thyme minced
  • 1 TBS Jamaican Jerk seasoning
  • 2 limes juiced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ pineapple juice

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse it a few times. But I like to leave mine a little chunky – so don’t go crazy here.

I glazed both sides of the chicken with this mixture and let it caramelize for about 10 more minutes. Once the glaze is set, you’re ready to plate and eat.

Just before serving, I like to sprinkle a little more freshly chopped scallions over the top for color.  All you need now is a couple ice-cold Red Stripes and you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean.

About Malcolm (the Author)

For over a decade now Malcom Reed has been competing in barbecue competitions... and it didn't take long for this hobby to develop into a full-blown addiction. After being inspired by the comradery and brotherhood of the sport, Malcom developed, a website devoted to sharing BBQ techniques and promoting the Competition BBQ Lifestyle. Through his cooking team, The Killer Hogs, and his barbecue business, Malcom is a constant student of 'Que... and his goal is to and his goal is to share his knowledge and passion with everyone.