Jerk chicken is a fiery, flavor-packed dish that originated in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Its popularity has spread to other parts of the world including the United States and Western Europe. For every chef, there’s a different combination of spices, but the two essential ingredients are allspice and habanero chilis. If you enjoy smoky, tender chicken bursting with spicy flavor and fragrance then this is a recipe you need to try.
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes.
- 3 pounds chicken pieces, with bones and skin on
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 5 green onions, cut into thick slices
- 2 habanero peppers
- 2” ginger, sliced
- 1/3 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- Salt, to season
- Add the chicken pieces to a large sealable freezer bag.
- Pulse the remaining ingredients in a food processor until coarsely chopped, then pour over the chicken. Force any air out of the bag and seal. Ensure the marinade has covered all the meat before refrigerating for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat then rub the grill grates with a paper towel doused in oil. Cook the chicken on the grill for 30 minutes or until the internal meat is white and tender, without any pink areas. During cooking, occasionally turn the chicken with tongs and reduce the heat if the outside is browning too fast.
Prefer to oven bake? Preheat an oven to 375°F and line a baking tray with foil, then spray with non-stick oil. Place the meat onto the tray, allowing some space between each piece. Next, cook for 40-50 minutes until cooked through and there is no pink meat.
Safety warning: Avoid touching your eyes or sensitive skin after handling habanero peppers.
5 tips to improve jerk chicken
1. Bake and broil
Do you like plenty of color on your chicken skin? When oven baking chicken, broil the meat for the last few minutes of the recipe. The result will be crisper, darker chicken that is impossible to resist.
2. Substitute the habaneros
Not everyone can tolerate the heat of fresh habanero peppers. If you want an authentic tasting Jamaican jerk seasoning, without the heat, replace the chilis with this mix: 2 tsp cayenne pepper, 2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.
3. Remove the heat completely
Will you make this meal for kids or family and friends who don’t enjoy fiery hot food? You are best to save this dinner for another night or simply remove the chili from the dish. Add crushed chili flakes to individual plates when serving, if needed.
4. Plan ahead
You can start making this dish a few hours in advance, but the best option is to marinate overnight. This gives the flavor from the spices time to work its way into the meat. If you’re organized, you may want to allow the flavors to infuse for 24 hours.
5. Get under the skin
Want more flavor from your chicken? Gently rub the marinade underneath the skin, taking care not to tear the skin off.
What chicken works best in jerk recipes?
For the most tender and flavorsome chicken, choose thighs over breasts. As with any meat, the bone provides more flavor than the boneless option and helps protect the meat from drying out to fast.
If you decide to use boneless, skinless breasts, then marinate for no more than 6 hours and then grill the pieces for around five minutes on each side.
Boneless thighs without the skin on can be marinated for up to 12 hours and should be grilled for around five minutes each side, on a medium-high barbecue grill. Alternatively, bake for 30 minutes in a 400°F oven, then broil the last few minutes to enhance browning.
Side dish suggestions
- coconut rice
- mango salsa
Can jerk marinade be made in advance?
The marinade can be prepared in advance, then stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- “Jerk” in Jamaican cuisine, is a style of cooking where meat or vegetables are coated in spices, then slow-cooked over a grill or open fire. To get an authentic flavor, pimento wood is burned over the coals to get a delicious smoky flavor. Source.
- Habaneros are also known as Scotch Bonnet chili peppers and they are a lot hotter than cayenne peppers.
- In Jamaica, there are many “jerk huts” that sell jerk chicken, cooked using traditional ingredients.
Jamaican jerk chicken is one of the great summer dishes that is easy to make but packed with taste. Of course, you don’t need to limit jerk seasoning to chicken. Make a big batch of the spice and use it on vegetables, pork, fish, or anything that benefits from the spicy flavor.
Recipes for jerk spice blends are flexible so making changes to the ingredients is okay. You could either substitute the unwanted ingredient with your favorite spices and herbs, or simply leave it out.
What is your favorite food from Jamaica? Please let us know in the comments below.