Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken that is rubbed with spicy and flavorful marinade and barbecued on the grill is a fantastic way to enjoy chicken.
» Looking for chicken recipes? Give these Sticky Korean Chicken Wings or these Marinated Grilled Chicken Thighs a try.
After a trip to Jamaica a few years ago, I was enthralled with the spiciness of Jamaican Jerk Chicken. I’d had a bunch of different versions of this dish before going to Jamaica, but once I tried the real thing, I realized how off they were. Not really even close to the real flavor.
Making it myself at home, using the recipe I was given by a Jamaican cook, I could see why the other recipes often failed.
A huge part of this recipe is getting the Jerk seasoning right. There are a few key components that are absolutely necessary to get the right flavor combination.
Secondly, you need to allow the chicken to marinate with the rub for a long period of time (at least overnight), and finally you need to barbecue the meat over coals or on a gas grill on medium heat.
See how they do it at one of the most popular Jamaican Jerk roadside stands in Montego Bay?
They butterfly or spatchcock the chicken, rub it with their famous marinade, leave it on for a few days, then cook them up on a roasting pit. Then they cut the chicken into pieces.
If you don’t want to cook an entire chicken, you can definitely still cook individual pieces with this recipe, but we highly recommend using the whole chicken, if possible.
Jerk Chicken FAQs
How is jerk chicken traditionally cooked?
In Jamaica, jerk chicken is cooked over coals, but not on a traditional grate. Jerk BBQ pits are covered in fresh wood from the pimento tree. The pimento tree is also where the allspice berries come from that are used in the marinade. While it’s not really possible to replicate those conditions at home, the chicken should at least be cooked on a barbecue for best results.
Why is it called jerk chicken?
The term “jerk” is thought to have come from the Spanish word for dried meat, which translated as jerky in English. It also refers to the process of cooking that required you to jerk around the chicken on the grill.
What does Jamaican jerk sauce taste like?
The major ingredient that you cannot make Jamaican jerk sauce without is scotch bonnet peppers. The other key components are allspice, nutmeg, thyme, and garlic.
Is Jamaican jerk chicken spicy?
This isn’t a sauce for those who don’t like heat. It’s super spicy. That’s what makes it truly Jamaican. The spiciness comes from the scotch bonnet peppers that are used.
How to Spatchcock a Chicken
Spatchcocking a chicken isn’t as hard as it sounds. I was scared to do it for a long time because I thought it would surely involve a ton of steps, but I was wrong. It’s actually quite easy.
All you need to do is cut down the back of the chicken on either side of the backbone to remove it, then flip the chicken over and press the legs out to open up, or butterfly, the chicken.
You can watch the video below to see the steps in action:
How to Make Jerk Marinade
Jerk seasoning is used throughout the Caribbean today, but the origin of it dates back to the end of the 17th century when African slaves fled into the woods to escape their British captors. Adapting to their new challenges, they used what was available to them for preserving the meat they caught, which led them to create the spicy sauce now known as jerk seasoning.
The marinade is a wet mix of spices, seasonings, and scotch bonnet chilis.
You can actually purchase Jamaican jerk marinade on Amazon, and it’s the exact same brand that Jamaicans buy and use at home. I have it on good authority from a Jamaican that this is the closest you can get to making it yourself. If you don’t want to make your own marinade, you can purchase this sauce. Now back to cooking!
This isn’t a marinade for those who don’t like heat. It’s spicy. That’s what makes it truly Jamaican. Yes, you can leave the peppers out, but it won’t be as flavorful. Look at those delicious peppers!
» Love the flavor but not all the work? Try these Easy Jerk Chicken Wings.
If you can’t get your hands on any scotch bonnets, you can substitute with habanero or jalepeno. Habanero chilis are actually very similar to scotch bonnets in heat, though scotch bonnets are a bit sweeter.
These peppers are screaming hot, of course, but you can tone down the spiciness by removing the veins and seeds.
All the ingredients in this jerk marinade are as follows. Yes, there are a lot of spices. That’s what makes the flavor so amazing.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp ground thyme
- 1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
- 3 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp dried ginger (or grated fresh ginger)
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper chopped (seeds and veins removed if you don’t want it to be so spicy)
Put all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and mix it into a ground paste. I’ve seen versions that aren’t as ground up as mine is, but I prefer a finer grind because it spreads easier and doesn’t burn as easily when you cook it.
If you’re using all dried spices, it’s not absolutely necessary to blend it. It won’t change the flavor at all. So feel free to skip this step if you want.
Once you’ve mixed up the marinade, you are ready to spread it on the chicken. First, reserve 1 tsp of the marinade to use in the sauce at the end.
Then use the rest of the marinade to coat the chicken. It’s easy to brush the marinade on with a basting brush, which I recommend because you don’t want to get the scotch bonnets on your hands.
Rub it liberally all over the outside and inside of the spatchcocked chicken. You can also rub it under the skin to get more flavoring on the chicken.
Since the chicken has no bones, you can easily fold the chicken up and put it in a storage container to put in the refrigerator. It’s best to let it marinade in the rub for at least 24 hours, but 48 hours is even better. It takes time. If you can’t wait that long, at least try to give it a few hours.
How to Make the Scotch Bonnet Sauce
The second star of the show with this dish is the Scotch Bonnet sauce that it’s served with. In Jamaica, the chicken is always served with copious amounts of this sauce.
The easiest way to make this sauce is in a food processor or the chopping attachment to a stick blender. It’s an incredibly spicy sauce, so a little bit goes a long ways.
In Jamaica, you’ll often see locals mixing it with ketchup to tone it down. Since you’re making it yourself, you can tone it down yourself by adding less peppers. I also always remove the seeds and ribs of the peppers, which takes quite a bit of the heat away.
The ingredients for the sauce are:
- 1 scotch bonnet, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup pineapple chunks or 1/8 cup pineapple juice
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/8 cup white vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 tsp of the reserved marinade rub
Place all ingredients for scotch bonnet sauce in a food processor and mix until your desired chunkiness.
Transfer the sauce to a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Allow it to cool completely in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve the chicken.
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How to Cook the Chicken
The best way to cook this chicken is on an outdoor grill with an open flame. While you don’t want to scorch the chicken, you definitely want it to get a little char on the edges, which just increases the flavor.
Heat the grill to a medium high heat. Grill the chicken over a small flame, turning occasionally, until well browned and cooked through. It’ll take about 35 to 40 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
The amount of time it takes to cook the chicken will vary depending on the size of the chicken. Be sure to monitor it closely after about 30 minutes. You also don’t want the flames to be too aggressive, so they burn the chicken, so keep an eye on that too.
At the end of cooking, you can turn the chicken to the front side to get a bit of char on the edges. Don’t leave it for long, though. You don’t want the marinade to burn.
Once the chicken is done and you’ve let it rest for 10 minutes, you can cut it into pieces and serve it with the scotch bonnet sauce. The chicken itself is super flavorful, so you don’t really need the sauce, but it’s a nice accompaniment.
You can also cook this chicken in the oven, if you don’t have access to a grill. It should be cooked at 375°F for around 45-60 minutes, again registering 165°F internal temperature when done.
It’s still quite good in the oven, but as you can see from the picture above, it doesn’t get the really juicy, crispy skin like it does on the grill. The meat is still super flavorful and delicious.
Side Dishes to Try
Crunchy Broccoli Salad
Corn & Black Bean Pasta Salad
Bacon, Jalapeno & Corn Salad
Classic Wedge Salad
Pear & Gorgonzola Salad
Roasted Asparagus with Cranberries & Feta
Shaved Asparagus with Pesto
Roasted Green Beans & Mushrooms
Crispy Roast Potatoes
What to Serve It With
In Jamaica, you will always receive rice and beans as a side dish to Jerk Chicken. Cabbage salad or cole slaw is also a typical side dish.
Even though it’s not Jamaican, we like this Cilantro Lime Rice. You could also try this Bacon, Corn & Jalapeno salad. It pairs really well with this spicy chicken.
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Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- 1 whole chicken around 3 lbs, spatchcocked
For the jerk marinade
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ground thyme
- 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
- 3 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper seeds & ribs removed
For the Scotch Bonnet sauce
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 1/4 cup pineapple chunks or 1/8 cup pineapple juice
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/8 cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper seeds & ribs removed
- Spatchcock the chicken and set aside.
- Reserve one scotch bonnet for the sauce. Combine all ingredients for the jerk marinade in a food processor or chopper attachment. Blend until a paste forms. Reserve 1 tsp jerk marinade for the sauce. Cover the chicken with the remaining spice rub, coating it well, even rubbing under the skin. Cover chicken and refrigerate for up to 48 hours.
- Place all ingredients for scotch bonnet sauce, plus 1 tsp of reserved jerk marinade, in a food processor and mix until your desired chunkiness. Transfer the sauce to a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve the chicken.
- Remove chicken from refrigerator at least 20 minutes before grilling. Preheat the grill to a medium-high heat, then place the chicken rib-side down on the grill. Grill the chicken over a small flame, turning occasionally, until well browned and cooked through. It'll take about 35 to 40 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Remove from grill and allow to stand for 10 minutes before chopping into pieces. Serve it with the scotch bonnet sauce.
- The scotch bonnet peppers are quite hot, so start with a small amount and add more after tasting the seasoning and the sauce. It’s easier to add more than to reduce the heat.
- When you work with the peppers, be sure to wear gloves so you don’t accidentally touch your face with your hands after cutting them.
- If you don’t like heat, you can leave the scotch bonnets out. It will still taste good!
- The amount of time it takes to cook the chicken will vary depending on the size of the chicken. Be sure to monitor it closely after about 30 minutes. You also don’t want the flames to be too aggressive, so they burn the chicken, so keep an eye on that too.
- At the end of cooking, you can turn the chicken to the front side to get a bit of char on the edges. Don’t leave it for long, though. You don’t want the marinade to burn.
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Laura is a home cook who loves making new recipes and finding new favorite things to eat, whether at home or abroad. She also runs a popular travel blog and spends a lot of her time traveling for food.
30 thoughts on “Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe”
I was intrigued with this recipe because you really sounded like you knew what you were doing. The story about the pimento wood is fascinating. This chicken is possibly the best jerk chicken we have ever eaten! Thanks!
Yum!! This is one of my favorite chicken recipes, so delicious.
Super delicious and flavorful marinade. Amazing sauce for the glaze. This is surely yummy and best weekend BBQ option.
This recipe is perfection! So full of flavor and easy to make. Definitely a keeper!
I LOVE Jamaican Jerk Chicken and your post was so informative for making even better!
Any scotch bonnet on the marinade? I don’t see any just on the dipping sauce
Yes, half of the scotch bonnets go in the marinade and half in the sauce. I have adjusted the recipe accordingly. I always recommend starting with just half in the marinade and tasting it before adding more. It can be quite hot.
I love jerk chicken! I haven’t had it in so long so ill definitely be making this soon!
I love jerk chicken and your recipe looks incredible! That sauce has my mouth watering just looking at it!
So delicious! Will definitely be making again!
My goodness, yes. I can taste it already. Adding ingredients to my shopping list now. Yum!
What a fantastic Jerk Chicken recipe! Good tip on the scotch bonnet peppers! I like heat but don’t want too much! This is great!
Glad you liked it, Leslie.
Prepared this last night for tonight’s dinner. Looks great. But…used habanero peppers instead of scotch bonnet. Rub looks perfect but my sauce is yellow-ish rather than the reddish brown shown in your photos. So little pepper in the recipe, can that make the difference? None of the other sauce ingredients would lend a red color…
The difference in color is likely attributed to the color of the peppers and whether you added the remaining rub to the sauce. I used red scotch bonnet peppers. That mixed with the remaining rub turns the sauce a darker red/brown color.
Thank you! Loved it and leftover sauce on tacos was a hit.
You sure do know what you’re talking about!!! This jerk marinade is amazing! I enjoyed reading your entire post. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for that! I’m so happy to hear that you liked it.
What if I want to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs? What would I need to change?
You would just need to adjust the cooking time and the best way to know when it’s done is to use a meat thermometer. It’s done at 165 degrees F.
What part of Jamaica did you go and see them add brown sugar to jerk? Or allspice powder. It’s pimento seeds…crushed!
We explained in the article that pimento is the authentic seasoning, but most American home cooks can’t readily get these ingredients so we’ve altered the recipe slightly for easier to source ingredients.
If I were to use crushed pimento seed. How much would I put in?. And, would I still use allspice?.
Did God have an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not eat jerk chicken any other way”? I love to try new ways of cooking things that I like. Many times you enjoy the new way and it’s ingredients. After that, you can create a brand new way of cooking that dish using tips from the newly learned recipe combined with your old way and NEVER cook your original way again. That’s why I love to try foods from other countries. It’s a good thing to have an open mind. It’s how you increase knowledge.
I love Walkers Wood and always have a good supply on hand. So much easier than all this work. I’m actually making jerk chicken tonight!!
Made this for my family on Father’s Day. Only had access to Habanero peppers so used those. Flavor was outstanding but lacking the heat jerk is known for. I paired it with an awesome Jamaican red beans and rice recipe that used the other half of 1 Habanero from the sauce. Now that had heat worthy of jerk, the sauce was outstanding with just a little sweet from the pineapple. Fantastic recipe, thank you very much!!
Oh, my straight from Jamaica buddy gave the meal a thumbs up and said he doesn’t do that for anybody! That’s how good it was!
I made the marinade on Thursday for Saturday, but didn’t see the cinnamon and nutmeg listed when I “jumped” to the recipe – only in the opening description of ingredients. Is it too late to add it now? How should I do this?
Working on cruise ships, we’ve been blest to travel to the islands and savor the local food.
Tried many different recipes for jerk chicken at home……your’s wins! hands down the best jerk recipe we’ve tried….thank you so much!