When the islands are calling, this flavorful, spicy Jamaican jerk chicken will make you think you're on a tropical vacation! In about 15 minutes, you can throw together this homemade jerk marinade and take care of most of the hands-on preparation ahead of time for easy entertaining. Grill or oven roast this chicken — both methods are delicious and guaranteed crowd pleasers.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Bring a taste of Jamaica to your own backyard: It hurts my soul to say this, but most of us can't spend all our days in Jamaica. When we can't get the real thing, one taste of this Jamaican jerk chicken will instantly whisk you away to the Caribbean. Who doesn't love a meal that can do that?
Simple but full of complex flavor: Making the marinade is as simple as blending together some ingredients, which are all bursting with rich flavor and spice that will make your taste buds sing. With very little effort, you can make an easy marinade that will make you look like an all-star chef.
Perfect for summer entertaining: Besides that tropical flavor, this is the perfect summer recipe because you make the marinade well before serving, let it work its magic on the chicken and then quickly grill. You deserve to sit back outside with a cocktail and good company during your summer parties. Don't spend it preparing overly complicated meals — this is the time of year to relax.
Choose your favorite cooking method: Grilling is the preferred method for trying to replicate what you'd get in Jamaica, but sometimes you need a taste of the tropics to get you through the winter when it's too cold to grill. For those times, oven-roasted jerk chicken works well.
Before we jump into the cooking process, let's take a moment to chat about a few ingredient notes.
Chicken: For the chicken, you can cut up a whole chicken yourself or buy packages of split chicken breasts, chicken thighs and drumsticks to make a whole chicken. Or if you prefer only one type of chicken, feel free to use individual pieces of your favorite cut, such as only thighs.
Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers: These spicy peppers are one of the key components to our dish. Traditionally, jerk chicken uses scotch bonnet peppers, but I've struggled to find them at my local grocery stores. Fortunately, habanero peppers are widely available and close cousins to scotch bonnet peppers. This substitution works well in this recipe.
As a side note, I'm trying to grow scotch bonnet peppers in our garden here in Denver, and it looks like they will make it. Please drop me a line if you'd like to chat about growing your own scotch bonnet peppers!
Spice mixture: I like to use a blend of dark brown sugar, allspice, Chinese five-spice powder, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. The peppery Chinese five-spice powder may seem strange for a Jamaican-style recipe, but Chinese cooking has long influenced Caribbean cooking since colonization. That's why you also see soy sauce on here.
Step 1: We make our Jamaican jerk marinade by tossing our scotch bonnets or habaneros, yellow onion, green onion, ginger, garlic, dark brown sugar and spices into a food processor or blender and giving it a whirl until everything begins to roughly come together like so (photos 1 and photo 2).
Step 2: With the food processor running, we pour in our soy sauce, rum, lime juice and olive oil and blend to make a wet paste. The mixture won't be perfectly smooth. We'll still have a chunky texture, but that's OK (photo 3).
Step 3: We pour the marinade over raw chicken pieces in a large bowl (photo 4) and let it sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of four hours, though I highly recommend an overnight soak for the most flavor. Once the time passes, we're ready to cook our Jamaican jerk chicken.
Step 4: Now we're ready to grill our Jamaican jerk chicken. For this step, we create a hot zone and a cool zone. To do this, we heat one side of the grill over medium to medium-high heat and leave the other side of the grill on low. Once the grill is nice and hot, we place our chicken parts with the skin side down and close the lid (photo 5).
Tip: For best results, let the chicken sit in room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling to promote more even cooking.
Step 5: Once those beautiful char marks appear, we flip our chicken skin-side up and move it to the cool part of the grill (photo 6). We close the lid again and cook until the chicken reaches 165 degrees for white meat and 175 degrees for dark meat. To ensure an extra juicy chicken, we want to let the meat rest for about five to 10 minutes before serving.
And that's it! Easy, huh? Serve this spicy chicken with some black beans, coconut rice and pineapple pico de gallo and you're in for the perfect tropical meal. You will love that spicy flavor of the most flavorful chicken.
How to Make in the Oven
While grilling is my favorite process of cooking jerk chicken, it also cooks nicely in the oven. This is perfect for those cold winter days when you're longing for an island-inspired meal but also don't want to freeze while standing over the grill.
The marinade steps are the same, but instead of grilling, we place our chicken in a cast-iron skillet or baking dish. I prefer the cast-iron skillet for its rustic presentation, but a baking dish works just fine.
Now we pop it in a hot oven and roast until the chicken cooks through. About 45 minutes or so should do it. We then allow a chicken to sit for a few minutes and then proceed to devour.
Jerk chicken is spicy, but it's not set-your-tongue-on-fire spicy. It's more spice forward than heat forward. Scotch bonnets and habaneros are hot peppers, but once we add the other ingredients and brown sugar for a touch of sweetness, it makes for a marinade with just the right kick.
I've served this recipe many times over the years and have found my friends who love blazingly hot foods adore it just as much as my friends with milder palates.
To properly store any leftovers, keep your chicken in an airtight container for three to four days in the refrigerator. After that, you can move the chicken to the freezer for up to four months. I especially love to use any leftovers in my jerk chicken enchiladas.
I highly recommend using an instant-read meat thermometer to determine the internal temperature of the chicken. You don't want to play a guessing game with chicken. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone, and you'll cook your chicken safely and accurately.
Split the chicken breasts: Whole chicken breasts are much larger than thighs and will take long to cook than the other cuts. If carving the chicken yourself, cut each chicken breast into two pieces, giving you four smaller pieces. You can also buy split chicken breasts if you opt to buy butchered meat.
Watch the eyes: This is a peppery, fiery marinade. When you take the top off the food processor or blender, give your face a little distance, or you may have some watery eyes. Don't worry, though — this chicken is spicy but not too spicy.
Remove any large chunks of marinade: This helps promote those char marks. You don't want to completely dry off the chicken because the marinade will help keep the skin from sticking. Just make sure you wipe off any big splotches.
Monitor the grill: Not every grill is the same, so you may need to adjust the heat up or down or let the chicken sit longer to get those grill marks. Grilling chicken is more of an art than a science.
Spice it up: I use two peppers for heat. This is enough to give the jerk sauce a lingering spice kick without overwhelming the other flavors. That said, if you like to get extra fiery, feel free to add more spicy peppers.
Give yourself time: Remember, the marinade needs time to infuse the chicken with that wonderful jerk chicken. If you can, I highly recommend marinading overnight.
With this spicy Caribbean dish, I recommend a helles lager. With a helles, you get a malt-forward profile that tackles the heat as well as plenty of palate-refreshing bubbles for the spice. Plus, a nice helles lager has that crisp finish that makes it perfect for patio drinking. I also love a citrus-forward saison with this Jamaican jerk chicken.
Craving a glass of wine instead? Try this chicken with a riesling. The touch of sweet fruit helps balance the heat, and the zippy acidity helps brighten all those rich flavors.
Or maybe you want a fun tiki cocktail to go with your tropical meal. You can't go wrong with a classic Painkiller cocktail. A nice rum cocktail also pairs beautifully — try this mango mojito, rum sour, Jamaican mule or Barbados rum punch.
Transport yourself to the Caribbean today and try this Jamaican jerk chicken. It's the perfect tropical meal that's always a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
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Jamaican Jerk Chicken
- Food processor or blender
- Large mixing bowl
- Gas grill or charcoal grill
- 2 habanero or scotch bonnet peppers sliced, leave in seeds and membrane but remove stems
- 1 yellow onion roughly chopped
- 6 green onions sliced
- 1-inch knob of ginger peeled and sliced
- 3 garlic cloves sliced
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground allspice
- 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg preferably freshly grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup spiced or dark rum
- Juice of three limes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 bone-in chicken cut-up, with skin, about 4 pounds (see note)
- Toss the peppers, onion, green onions, ginger, garlic, sugar and spices into a food processor. Blend until everything roughly combines.
- As the machine runs, add soy sauce, rum, lime juice and olive oil. When you remove the lid from the food processor, it will smell intensely peppery so watch your eyes.
- Pour over chicken and turn a few times to ensure it's well-coated. Refrigerate for at least four hours, preferably overnight.
- Before cooking, pull chicken from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. Oil grates to grease grill. Heat one side of the grill over medium to medium-high heat. On the other side, heat over low. Place chicken skin-side down on the hot side of the grill, cover and cook until grill marks appear, about three to five minutes.
- Flip the chicken and move to the cooler side of the grill. Leave the burners as they are. Close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes. Check on the chicken. It's ready when it reaches 165 degrees F in the breast meat and 175 degrees F in the thigh meat. If the chicken hasn't reached that internal temperature yet, close the lid and check on the chicken in about five minutes. Repeat if necessary. The exact cooking time of the chicken depends on the size of your pieces.
- When the chicken reaches the safe internal temperature, remove from the grill, tent with foil and let sit for about five to 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- Follow steps 1-3 from the grilling method above and then proceed to step 4.
- Before cooking, pull chicken from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place chicken skin-side up in a large cast-iron skillet or baking pan and roast until the temperature reaches 165 degrees F in the breast meat and 175 degrees F in the thigh meat. This should take about 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken.
- Remove from oven, tent with foil to keep warm and let sit for 10 minutes before serving chicken. Enjoy!
- Cut the chicken breasts in half, making four pieces of breast meat. Otherwise, the breast pieces tend to be huge and will take much longer to cook than the rest of the chicken. You could also simply pick up 4 pounds of your favorite cut of bone-in chicken, such as 4 pounds of thighs, drumsticks, breasts or a combination. Some grocery stores also sell whole chickens already cut up and packaged.
- Remove any large chunks of marinade. This helps promote those char marks. You don't want to completely dry off the chicken because the marinade will help keep the skin from sticking. Just make sure you wipe off any big splotches.
- Monitor the grill. Not every grill is the same, so you may need to adjust the heat up or down or let the chicken sit longer to get those grill marks. Grilling chicken is more of an art than a science.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.