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Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

plate of caribeean jerk chicken glazed with jerk sauce

Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

This post is sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Sponsored posts, along with affiliate links, are what enable bloggers like me to maintain and operate sites that are free to the public. That said, I only work with products and brands that I personally use and would feel proud to give as a gift.

I blog often about recipes that I have adapted to the grill from my childhood, or about flavor profiles influenced by my travels during my time in the US Marines. This authentic jerk chicken recipe is neither. I had the great fortune of spending a week in Jamaica on vacation many years back, and the place I stayed had an in-house chef who was amazing. She was also one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met.

I asked her to teach me to make authentic Caribbean jerk chicken, and she was kind enough to show me her way. What’s even better, she taught me how to prepare the chicken and then let me grill the chicken, so that was super cool. This was well before I started this site, but I’ve taken any chance I could to get behind the grill since I was a kid, so grilling authentic Caribbean jerk chicken in Jamaica was a real treat.

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I’ve modified this recipe only somewhat from how I was taught so many years ago. Oddly this is literally one of my favorite meals and for some reason it just fell out of the rotation. Then I saw that Omaha Steaks now offers premium hand selected chicken quarters, and I knew It was time to get share this recipe with others. (Side note, if you order the chicken from Omaha Steaks, grab a few burgers while you’re at it. Caribbean jerk burgers are a thing of beauty!)

Jamaican chicken drizzled with jerk sauce

What Does Jamaican Chicken Jerk Taste Like?

Anytime I am making this for someone new I’m asked what it tastes like. The best way I can answer is to say it’s mildly sweet, with a kick of spice, and deliciously smoky. The jerk marinade itself is super flavorful and packed with tons of whole ingredients. The smokiness in Caribbean jerk chicken traditionally comes from cooking it over pimento wood.

I won’t be using pimento for this recipe because it’s nearly impossible to find. Instead I’ll substitute oak which is my go-to wood for cooking. If you don’t have wood you can use charcoal.

What Flavors Constitute Jamaican Jerk?

In my opinion, the flavor that jumps out the most is the allspice. Not overpowering but you’ll definitely know it’s there and it’s sort of the signature of jerk sauce. It’s also very prevalent in jerk seasoning, which I use to make rice, etc. Combined with all the fresh herbs and onions, it’s honestly too good to describe. I love me some fried chicken, I’m all about some rosemary chicken—but this jerk chicken is without a doubt the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.

overhead shot of a plate of chicken

Tips For Making Caribbean Jerk Chicken

The Heat: I generally prefer to bring meat up to temp slowly and then sear over high heat. With this Caribbean jerk chicken, I recommend grilling it over high direct heat first to create sort of a blackened char before sliding the chicken over to a cooler indirect heat to finish cooking.

The Flip: Flip the chicken often when it’s over the direct heat. You’re looking to char up the surface, but not burn it. Keep the chicken moving to prevent it from burning.

The Fuel: While pimento wood is the traditional wood for grilling jerk chicken it’s not always available. I use oak splits, but you can also use charcoal or even a gas grill if that’s what you have.

The Temp: The USDA says dark meat chicken is safe to eat at 165° F. That said, try taking these chicken quarters to 180°-185° F. The bite and texture are better at that temperature. Even 190° F is fine for dark meat chicken. As always, I highly recommend the use of a reliable quick-read thermometer to determine the internal temperature of the chicken.

close up of grilled chicken

Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes (plus marinating time) | Serves: 4-6 | Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

Chicken:
4-6 chicken quarters

Marinade:
12 whole green onions, roughly chopped
2 Scotch bonnet peppers or habanero peppers, seeded and veined 
5 cloves garlic, peeled
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled 
½ medium Spanish onion
1 bunch fresh thyme, stems and all (about 12 sprigs)
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
¼ cup avocado or canola oil 
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 ½  tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 tbsp lime juice
Zest of 1 lime

How to Make Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

Step 1: Roughly chop the first six ingredients for the jerk marinade, and toss them into a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth, but chunky. Reserve 1/2 cup of the sauce in the refrigerator.

jerk marinade ingredients in food processer before processing on the left, and after as a sauce on the right

Step 2: Make a series of 1/4-inch deep cuts into the chicken quarters to allow for the marinade to penetrate into the meat.

chicken quarters with quarter inch slices to allow for the marinade to penetrate the meat

Place them in a sealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken and massage to ensure chicken is completely coated. Seal the bag and place the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

marinade poured over chicken in sealable bag on the left, and massaged into the pieces on the right.

Step 3: Light your grill and set up for two-zone cooking. While the grill is preheating, remove chicken and remaining marinade from the refrigerator and allow them to sit at room temperature for no more than 20 minutes.

Step 4: Place chicken over direct high heat and allow the skin to char but not burn. Flip and turn the chicken often until desired level of charring has happened, usually about 10 minutes. 

close up of charred chicken quarter

Step 5: Slide chicken over to indirect heat and using a long silicone basting brush, glaze the chicken with remaining marinade. Close the grill lid and allow chicken to cook until the internal temperature reaches 180°-185° F, usually about 20 minutes.

chicken glazed with caribbean jerk sauce on grill over indirect heat.

Step 6: Remove chicken from the grill, garnish as desired, and serve hot. Authentic Caribbean jerk chicken is usually chopped into pieces before being served. Unless you have a heavy-duty meat cleaver this is challenging so I generally separate the leg and thigh and serve them like that, but you can serve them whole as well.

platter of chicken garnished with chopped green onions.
plate of caribeean jerk chicken glazed with jerk sauce

Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

5 from 5 votes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Marinade: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Caribbean

Ingredients

Chicken

Marinade

  • 12 whole green onions roughly chopped
  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers or habanero peppers seeded and veined 
  • 5 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger peeled
  • ½ medium Spanish onion
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme stems and all (about 12 sprigs)
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • ¼ cup avocado or canola oil
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • Zest of 1 lime

Instructions

  • Roughly chop the first six ingredients for the jerk marinade, and toss them into a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth, but chunky. Reserve 1/2 cup of the sauce in the refrigerator.
  • Make a series of 1/4-inch deep cuts into the chicken quarters to allow for the marinade to penetrate into the meat. Place them in a sealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken and massage to ensure chicken is completely coated. Seal the bag and place the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
  • Light your grill and set up for two-zone cooking. While the grill is preheating, remove chicken and remaining marinade from the refrigerator and allow them to sit at room temperature for no more than 20 minutes.
  • Place chicken over direct high heat and allow the skin to char but not burn. Flip and turn the chicken often until desired level of charring has happened, usually about 10 minutes. 
  • Slide chicken over to indirect heat and using a long silicone basting brush, glaze the chicken with remaining marinade. Close the grill lid and allow chicken to cook until the internal temperature reaches 180°-185° F, usually about 20 minutes.
  • Remove chicken from the grill, garnish as desired, and serve hot. Authentic Caribbean jerk chicken is usually chopped into pieces before being served. Unless you have a heavy-duty meat cleaver this is challenging so I generally separate the leg and thigh and serve them like that, but you can serve them whole as well.

Notes

I blog often about recipes that I have adapted to the grill from my childhood, or about flavor profiles influenced by my travels during my time in the US Marines. This authentic jerk chicken recipe is neither. I had the great fortune of spending a week in Jamaica on vacation many years back, and the place I stayed had an in-house chef who was amazing. She was also one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met.
I asked her to teach me to make authentic Caribbean jerk chicken, and she was kind enough to show me her way. What’s even better, she taught me how to prepare the chicken and then let me grill the chicken, so that was super cool. This was well before I started this site, but I’ve taken any chance I could to get behind the grill since I was a kid, so grilling authentic Caribbean jerk chicken in Jamaica was a real treat.

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