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Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

plate of caribbean jerk chicken glazed with jerk sauce

This Caribbean jerk chicken recipe, along with my smokey grilled chicken quarters are likely my two favorite chicken dishes. For some reason, this Caribbean jerk chicken just fell out of the rotation. Given how inexpensive chicken quarters can be when they’re on sale, I knew It was time to share this recipe with others.

I often blog 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 U.S. Marines. This recipe is neither.

Jamaican chicken drizzled with jerk sauce

Many years back, I had the great fortune of spending a week in Jamaica on vacation. The place I stayed had an in-house chef who was amazing and one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met. I asked her to teach me to make Jamaican jerk chicken, and she was kind enough to show me her way.

What’s even better, she taught me how to prepare and grill the chicken, so that was super cool. This was well before I started this blog, but I’ve taken any chance I could to get behind the grill since I was a kid. Grilling chicken in Jamaica was a real treat.

I’ve modified this recipe only a little from how I was taught so many years ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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What Does Jamaican Jerk Chicken Taste Like?

When I make this for someone new, I’m often 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 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 also use to make rice, etc.

Caribbean jerk chicken on a place

Combined with all the fresh herbs and onions, it’s honestly too good to describe. I love me some smoke fried chicken, I’m all about some chimi grilled chicken—but this jerk chicken is without a doubt my favorite.

What Side Dishes to Serve With Caribbean Jerk Chicken

There’s plenty of flavor in this recipe, so consider my mild smoked collard greens. Rice and beans are traditional sides throughout the Caribbean, but you can give your meal a Southern Americana twist with smoked baked beans or cornbread—though you may want to try my cheddar jalapeño cornbread recipe before you pair it with this dish.

Caribbean jerk chicken on a cutting board

For dessert, go Southern again with either smoked blueberry cobbler or smoked peach cobbler, or stay on the island with simple pineapple slices (see the technique for that in my book).

Caribbean jerk chicken being grilled over fire

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 recipe, I recommend grilling it over high direct heat first to create sort of a blackened char before sliding the pieces over to a cooler indirect heat to finish cooking the chicken.

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

About the Ingredients for This Caribbean Jerk Chicken Recipe

  • Green Onions: The mild flavor with a touch of sweetness makes green onions essential for this recipe. Feel free to add more if you like.
  • Scotch Bonnet Peppers: These can be hard to find, substituting habanero peppers is fine. The scotch bonnets have a bit more sweetness to them so they are my preference but again—finding them is challenging.
  • Allspice: This is one of the longer lasting spices in terms of shelf life. That said, be sure to give it a smell and a taste to be sure it’s still fresh enough. You never know how long some of these sit in a warehouse before hitting a stores shelf.
  • Oil: Be sure to use a neutral flavored oil. I don’t recommend olive oil for this recipe.
Caribbean jerk chicken on the grill

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 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 caribbean jerk chicken glazed with jerk sauce

Authentic Caribbean Jerk Chicken

4.74 from 23 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

  • 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
  • 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 often blog 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 U.S. Marines. This recipe is neither. Many years back, I had the great fortune of spending a week in Jamaica on vacation. The place I stayed had an in-house chef who was amazing and one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever met.
I asked her to teach me to make Jamaican jerk chicken, and she was kind enough to show me her way. What’s even better, she taught me how to prepare and 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. Grilling chicken in Jamaica was a real treat.

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