Jerk Chicken


Jamaican jerk, no problem

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January 01, 2023

Prep: 24h 0min

Cook: 1h 10min

Serves: 4

The gist.

Set your mouth on fire (in a good way) with jerk chicken legs. Letting the meat marinate for a full day will result in bite after bite of grilled chicken chock full of complex flavors of spices, shallots, and chilis.

My tongue nearly burst into flames the first time I ate jerk chicken. Wow it was spicy. Once the initial burn started to subside, however, my mouth was filled with a complex, smoky flavor unlike anything I had tasted before. As I sat there on the Jamaican coast licking the last of the jerk sauce from my fingertips, I thought, "Oh yeah, this jerk stuff is golden."

Before I get to the recipe, here's a brief, somewhat dark history of Jamaican jerked meat. Spanish colonists invaded Jamaica in the 17th century. The colonists brought slaves with them onto the island. Some of the slaves were able to escape and fled into the Jamaican hills. Others were fortunately freed by the colonists before they departed. The slaves mingled with the remaining indigenous population, the Taíno. Supposedly the Taíno taught the freed slaves how to cook pork and chicken with rich spices. To avoid detection and possibly being recaptured, the slaves and Taíno began cooking the spiced meat in underground, covered pits, which limited the amount of smoke released into the air. This preparation of meat is what we call today "jerked" meat.

You'll find many variations on a theme when searching for jerk chicken recipes, but most methods will most likely involve a blend of strong spices, some hot peppers, and a blend of allium ingredients like scallions and shallots. Like I mentioned, the first jerk chicken I ever had was incredibly spicy. The amount of heat depends on the amount of chilis you add. I've adjusted my recipe to what I would call a medium level of spiciness. Adjust to your liking.

This recipe is quite simple really. You blend everything (except the chicken, that'd be gross) together to create the jerk sauce, and then use that sauce to marinate the chicken. The worst part is waiting the 24 hours while the marinating process happens. You can reduce the time if you really want to, but wait the full day and you'll be rewarded royally.

The grilling happens in a two-step approach. First the chicken is placed on the hottest section of the grill, searing the skin and chicken leg surface. Once seared, the chicken is moved to the cooler, low-heat area of the grill and remains there for another 20 to 25 minutes until fully cooked.

I typically serve the jerk chicken with seasoned rice, deep fried plantains, and a few slices of lime. Sometimes I'll whip up a batch of some sort of fruit salsa, like mango or banana. Additionally, you can serve jerk chicken with other sides you might typically pair with barbecued meat, like coleslaw or beans.



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Jerk Chicken

  • Prep time: 24h 0min
  • Cook time: 1h 10min
  • Serving size: 4
Set your mouth on fire (in a good way) with jerk chicken legs. Letting the meat marinate for a full day will result in bite after bite of grilled chicken chock full of complex flavors of spices, shallots, and chilis.


  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 habanero chilis, stems removed, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 cm (1.5 in) ginger knob, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 13 g (1 Tbsp) dark brown sugar
  • 60 mL (1/4 cup) soy sauce
  • 10 mL (2 Tbsp) vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1.5 kg (3 lbs) bone-in, skin-on chicken legs


  1. Place all ingredients except chicken legs into a food processor. Process until a mostly homogeneous paste is obtained.

  2. Combine chicken legs and jerk marinade in a freezer bag or bowl with a lid. Use your hands to lather each chicken leg, making sure to rub marinade under the skin. This will be messy, but it's worth it. Allow chicken to marinate for 24 hours in the fridge.

  3. After the 24 hours have passed, ignite all burners on the grill and heat on high for 15 minutes.

  4. Turn all burners except one to low, leaving the one burner on high. Grill the chicken legs over the high burner for 4-5 minutes per side.

  5. Transfer the chicken legs over the low burners and grill with the lid closed for 20-25 minutes. Ensure that they have reached an internal temperature of 75° C (170° F). Serve with rice.

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