Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Spicy, Savory, Smoky All at Once

Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Marinate: 6 hrs
Total: 6 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 3 to 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
482 Calories
27g Fat
10g Carbs
48g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 482
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 27g 35%
Saturated Fat 7g 34%
Cholesterol 152mg 51%
Sodium 897mg 39%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 4%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 48g
Vitamin C 58mg 289%
Calcium 60mg 5%
Iron 3mg 18%
Potassium 624mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

As with many traditional dishes, there's no one way to make Jamaican jerk chicken. It's a dish that has evolved over the years, one that every family has tweaked and adjusted to its tastes and preferences. But most will agree that a good jerk chicken has layers of flavor—a kick of heat from chili peppers, savory notes from allspice or cloves, and zing from fresh ginger and scallions—plus, of course, the smoky char of the grill.

The Origins of Jerk

In Jamaican cooking, the term “jerk” comes from the term “jerky”—which, in turn, comes from the Spanish “charqui” (char-key). It originally referred to meat cooked over a slow wood fire, but in modern cooking, is now used to describe the fiery spice mix rubbed on the meat before it’s grilled.

Back in the day on Caribbean islands, meat was seasoned with peppers and spices and hung over a fire to cook slowly. This process of drying meat is considered by many to be the origin of modern barbecues. The fire served two purposes: It cooked the meat and kept insects away, while smoking the meat for preservation, allowing it to be stored for long periods. The technique originated with the Taíno, a group indigenous to Jamaica, and was passed down to African slaves who were later brought to the island.

What's In Jerk Seasoning?

There isn't just one recipe for jerk seasoning, but there are a few basic ingredients that are crucial to creating its signature flavor and heat. These include chilies, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, garlic, and onions, which come together to give jerk seasoning its hot and savory taste.

If your spice cabinet isn't well-stocked, however, any combination that includes peppers, garlic, onion and at least some of the spices could be considered jerk. But purists will only consider a recipe to be truly jerk if it has the chilies, and either allspice or cloves.

Handle Chili Peppers With Care

This is the true any time spicy ingredients are involved, but make sure to thoroughly wash your hands before touching sensitive areas like your eyes after chopping the habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers called for in this recipe. You can also wear disposable food-safe gloves to be extra safe.

How Long Should I Marinate Jerk Chicken?

For the chicken to full absorb the flavor, we recommend marinading the chicken for at least six hours. You can also prep the dish ahead of time and keep the chicken in the fridge overnight.

"Absolutely delicious! When preparing the marinade, I added the habanero a little at a time and stopped to taste it after each addition. I surprised myself by using the entire pepper. The marinade was spicy and flavorful, but not overly hot. The chicken was moist and tender. I’ll definitely be making this again." —Diana Andrews

Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken/Tester Image


A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 small habanero or Scotch bonnet (very hot), or jalapeno (milder), seeded, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken ingredients

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Combine all ingredients (except chicken) in a food processor, and process until a smooth puree forms.

    Combine all ingredients (except the chicken) in a food processor

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Put chicken in a large bowl and pour marinade over. Stir chicken pieces to coat completely; cover and marinate at least 6 hours or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

    Put the chicken in a large bowl and pour over the marinade

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill on medium heat (350 F to 375 F) for direct/indirect grilling. Remove chicken from jerk marinade. Place chicken skin-side down on the direct side of the grill. Cover and cook for 15 minutes until the skin is charred and crisp, controlling any flare-ups on the grill. Turn the chicken over and move to the indirect side. Close the lid, and cook an additional 10 to 20 minutes, removing pieces as they become done.

    Authentic Jamaican Jerk Chicken on the grill

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Recipe Variation

You may also broil or roast the chicken in a hot oven, but this will produce a slightly different flavor than grilling.

Glass Bakeware Warning

Do not use glass bakeware when broiling or when a recipe calls to add liquid to a hot pan, as glass may explode. Even if it states oven-safe or heat resistant, tempered glass products can, and do, break occasionally.

How to Store

Place leftover Jamaican jerk chicken in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.