In Jamaica, you’ll find folks selling well-spiced grilled chicken at roadside stands all over the island. As with gumbo in Louisiana or cassoulet in France, there are as many different recipes as the people who make it. I have tried a number of different recipes for jerk chicken. Some were incredibly complicated and some were as simple as just rubbing the chicken with store-bought jerk seasoning and cooking it. I finally settled on this recipe, which I think has great flavor, but still tastes like chicken. It’s got some heat from Scotch bonnet peppers (the world’s most incendiary chile!), but also tastes sort of sweet, thanks to spices like nutmeg and, especially, allspice.
If you have time, prepare the chicken in advance and allow it to marinate in the fridge overnight for maximum flavor.
- 1 3-4 lb. chicken, quartered
- 3 green onions, chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
- 2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, stems removed, and chopped (carefully remove the seeds if you want less heat)
- 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp Asian five-spice powder
- 1 Tbsp whole allspice berries, ground coarsely
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- Put all of the ingredients except the chicken into a blender or a food processor to make a marinade. Puree the jerk marinade until it’s the consistency of a thin paste. If the marinade is too thick, add a little more soy sauce to loosen it up a little.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken quarters and turn to coat both sides. Refrigerate the marinated chicken until ready to cook, preferably overnight.
- Bring the chicken to room temperature prior to cooking — for about an hour.
- Grill the chicken quarters over a medium-hot fire, turning once or twice, until cooked through, basting occasionally with any leftover marinade. I cook my chicken at about 375-400 degrees F.
- When finished, the breast should register 160 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer and the thighs should be at 180. The cooking time is about 35 to 40 minutes or so, depending on your grill. Don’t worry if the skin blackens some, that’s the way it usually comes in Jamaica.
Photo by Ted Scheffler
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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