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Jerk Chicken

This Jerk Chicken recipe is your favorite spicy, crisply barbecued chicken from Jamaica made at home with an easy marinade!   It’s famous for an addictively delicious reason – taste why! This Jerk chicken is a juicy flavor bomb exploding with complex smoky, spicy yet sweet, fragrant, aromatic notes and tantalizing crispy charred crust.  It’s outrageously flavorful thanks to marinating overnight in a dynamic jerk sauce made with potent chili peppers, aromatics and complex seasonings and can be cooked on the grill or in the oven.  Serve this Jamaican Jerk Chicken along with coconut rice, mango salsa or pineapple salsa, and escape to the Caribbean year-round, without even leaving your kitchen!
Prep Time 6 hours
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 10 servings

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 10-12 bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks (about 3 lbs), trimmed of excess fat and skin (I remove all the skin)

Jerk Chicken Marinade

  • 1 red onion, peeled, quartered
  • 1 bunch green onions, trimmed, cut into chunks
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2-3 Scotch bonnet chili peppers or habanero chili peppers, with seeds, stems removed**
  • 1 1/2 - inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced
  • 1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries coarsely ground or 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tsp EACH pepper, onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg

Instructions

MARINATE CHICKEN

  • Add all of the Jerk Chicken Marinade ingredients to a food processor and pulse, then process until mostly smooth. Pour over chicken in a large resealable plastic bag.
  • Marinate chicken in the refrigerator 4 to 24 hours. (If using chicken breasts, only marinate up to 12 hours or else it can become mushy.) Let chicken sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before cooking.

HOW TO COOK CHICKEN ON THE GRILL

  • Note: These instructions are for bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks – see below for different cuts of chicken. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat, 425-450°F, clean and grease grates with vegetable oil.
  • Grill chicken skin side down first (if leaving on). Grill for 5-7 minutes per side with the lid CLOSED, or until chicken is cooked through and an internal temperature reaches 175 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Adjust the temperature if the chicken is browning too quickly. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.

HOW TO COOK CHICKEN IN THE OVEN

  • If you choose to cook the chicken in the oven, consider adding 2 teaspoons mesquite liquid smoke to the marinade for that smoky flavor.
  • Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Line the chicken in a single layer so the pieces aren't touching. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35-45 minutes (depending on thickness), until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees F.

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Scotch bonnet peppers: are fiery hot chili peppers with a fruity sweetness native to the Caribbean.  Scotch bonnet peppers can be difficult to find in the United States, so you may substitute with its close cousin, the habanero pepper with similar heat.  You will use 1-3  peppers depending on your desired spice level.  To use the chili peppers, remove the stems by simply pulling it off and then add the whole peppers with the seeds to the food processor. 
  • Adjust the heat level:  plan on 1 Scotch bonnet pepper for medium heat, 2 for medium-hot and 3 for hot.  You can also remove the seeds (don’t touch your eyes!) for less spicy chicken because the seeds pack the most heat, or you may substitute with jalapeno peppers which are 40X less spicy.  If you are making the chicken less spicy, reduce the brown sugar but 1 tablespoon.
  • Plan to marinate the chicken overnight: the most flavorful chicken is dark meat marinated for up to 24 hours.  That being said, don’t marinate chicken breasts longer than 12 hours.
  • Chicken breasts: there is a reason Jerk Chicken is made with dark meat.  It’s more flavorful, tender, the richer meat can stand up against the pungent spices and can be marinated for longer, resulting in a superior end result.  You also won’t achieve that signature charred crust and blackened crispy bits using chicken breasts.  If you choose to use chicken breasts, take care to pound the breasts to an even thickness before marinating.  Only marinade chicken breasts for up to 12 hours because the meat is more likely to break down and become mushy if over-marinated.
  • Don’t like chicken skin?  Remove it!  I always remove the chicken skin before I marinate chicken.  This creates extra flavorful chicken because the marinade can really penetrate the meat and I personally like the taste better.  At the end of the day, it’s totally your call.

HOW LONG TO GRILL CUTS OF jerk chicken

With each cut of chicken, take care to not overcook but grill to the specified temperature, light meat to 165 degrees F and dark meat to 175-180 degrees F.

BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS

  • Pound chicken breasts to an even thickness before marinating.
  • Preheat grill to 400-425°F, clean and grease grates.
  • Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through (an inserted thermometer should reach 165 degrees F).

BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS

  • Preheat grill to 400-450°F, clean and grease grates.
  • Grill chicken undisturbed for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through (an inserted thermometer should reach 175 degrees F).

CHICKEN LEG QUARTERS

  • Preheat grill to high heat, clean and grease grates.
  • Add chicken to the hot grill and sear for 5 minutes. Flip chicken over and sear 5 minutes.
  • COVER and reduce heat to low so that the heat stays around 350 degrees F when the lid is closed. Grill with the lid closed for 12 minutes. Flip chicken over, cover and grill and additional 12 minutes. Check chicken temperature. It should register 175 degrees F. If chicken is not cooked to this temperature yet, flip and repeat steps until chicken is fully cooked through.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

  • To store: store cooked chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • To freeze chicken in marinade:  add the chicken to the marinade and freeze for up to 3 months.  When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you thaw the chicken in the refrigerator.
  • To freeze cooked chicken:  let chicken cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.  Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
  • To reheat in the skillet:  reheat in a skillet over medium low heat until warmed through, adding a splash of water for added moisture.
  • To reheat in the microwave:  reheat in the microwave at 30 second intervals, taking care not to overcook.
  • To reheat in the oven:  reheat in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or just until warmed through.