Dish of the Week: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Serve your jerk chicken with Caribbean rice and beans.
Serve your jerk chicken with Caribbean rice and beans.
Photo by Stu Spivack

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re sharing a spiced-up island-style recipe: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Derived from the term charqui — a Spanish word for jerked or dried meat — "jerk" refers to a Caribbean style of cooking in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet-marinated with a hot seasoning mixture known as Jamaican jerk spice. The term also refers to jerking, the method of poking holes in the meat to allow spices to permeate.

The exact origin of Jamaican jerk sauce is unknown, though theories point to African ancestry, when the freed West African Coromantee slaves escaped being re-enslaved by the British during their invasion of Jamaica in 1655. It is believed the spice was born when the Coromantee fled to Jamaica’s mountainous region, mixing cultures with the local Taínos and forming the first Maroon settlements.  

The spice is commonly a mixture of allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers, with other seasonings including cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, thyme, scallions and salt. It was traditionally applied to pork and chicken, though today you’ll find it on everything from goat and seafood to vegetables and tofu.

This recipe, from Food & Wine, uses Scotch bonnet chiles, five-spice powder and allspice berries to make a marinade that’s fiery, aromatic and smoky. Let the chicken sit in it overnight before throwing it on the grill.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Ingredients serves 8
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 medium scallions, chopped
2 Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon five-spice powder
1 tablespoon allspice berries, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Two 3 1/2- to 4-pound chickens, quartered


In a food processor, combine the onion, scallions, chiles, garlic, five-spice powder, allspice, pepper, thyme, nutmeg and salt; process to a coarse paste. With the machine on, add the soy sauce and oil in a steady stream.

Pour the marinade into a large, shallow dish, add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to grill, bring the chicken to room temperature before proceeding.

Light a grill. Grill the chicken over a medium-hot fire, turning occasionally, until well browned and cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. (Cover the grill for a smokier flavor.)

Transfer the chicken to a platter and serve.

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