Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Three years ago I traveled to the Jamaica. The culinary highlight of the trip was eating Jerk Chicken in the place where Jerk Chicken was born; Boston Bay. Their secret is to marinate the chicken long enough to incorporate the spiciness into the chicken itself, rather than simply relying on sauce to impart flavor. I was shocked to find that even Kingston’s Jerk Chicken relies on sauce. Another key reason why I thought good Jerk chicken was impossible outside of Jamaica; the use of Pimento wood (what Jamaicans call pimento we call allspice). Chris Kimball solves this insurmountable obstacle by the use of foil-wrapped, water-soaked herbs and wood chips. If you close your eyes, the resulting aromatic smoke will make you think you’re sitting in Jamaica. Rarely does Chris Kimball get a spicy recipe so right, but today he hit a home run with his Jerk chicken recipe. The best Jerk chicken outside of Boston Bay, but beware: it’s extremely hot. You’ll need at least 2 cold beers to finish your dinner. 4-1/2 stars.

A rare home-run for Chris Kimball with a spicy recipe

I once tried to make Jerk Chicken on my own, but I failed to even match the Jerk Chicken from Kingston; must less Boston Bay. That attempt was my own recipe, because I had completely rejected Chris Kimball’s only previous Jerk Recipe because it used 1/4-cup of brown sugar (which is absurd).


  1. Today I used 3 habaneros (used about 20% of seeds) and the results were authentically spicy. I needed 2 cold beers to finish my meal. Two habaneros will also provide a lot of heat, but might be a better place to start until you are sure you can handle the heat. Next time I might try just 2 chiles.
  2. Be sure to marinate the chicken for a full 24-hours, otherwise your flavor will not permeate into the meat of your chicken.
  3. If you don’t properly clean and season the grill in step 6 then the skin will stick to the grill.
  4. I used 4-lbs of breasts and allow the chicken to marinate for 24 hours. There seemed to be enough marinade for at least 4-1/2 to 5 pounds of chicken.
  5. If you go to Jamaica, the only thing better than Jerk Chicken is Jerk Pork.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM. (of course I started marinating the day before)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Jerk Marinade:
1-1/2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 Habanero chiles
8 scallions
6 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest (2 to 3 limes)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3-lbs bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs)

Smoking Packet:
2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons water
1 cup wood chips

  1. Coarsely grind the whole coriander seeds, the allspice berries and whole peppercorns in a spice grinder. Add freshly ground spices to blender.
  2. Discard the stem from the chiles. Remove and reserve the ribs and seeds, then cut into quarters. Add to blender. Roughly chop scallions and garlic and add to blender. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the chicken) to the blender and process until a smooth paste forms. Empty the paste into a gallon-sized Zip-Lock bag.
  3. Trim the chicken to remove any excess fat (or ribs) and cut the breasts is half cross-wise. Add the chicken to the marinade and remove as much air as possible from the zip-lock bag. Allow to sit a room temperature for 30 minutes; flipping the bag over after 15 minutes. Refrigerate for 24-hours.
  4. Combine the spices for the smoke packet with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and allow to hydrate for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, soak 1 cup of wood chips separately.
  5. Open the top and bottom vents of your grill halfway and even arrange about 1 quart of unlit briquettes over half the grill (should have a single layer). Ignite a chimney starter 1/3-full with briquettes, and allow coals to become partially covered with gray ash. While the charcoal ignites, wrap the soaked chips and moistened spice mixture in heavy-duty aluminum foil, then use a paring knife to cut five or six vent holes in top of the packet.
  6. Empty the lit coals on top of until coals, leaving half the grill empty. Put the wood chip/spice packet on top of the coals. Replace grate clean the grill, and season with vegetable oil (otherwise the skin will stick to the grill).
  7. Leave some marinade on the chicken, and put chicken skin-side-up as far away from the heat as possible. Arrange so that the dark meat is closest to the heat, and the white meat is further. Cover grill so that the vent holes are directly over the chicken. Cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Flip chicken skin-side-down as you move the chicken directly over the coals. Cook for about 10 minutes until well browned. Flip the chicken again skin-side-up and cook for about 15 more minutes directly over the coals until the chicken reaches the correct temperature; 160 degrees for breasts and 175 degrees for thighs/drumsticks.
  9. Move to a serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil for 5 minutes. Slice limes for serving.

One Response to Jamaican Jerk Chicken

  1. If you’re looking for more of a weeknight recipe that’s still super delicious and not too fussy, the one in Cook’s Country is delicious. My friends keep it in their regular entertaining rotation, and we love it. http://www.cookscountry.com/recipes/Easy-Jerk-Chicken-Recipe-Cook-s-Country/6862/

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