What is Jerk Chicken?
Jerk is a cooking method traditionally used in throughout the Caribbean and often associated with Jamaica in particular. Spices coat chicken—or beef, pork, seafood, and even vegetables—that’s cooked slowly over a fire.
The method may have started with the Taino, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, in the 15th century as a way to preserve meat (the word jerk is related to jerky). It’s believed they taught the method to African slaves who adapted it. That adaptation became the Caribbean residents’ method today to make jerk chicken.
Using Chicken Parts Instead of a Whole Chicken
You can use chicken parts instead of a whole chicken for this recipe. Use 5 or 6 pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken parts such as breasts, legs, thighs, or drumsticks. Marinate as directed Step 2 and grill or bake as directed. However, since individual pieces are smaller than two chicken halves, the cooking time may be less. Use a meat thermometer to judge when the chicken is fully cooked (165°F).
Common Ingredients in Jerk Marinade
The two essential ingredients in jerk marinade are scotch bonnet peppers and allspice. (Habaneros can replace the scotch bonnets if necessary.) Without the super hot peppers and the allspice, the marinade won’t be jerk. Other ingredients commonly used include red onions, green onions, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, garlic, sugar (or another sweetener), ginger, orange juice, soy sauce, lime juice, and pepper.
This jerk marinade uses several of those ingredients, but not all of them. There are many different versions of the marinade. We find this one, with molasses as the sweetener, to be balanced and addictive. And, yes, the amounts of all of the spices are correct. This is a very richly spiced dish.
Preparing Jerk Chicken in Advance
If you’re looking for a recipe that doesn’t require a lot of work the day you’re cooking it, this jerk chicken is perfect. It marinates overnight, so the work of creating the marinade happens a day before you cook it. You can even make the marinade up to a week in advance and refrigerate it.
We don’t recommend cooking the chicken in advance, because it will lose some of its crispness and juiciness. However, if there are leftovers, refrigerate them for up to five days and eat cold. Or, strip the meat from leftover jerk chicken and use it in salads.