Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jerk Chicken Recipe

When my friend Ahmad asked me for a great Jerk Chicken recipe I immediately hit up my Jamaican friend, Zaire, and my Mom who got married in Jamaica. My mom said: "Oh. I have a really great recipe from the Hotel's Executive Chef where your Dad and I got married. But it's in the garage and I don't know what box it's in." Luckily, my friend Zaire gave me his coveted family recipe.

But first you probably want to know what Jerk means and there are a few different theories on that.
One is the word “jerk” comes from the Peruvian word “charqui” meaning “dried meat.” Another states it evolved from a noun, “jerk”, to a verb, “jerking”, and referred to the cooking method where holes are poked into the meat so the spices can be absorbed. But author, Helen Willinsky believes the name comes from the way cooks would jerk pieces of meat off of a roast on the barbeque.
But we can commonly agree that Jerk is a Jamaican style of seasoning and cooking. The “Jerk” style uses a marinade or paste, usually pimento, a.k.a. allspice, and scotch bonnets, also known as habenero peppers. The meat is marinated and slow smoked over pimento wood. 

Over 2400 years ago, Jamaica was settled by the Arawak indians, who came from South America. The Arawak Indians smoked and dried their meat in the sun or over a slow fire. This was important because it meant the dried beef could be taken on journeys and eaten. 

In the 1700's some of the slaves, who would later be called Maroons, escaped and hid in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. They had to constantly be on the look out in order to evade the British army from recapture.
Because food was often in short supply they learned to catch wild animals in the forest. Using salt, peppers and spices they learned to preserve the meat. The influence of the Caribbean flavors and the combination of ancient Arawak Indian techniques, and the Maroons cooking style are the elements responsible for our modern day jerk chicken. 

Jerk Chicken Spice Blend


  • 1 Tbl. ground allspice
  • 1 Tbl. ground thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground sage
  • 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. minced ginger
  • 2 Tbls. fresh garlic (crushed)
  • 1 Tbls. brown sugar or molasses
  • 1/4 C. Soy sauce
  • 1/4 C. dark rum (optional, but encouraged)
  • 3/4 C. white vinegar
  • 1/2 C. orange juice
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1 C. white onion, diced


      -- Put all of the above ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth.

Jerk Chicken


  • Spice Blend
  • 2 lbs. of chicken pieces (I always encourage people to use legs and thighs, but breasts will work as well)
  • Lime for garnish


  1. Place chicken in a large freezer bag and pour in spice blend. Place in a bowl to make sure there isn't any leakage and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but up to a day is preferable.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees or grill. If using an oven, place chicken skin side up on a roasting pan and roast until cooked through (about 45 minutes) flipping once halfway through the process. If using a grill, place chicken skin-side down and grill until skin becomes crisp. Flip and finishing cooking thoroughly. Don't be afraid to blacken the chicken with this recipe.

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