Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

Jerk chicken is a popular dish that originated in Jamaica and is made by marinating or rubbing chicken with a spicy blend of herbs and spices known as jerk seasoning. The origins of jerk chicken can be traced back to the indigenous Taíno people of Jamaica, who used a technique called “jerking” to preserve and flavor meats. Seasoning typically includes ingredients such as allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and other herbs and spices, and it imparts a spicy, aromatic flavor to the chicken. Jerk chicken is typically grilled or smoked over wood or charcoal, which gives it a smoky, flavorful taste. It is often served with rice and peas, plantains, or coleslaw, and pairs well with beer, rum, or fruity cocktails. Jerk chicken has become a popular dish around the world, but it remains an important part of Jamaica’s cultural heritage.

The History of Jerk Chicken

As mentioned earlier, the origins of jerk chicken can be traced back to the Taíno people of Jamaica. They used a technique called “jerking” to preserve and flavor meats, including wild boar and other game. This involved rubbing the meat with a mixture of spices and herbs, and then cooking it over a slow fire or smoking it over wood.

When the Spanish arrived in Jamaica in the late 1400s, they introduced African slaves to the island. These slaves also used the jerking technique, but they added their own spices and herbs to the mix, including allspice, scallions, and Scotch bonnet peppers. Over time, the recipe evolved to become the jerk seasoning we know today.

Jerk chicken remained a local Jamaican dish for many years, but it started to gain popularity among tourists in the 1960s and 1970s. This was partly due to the rise of reggae music and the popularity of Jamaican culture around the world. As more people discovered jerk chicken, it started to spread to other countries and became a staple of Caribbean cuisine.

Typical Ingredients

Jerk seasoning typically includes a mix of spices and herbs, including allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, and ginger. The exact ingredients can vary depending on the recipe, but these are the most common ones.

Allspice is a key ingredient in jerk seasoning, and it is what gives the dish its distinctive flavor. It has a warm, sweet flavor that is similar to a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Scotch bonnet peppers are another important ingredient, and they give jerk chicken its signature heat. They are one of the hottest peppers in the world, and they have a fruity, tropical flavor.

Other common ingredients in jerk seasoning include thyme, garlic, and ginger, which add additional flavor and depth to the dish. Some recipes also include soy sauce or vinegar, which can help to tenderize the chicken and add a tangy flavor.


Course Poultry
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 6
Author N. J. Sorensen, RDN


  • 1 each medium onion — coarsely chopped
  • 3 each medium scallion — coarsely chopped
  • 2 each each scotch bonnet chiles — coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic — chopped
  • 1 tablespoon five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries — ground
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper — ground
  • 1 teaspoon thyme — crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 ½ pounds chicken whole — quartered


  • In a food processor, combine the onion, scallions, chiles, garlic, five-spice powder, allspice, black pepper, thyme, nutmeg and salt and process to a coarse paste. With the machine on, add the soy sauce and oil in a steady stream until combined. Pour the marinade into a large shallow dish, add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Let the chicken return to room temperature before cooking.
  • Light a grill, preferably charcoal, or preheat the oven to 500°F. Grill or roast the chicken: if grilling, cover the grill for a smokier flavor; if roasting, cook the chicken, skin side up, on the top shelf of the oven. Cook the chicken, turning occasioning, for 30 to 40 minutes, until well browned and cooked through. Cut each chicken quarter in half, transfer to a platter and serve.

Sides to Serve with Jerk Chicken

Jerk chicken is often served with rice and peas, which is a traditional Caribbean dish made with rice, kidney beans, coconut milk, and spices. It is a flavorful and filling side dish that complements the spicy flavors of the chicken.

Other popular side dishes include plantains, which are a type of banana that is often fried or baked, and coleslaw, which provides a refreshing contrast to the spicy chicken. Roasted sweet potatoes or yams also make a great side dish, as they add a sweet and savory flavor that complements the heat of the chicken.

Beverage Choices

Jerk chicken pairs well with a variety of beverages, including beer, rum, and fruity cocktails. Red Stripe beer is a popular choice in Jamaica, and it goes well with the spicy flavors of the chicken. Rum is also a popular choice, as it is a traditional Caribbean spirit that pairs well with the tropical flavors of the dish.

For non-alcoholic options, lemonade or a fruity punch is an excellent choice. These drinks are refreshing and help to balance out the heat of the chicken. Coconut water is also a popular choice, as it is a refreshing and hydrating drink that is commonly consumed in the Caribbean.


Jerk chicken is a delicious and flavorful dish that has a rich history and cultural significance. Its origins can be traced back to the indigenous Taíno people of Jamaica, and it has evolved over time to become the popular dish that we know today. The key to making great jerk chicken is in the seasoning, which includes a mix of spices and herbs that give the dish its signature flavor and heat. When served with traditional sides such as rice and peas or plantains, and paired with a refreshing beverage, jerk chicken makes for a satisfying and memorable meal.

Jerk chicken has become popular around the world, and many restaurants and food trucks now offer this spicy dish on their menus. It has also inspired variations such as jerk pork, jerk shrimp, and even vegetarian jerk dishes.

Despite its popularity, traditional Jamaican jerk chicken remains a staple in the Caribbean cuisine and is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage. Many Jamaican families have their own unique jerk seasoning recipe that has been passed down through generations, and it remains a cherished tradition.

In conclusion, jerk chicken is a delicious and spicy dish that has a rich history and cultural significance. It is a testament to the creativity and resourcefulness of the Jamaican people, and it has become a beloved dish around the world. Whether you enjoy it at a restaurant, a street food stall, or at a backyard barbecue, jerk chicken is sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.