Jamaican Jerk Chicken

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Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a very hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning is traditionally applied to pork and chicken. Modern recipes also apply jerk spice mixes to fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage, lamb, and tofu. Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called "pimento" in Jamaica) and Scotch bonnet peppers. Other ingredients include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and salt.


The term jerk is said to come from the word charqui, a Spanish term of Quechua origin for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became jerky in English.

The term jerk spice (also commonly known as Jamaican jerk spice) refers to a spice rub. The word jerk refers to both the spice rub and to the particular cooking technique. Jerk can be applied as a cooking method for many different types of proteins, including goat, chicken, pork, fish, shellfish, tofu, and others. Jerk cooking has developed a following in US and Western European cosmopolitan urban centers with Caribbean/West Indian communities.


One theory is that Jamaican jerk sauce is actually African since the origins of jerk pork can be traced back to the pre-slavery days of the Coromantee hunters of West Africa. When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655 the Spanish colonists fled, leaving behind a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into Jamaica's mountainous regions where they mixed in with the local Taínos.

Though Jamaican jerk sauce certainly was derived from African ancestryTemplate:Cn, it is something that was adapted and modified over hundreds of years as various cultures added their influence. From the start, changes had to be made since the Coromantee slaves found themselves in new surroundings on the island of Jamaica and were forced to use what was available to them.

As a result, there was naturally a departure from some of the original spices used in jerk and new ingredients were added or substituted as necessary. One new addition to the recipe was the Scotch bonnet pepper, which is largely responsible for the heat found in Caribbean jerks.


The cooking technique of jerking, as well as the results it produces, has evolved over time from using pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container of choice. Around the 1960s, Caribbean entrepreneurs seeking to recreate the smoked pit flavor in an easier, more portable method came up with a solution to cut oil barrels lengthwise and attach hinges, drilling several ventilation holes for the smoke. These barrels are fired with charcoal, which enhances the spicy, smoky taste. Alternatively, when these cooking methods aren't available, other methods of meat smoking, including wood burning ovens, can be used to jerk meat. However, oil barrels are arguably one of the most popular cooking methods for making jerk in Jamaica. Most jerk in Jamaica is no longer cooked in the traditional method and is grilled over hardwood charcoal in a steel drum jerk pan.



  1. Put the soy sauce, olive oil, brown sugar, lime juice, orange juice, green onion, white vinegar, and scotch bonnet into a blender and blend for about 3 minutes.
  2. Pour the mixture from the blender into a pot and add the remaining ingredients.
  3. Put cold water in 2 medium size bowls (about 500 ml) and leave a 3 medium size bowl empty.
  4. In the first bowl, put a teaspoon of sea salt of your choice into the water.
  5. In the second bowl, put 3 tablespoons of the jerk sauce mixture from the pot into the water.
  6. In the third bowl, pout half of the remaining sauce from the pot.
    Jerk Chicken sauce preparation for BBQ and serving. Also includes Salt water for pre-basting.
  7. Pre-Heat BBQ (barbeque) to 300F using only half of the burners. If you have 3 burners turn on only one. You can also rotisserie the chicken and in that case use the rotisserie settings on your BBQ. The rest of the directions will assume you will not be using the rotisserie function of you BBQ.
  8. Place the whole chicken on the side of the BBQ that has the burners off. You do not want direct heat under the chicken while it is cooking (exceptions noted below).
    Jerk Chicken Rotisserie on BBQ
  9. About every 10 minutes, temporarily turn on all the burners in your BBQ and spoon 4 tablespoons of the salt water from bowl 1 onto the chicken slowly. Once complete, turn off the burners you just turned on. Continue to do this for about a half an hour.
  10. About every 10 minutes, temporarily turn on all the burners in your BBQ and spoon 4 tablespoons of the jerk sauce water mixture from bowl 2 onto the chicken slowly. Once complete, turn off the burners you just turned on. Continue to do this for about 45 minutes. The chicken will be light brown at the end of this process.
  11. About every 10 minutes, temporarily turn on all the burners in your BBQ and spread a few dollops of the of the jerk sauce from bowl 3 onto the chicken slowly using a brush. Once complete, turn off the burners you just turned on. Continue to do this for about an hour to an hour and half depending on the size of your chicken. The chicken will be brown at the end of this process and the wings and legs will be very easy to move. Do not worry about over cooking the chicken.
  12. Bring the sauce that was left in the pot to a boil on medium heat and let boil for about 4 minutes and then remove from heat. It is now ready to server as a sauce for the chicken once it has been cut and served.
  13. Remove the chicken from the BBQ and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
  14. Cut the chicken and serve with the jerk sauce.


See the chili pepper warnings.