Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jerk chicken thighs bathed in spicy marinade and grilled over charcoal for a crispy caramelized crust.
Dean "Schuey" Schumann
Dean "Schuey" Schumann
grilled jerk chicken on the grill

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If you’re sick of cooking the same old boring grilled chicken then this jerk chicken is a great way to spice things up.

This jerk marinade has a perfect balance with some nice sweetness and a little heat that when grilled will caramelize and crust up with a bit of char.

Grilled Jerk chicken

Jerk refers to the style of cooking meat such as chicken, pork, goat and fish using a hot spice mix in either a dry rub, marinade or paste.

I’m using a dry rub style on chicken for this recipe.

Some food historians agree that the word Jerk is a Spanish word that is derived from the Peruvian word Charqui, this word best describes what we know as Jerky, dried strips of spiced meat.

Others feel it that from the word Jerky or Charqui, it was then changed over time to the word Jerking, meaning to poke holes in the meat so the spice could penetrate the meat better.

There are also others who feel the word Jerk comes from the turning of meat in the marinade or to “jerk” a strip off the roasted meat. At the end of the day, no matter how it was formed, I for one am happy it made its way to my BBQ and dinner plate.

Read on for our detailed recipe instructions, or watch the video where we show you the process from start to finish.

What you will need to make jerk chicken

You can use any cut of chicken for this recipe. One great option is to buy a whole bird and cut it into pieces. For this recipe, I’m using skinless thigh fillets. I find the thigh fillets or dark meat tends to retain moisture a lot better.

raw chicken thighs on a white board
Around 2.5 lbs of chicken thighs can feed six people

You’ll want one to two thigh fillets per person. Or around 2.2 to 2.5 lbs of chicken to feed six people.

Obviously, it depends on what size thigh fillets you can get at the time. I always tend to cook extra for a late night snack or to chop up and use in spicy tacos the following day.

  • Charcoal grill, I’m using a 22” Weber Kettle.
  • Good quality lump charcoal.
  • A good quality internal thermometer.
  • A boning or trimming knife.
  • A butcher block or cutting board with juice crevices.
  • A food processor (not 100% necessary, just makes things easier).
  • Food safe gloves.

Making the jerk marinade

Now it wouldn’t be Jerk Chicken if we didn’t have a Jerk marinade, rub or sauce to season our chicken, would it?

This Jerk marinade has a super punchy flavor, bold and rich with a nice sweetness to it that when grilled will caramelize and crust up with a bit of char.

jerk marinade in a blender
Place marinade ingredients into a blender and pulse until you have a smooth mixture

This recipe couldn’t be any easier to make, you are literally throwing all the ingredients into a blender and turning it on.

BUT, and this is a big but, use gloves when handling the chillies. The last thing you want is to have chili on your hands and you rub your eye or worse… So be warned, gloves are important.

I actually recommend that you make this up ahead of time as this allows the flavors to blend together and develop a richer taste.

Prepping the chicken

We are going to be jerking the chicken; this means we will be poking holes in the chicken thigh fillets to allow the marinade to permeate the flesh better.

I’ll be using a jaccard that can be picked up at any Chinese grocer or you can purchase one on Amazon.

poking holes in a raw chicken thigh with jaccard
Use jaccard or wooden skewers to poke holes in each chicken thigh

Although we are using skinless fillets, you will sometimes see tiny pieces of skin on the edges of the fillet, you can remove this if you want, I don’t find it necessary.

I only like using skinless as the marinade doesn’t have to get through the skin to flavor the meat.

We’ll be keeping the fillets whole, so all we need to do is put them into a bowl and cover with the jerk marinade. Mix it in and make sure every piece of chicken is covered. 

jerk marinade pouring over raw chicken thighs
Cover chicken thighs with marinade and place in a fridge for at least 12 hours

Then cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours, I do tend to marinade mine for 24 hours. This just allows the flavors to fully penetrate into the flesh and you are left with a super tasty spice hit with every bite.

Setting up your grill

We need to set up a two zone cooking method for the Jerk chicken. That means a cooler indirect side and a hotter direct grilling side.

We will be lighting a chimney full of lump charcoal, it burns hotter than briquettes and will also give a nice charcoal flavor to our chicken.

charcoal chimney with burning lump charcoal
Using lump charcoal will give chicken thighs a nice charcoal flavor

Once the charcoal is fully ashed over place it on one side of the charcoal grate and put the grilling grate back on and place the lid on.

Let the grill warm up for at least five minutes before putting the chicken on. We’ll be aiming for just over 400°F temps in our hotter zone for today’s cook. So my Weber vents were all left wide open.

two zone grill set up
Set up a two zone cooking by placing fully ashed charcoal on one side of the grill

After five minutes, lift the lid and lightly oil the grates; best to use a pair of tongs or heatproof gloves for this. I like to soak some paper towel with oil as it makes this job a lot easier.

Cooking the Jerk Chicken

Now it’s time to get the chicken on. We’ll be placing the chicken on the opposite side of the charcoal, this is known as the indirect cooking zone or the cooler section. So remove the chicken from the marinade but keep the leftover marinade for basting later.

marinated jerk chicken thighs on the grill
Place marinated chicken on the opposite side of the charcoal

I like to use an internal temperature probe to track the chicken so it’s best to insert this now. Put the lid back on and make sure the lid vent is directly over the top of the chicken, this will draw the heat up and over the chicken.

We are going to start by cooking the chicken until it reaches an internal temp of around 150°F.

Then we will lift the lid and start placing pieces of chicken directly over the charcoal and constantly turning and basting with the leftover marinade.

Be sure to keep a track of the internal temp with an instant read thermometer like a Thermapen

We want to take the internal temp to 165°F at the thickest part of each thigh fillet.

grilled chicken thighs on the grill
Once the chicken internal temp reaches 150°F, place thighs directly over the charcoal

Once each piece reaches 165°F internal temperature, remove from the grill and let rest under some aluminium foil for at least 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

It won’t need any longer as these are just thigh fillets, if it was a whole chicken or a half a chicken you would let it rest 15 to 30 minutes.

Serving suggestions

Since this Jerk chicken has plenty of heat, I personally find it’s nice to pair it with something fresh like a salad or some rice and fruity style mango salsa.

grilled jerk chicken thighs with rice and mango salsa on a plate
Serve grilled jerk chicken with rice and mango salsa

You can use it in many dishes; as a topping for pizza, in tacos, diced up and in crusty vienna style rolls with melted cheese on top.

The best part of this recipe is you can adjust the heat to your liking and it takes no real thought process to do this.

Too hot, use less chilli; not hot enough, add more chilli.

I find this recipe a good medium starting point, so if you do like to live on the more adventurous side, throw in an extra chili or two and that should get you to the hot stuff you crave.

a glass of beer with jerk chicken thighs, rice and mango salsa
A glass of cold beer helps cool the mouth if the spice feels a bit too much

As always, I recommend having a cold beer on standby with any BBQ food, it helps cool the palate if the spice is a little too much.

Enjoy.

grilled jerk chicken on the grill

Grilled Jerk Chicken

Jerk chicken thighs bathed in spicy marinade and grilled to a crispy caramelized crust.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Jamaican
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Resting Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Author: Dean “Schuey” Schumann

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 2.2 lb chicken thighs (skinless)

Jerk Marinade

  • 6 scallions (spring onions)
  • 2 shallots peeled and chopped
  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 2” piece ginger peeled and chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 3 red Cayenne Chillies Scotch bonnet also work well
  • 2 tbsp allspice
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tbsp kosher of salt
  • ½ tbsp cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • juice of one lime
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup olive oil

Instructions

  • Start the day before the cook and prepare the jerk marinade by placing all of the ingredients into a blender and pulsing until you have a smooth mixture.
  • Pierce holes in the thigh fillets with a jaccard or you could use some wooden skewers.
  • Place the chicken thigh fillets in a bowl and cover with the marinade, making sure every pieces is filly covered. Then cover the bowl and place into the fridge for at least 12-24 hours.
  • Set up your grill for two zone cooking.
  • Place chicken thighs on the cooler indirect cooking zone. Save the marinade for later. Put the lid back on, making sure the lid vent is positioned directly over the meat, this will draw the heat over the thighs. Track the internal temp until it reaches 150°F.
  • Start grilling chicken directly over the charcoal, basting with the left over marinade and turning frequenty so as to not burn the meat.
  • Once chicken hits 165°F, =take off the heat and rest under foil for fiive minutes.
  • Serve jerk chicken with a fresh side dish to ease the palate after getting bombarded with a lot of heat. Usually a nice salad or some coconut rice and fresh fruity salsa.

Video

Dean "Schuey" Schumann

Dean "Schuey" Schumann

I’m a Weber Kettle collector (50 and counting) trying to cook great food. I love trying new things and perfecting the art of barbecue. I spent a few years competing on the Australian circuit in competition barbecue. Then starred in a barbecue show on Australian TV. Now I'm sharing my knowledge by mixing tips and tricks with some good Aussie humor.

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