The Best Jamaican Jerk Chicken

jamaican jerk chicken
A whole chicken is cut into quarters before being coated in the lively jerk marinade and grilled or roasted.Ted + Chelsea Cavanaugh

The key to jerk chicken that tastes like it does in Jamaica is to use pimento wood on the grill and make sure your meat gets those dark, crusty edges. This recipe adapted from Jamaican cookbook authors Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau includes a grill method and a simpler oven method. Since you won’t be getting any smoke indoors, toast the whole spices in a dry, heavy skillet until fragrant before adding them to the marinade to give it more depth.

Equipment

For the Grill:

For the Oven:

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
You can grill this real-deal jerk chicken with pimento wood like it's done in Jamaica, or try a simpler, smoke-free version in the oven. Both methods yield juicy meat with dark, crusty edges.
Yield: serves 4
Time: 25 hours, 30 minutes for grill method
24 hours, 50 minutes for oven method

For the marinade:

  • 6 Scotch bonnet chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. peeled, chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1½ tsp. allspice berries
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. dark Jamaican rum
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. strong brewed coffee
  • 1½ tsp. molasses

For the chicken:

  • 1 whole skin-on chicken, butchered into quarters
  • Pimento branches and pimento leaves, if using grill method
  • Lime wedges and Scotch bonnet hot sauce, for serving

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade: In a food processor, add all the ingredients. Pulse only until slightly chunky. (Makes 1 13 cups.) Reserve one-quarter of the marinade for serving; refrigerate. In a large resealable plastic bag, add the remaining marinade. Add the chicken and turn the pieces several times to coat. Seal and refrigerate for 1–2 days.
  2. For the grill method: Gather enough pimento branches and pimento leaves to form a base for the chicken, with a few inches of buffer around the sides. Soak the branches and leaves in water for at least 20 minutes (this will help them release flavorful smoke instead of igniting).
  3. When ready to cook, on a gas or charcoal grill, build an indirect heat source on one side of the grill and preheat to medium-high. Directly next to (but not on top of) the heat source, spread out the soaked pimento leaves in a single layer, and place the soaked branches in a row atop the leaves to form a rack for the chicken. Place the chicken, skin-side up in a single layer (the pieces can be close together but not touching) on the branches and leaves. Cover the grill and let cook, refueling as needed to keep the heat at around 350°F. Stop when the skin is charred and crispy, the juices run clear when poked with a knife, and the internal temperature measures 140°F, 1 hour 15 minutes.
  4. For the oven method: When ready to cook, set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with foil, and set a rack on top. Transfer the chicken to the rack, and place in the oven. Roast skin-side up until it’s charred and crispy, the juices run clear when poked with a knife, and the internal temperature measures 140°F, 35–40 minutes for breasts and 50–55 minutes for legs.
  5. Serve the chicken pieces whole, with lime wedges, hot sauce, and reserved marinade.