Jerk is a style of cooking that is native to the island of Jamaica. It was developed by former slaves on the island using native food sources. The hot and spicy sauce was used to baste wild hogs that were slow roasted over wood coals.

Today we can use jerk spice on just about any meat, but the two most common are chicken and pork. Jerk spice can be applied as a dry rub or as a wet marinade and gets its flavor from a variety of sources. Most jerk seasonings rely on allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, but may also include cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions, garlic, thyme, brown sugar, ginger and salt. 

Taste the burn

The heat of a good jerk spice comes from scotch bonnet peppers. When I was preparing my dish, I couldn’t find any scotch bonnets, so I substituted habanero peppers. I’ve always heard that habaneros were extremely hot but according to the Scoville Scale (which measures the heat of peppers) it’s about half that of the scotch bonnet (445000 SHU). My taste buds were happy about the substitution.

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As a safety precaution, I would suggest using rubber gloves whenever cutting hot peppers. Immediately after cutting the peppers, thoroughly wash the knife and cutting surface with hot soapy water and then disposing of the gloves. Capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat, is the same thing used in pepper spray for self-defense!

Just Grillin’!

Cooking jerk chicken or pork should be done “low and slow” to insure a tender dish. I used a gas grill to prepare today’s recipe and let the chicken quarters cook for about an hour over a medium low heat.

Remember that each grill is different and you should adjust the heat level for your situation. If you have trouble telling if the chicken is cooked, the joint between the wing and breast or the leg and thigh should pull apart easily when completely cooked. Using oak, or some other wood chip for smoke, would give this dish additional depth of flavor.

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What about the sides?

I prepared Jamaican red beans and rice, and some baked sweet potatoes. You could also serve cornbread, fried plantains, roti, or taro dumplings. I found several of these recipes on line just remember to look at the ratings for the dish and try ones that either look delicious to you, or fabulous to the other 857 people who gave it 4 out of 5 stars! Live, Laugh, Love, and Eat Well.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Courtesy of Food & Wine

Serves 8 or more

Total time 9+ hours (due to marinating)

This recipe is easily halved to only use 1 chicken

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 medium scallions, chopped
  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers (I substituted Habanero and they were hot enough), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 TBSP five-spice powder
  • 1 TBSP allspice berries, coarsely ground
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP veg oil
  • Two 3 ½ to 4 LB chickens, quartered

 In a food processor, combine the first 10 ingredients and process into a paste. With the machine on, add the soy sauce and oil in a steady stream. Pour the marinade into a large, shallow dish, add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring the chicken back to room temperature after marinating and before cooking.

Light a grill. Grill chicken over medium hot fire, turning occasionally until well browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium or medium low and continue to cook for another 35 to 45 minutes with the grill closed to add a smoky flavor. Transfer to a platter and serve.  If meat at the thickest part is still a bit pink, microwave for 2 or 3 minutes to insure complete doneness.