jerk chicken recipe

Chef’s Notes

My dad, whose mom was Jamaican and whose dad was Nigerian, used to take me to Little Jamaica in the Bronx for dinner. We were sitting by the side of the road, with an open container of jerk chicken. Although I was a boy, I felt like an adult next to him, a man with a burning mouth. Jerk chicken is spicy by nature. What was once a surreptitious method of preparing food by Jamaican maroons has become Jamaica’s greatest contribution to the culinary canon: a tapestry of flavors, aromatics and spices.

In Little Jamaica, these come to life in jerk shacks, grocery stores and bakeries with freshly made beef patties and coconut bread. Little Jamaica will always be my real Jamaica. So much so, in fact, that when I finally got to the island, I remember thinking it looked like a bigger version of the Bronx. And when I got the jerk there, I was immediately transported to those hot New York nights with my dad.


For the ginger-garlic purée:

Combine all ingredients in a blender or high power food processor and blend until smooth.

For the spice marinade liquid:

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat.

Cool completely, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve and transfer to a clean jar with an airtight lid.

For the peppa sauce:


Combine all ingredients in a food processor.


Blend until smooth, then transfer to a jar.


Place a sheet of waxed paper on top and screw on the lid (the paper prevents the vinegar from reacting with the lid).


Let sit in a cool, dark place for a day, then move the jar to the fridge.

For the jerk dough:

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until they form a smooth paste.

For the jerk barbecue sauce:


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.


When it simmers, add the ginger-garlic purée and the onions.


Sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.


Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer gently, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning. The sauce should be thick, shiny and dark red.


Remove from heat and let cool slightly.


Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend on high speed until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

For the brine:

Combine all ingredients except ice, squeezing in lime juice and dropping in lime wedge, with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

Cook, stirring, until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the ice and stir until all the ice has melted.

For the chicken:


Place the chicken in a large zip lock bag and pour the brine over it.


Seal the bag, pushing out as much air as possible, and place it in a large bowl.


Transfer to the refrigerator at least overnight and up to 48 hours.


Discard the brine then transfer the chicken to a large bowl. Toss with the jerk paste and the ginger-garlic puree, then cover the bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.


An hour before you’re ready to grill, soak the wood chips.


Heat the grill to medium heat. If using charcoal, pour over the wood chips (soaked and drained). If using a gas grill, pour the drained wood chips into a disposable foil pan, cover tightly with foil, and use a sharp knife to poke a few holes in the foil so the smoke can escape. ‘escape.


Place the wood chip tray in the back corner of the grill. Once the fries begin to smoke, remove the chicken from the marinade, letting the excess drip back into the bowl.


Grill chicken for 30 minutes, turning frequently to ensure deep and even charring.


In the last 10 minutes, brush the chicken with jerk barbecue sauce every time you turn it.

Michael M. Tomlin