There is a difference between Jerk Chicken and chicken with Jerk sauce. Most likely you have had the latter. Here’s how you make authentic Jerk Chicken.
Jerk Chicken or Jerk BBQ is adopted by cultures worldwide mostly in African and Caribbean communities. Jerk is native to Jamaica as it’s signature flavors come from plants only found on the island of Jamaica. Pimento wood, scotch bonnet pepper and allspice berries complete the flavor profile of traditional Jamaican Jerk. You can find fresh scotch bonnet peppers (not habanero) and allspice berries outside of Jamaica but pimento wood is extremely difficult to get and can be very expensive to import. For this reason when making Jerk in the states I grow my own fresh scotch bonnets and import pimento wood leaves to get that pimento flavor.
Developed by the maroons in Jamaica, Jerk simply means a long, slow smoking of meat which most of us know as “Jerky”. Keeping the meat in large portions rather than thin strips allows the meat to take on a slow cook, capturing the smoky flavors without drying out completely and turning to Jerky.
As with all recipes, this one is completely adaptable to your flavor profiles and access to ingredients. For example feel free to swap scotch bonnet for habanero, pimento wood for cherry wood or mesquite, all which are widely accessible.
Cooking should not add stress rather strip it away, this recipe can seem very culturally specific and daunting with time needed to invest. I hope to show you how I see cooking Jerk Chicken, as an event and experience that is shared with family and friends and is the original “slow food”. Traditionally Jerk is served with bread for just that reason. This dish is meant to bring people together, get close and personal with your food and break bread with your loved ones.
Cooking Jerk Chicken is a direct transport back to my roots. Jerk is an event, creating community and an activity to bring family together. I love a big chunk of Jerk Chicken in one hand and a cold beer in the other. Delicious food eaten in the most primitive way. Outside, close to nature, made by nature, it’s not supposed to be neat.
Smoke, people, time and community, it’s all about enjoying the process.
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 large piece of ginger sliced
- 1 bulb garlic cloves peeled
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 10 pimento leaves if available
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp dried allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 fresh scotch bonnet pepper
- 2 cups of soy sauce
- 2 tbsp worcheshire sauce
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- 4 tbsp Jamaican dark rum
- 2 cups olive oil
MAT Wah Gwan® citrus jerk glaze
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup reserved jerk marinade
- 2 tbsp Wah Gwan®
- ½ bulb of garlic
- ½ cup Jamaican dark rum
- ½ cup beer
- ½ cup espresso
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 peel from a lime
- ½ cup citrus juice tangerine orange
- ¼ cup cubed mango
Preparing the chickens
Place the chickens on a clean work surface and season generously with Dry Brine and HOT Wah Gwan® (if you are sensitive to heat my regular Wah Gwan® is perfect) on both sides. Rub the seasoning all over. Slice the limes in half and squeeze the juice from the lime over the chicken, using the limes to rub the lime juice in thoroughly. Optimally, this will sit overnight however you can move on to the next step if needed.
Place all of the marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend well. Pour the marinade into a bowl or jar and set aside. Save the extra marinade in the fridge for up to 1 month or seal and freeze for up to 6 months.
In a large bowl, pour your jerk marinade and place your chickens on top. Rub the marinade all over the chickens making sure to coat the inside and outside of each one. Cover and place in your fridge for a minimum of 4 hour but optimally 8-24hrs.
Long, slow cook
If using pimento leaves, soak enough in water to make a leaf bed for your chicken.
I get pimento leaves shipped straight from Jamaica because I’m always striving for that true Jamaican Jerk flavor. You can absolutely skip this step and your Jerk will still taste amazing.
Set your smoker to 225° or if using a charcoal or propane grill, prepare for offset cooking.
Cover the grates with pimento leaf and place your chicken on top. Insert an instant read thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken and close your grill.
Monitor your heat over the course of the 8 hours to optimally get an internal temperature of 165°.
Periodically baste your chicken with the extra marinade and splashes of your favorite beer.
For the last 30 minutes of cooking baste with the Jerk Glaze.
Smoke for as long as you like but once the temperature is at 165° the chicken is ready. The ideal color is a dark amber brown with crispy edges. This takes time and it’s so worth it.
Remove the chicken from the grill and place on a cutting board. Chop handful size pieces and serve with your favorite sides.
Wah Gwan® citrus jerk glaze
In a pot on medium heat, add olive oil. Bring to temp and add marinade. Cook for 2 minutes two cook the rawness out of the marinade. Add Wah Gwan® and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, then add garlic clove cut side down. Cook for another minute or so then add all of the next ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium high and let the glaze thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.