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Am I a Jerk Chicken Jerk?


I had never had Jamaican jerk chicken until this weekend, but love spicy foods. After my neighbor gave me a collection of peppers from her garden, including a dozen habanero peppers, a close relative of the Scotch Bonnet pepper typically used in jerk, I was inspired me to try my hand at Jamaican jerk chicken.

I was really disappointed. Given the super long list of ingredients for the marinade, including brown sugar, ginger, garlic, soy, vinegar, thyme, allspice, cinammon, nutmeg, rum, honey, tamarind paste, citrus juices, etc., I expected a complex flavor with plenty of heat. All I got was heat. The heat didn't overwhelm the flavor mind you; there were really just no other flavors to overwhelm. It was very plain tasting chicken with some heat at the end.

I followed this recipe to a Tee:


I marinated the chicken, totally submerged, for 24 hours, turning it half way through the process to make sure the meat was thoroughly permeated.

I grilled the chicken indirectly and finished it over the coals to get some nice char and browning. In terms of doneness it was perfectly cooked: crispy, brown-as-a-football skin with juicy, perfectly cooked meat.

But...there was virtually NO flavor. Just that heat from the habaneros.

I can't imagine that's what jerk chicken is supposed to taste like. Did I do something wrong? I wonder if the marinade was too wet, and I should have made it into a paste to smear onto the chicken and keep it there while it cooked.

I would appreciate a jerk chicken debriefing from someone who knows how it shoudl taste and how to cook it. I feel like a jerk.


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  1. I have eaten a whole lot of Jerk chicken in Jamaica and so am always on a quest to replicate THAT flavor. The recipe you linked could be abbreviated, IMO. Stuff like multiple citrus juices, mustard, fresh fruit and multiple sweeteners are overkill. But what is the most critical missing link, IMO, is salt. Lots and lots of salt. That's what's going to carry those flavors into the meat. The same principle as brining or salt rub. It's also much better to make the Jerk mixture a few days in advance to let the flavors meld and evolve.

    The best and most authentic Jerk I have had at home is the commercial Jerk paste from Walkerswood. It works as a marinade and condiment, and in addition to being super flavorful, it's quite salty. This is where a lot of homemade marinades miss, IMO.

    A recipe I have used quite a bit at home and liked (with tweaks) is the Jerk Pork Tenderloin recipe from epicurious.com. It needs the addition of A LOT of salt and some sweetener. Or page through their other Jerk recipes--they are all fairly similar, but I think the addition of the coffee beans from the pork one I mention makes a nice difference. OTOH, none of them are as good as the Walkerswood stuff from a bottle. I've learned to be OK with that. I buy it by the case. Freeze the habaneros or scotch bonnet for something else, or make hot sauce.

    1 Reply
    1. re: splatgirl

      Splatgirl, I don't know what places in Jamaica you ate your Jerk Chicken because Jerk Chicken should not at all be salty. In fact, I've never eaten at an authentic (meaning cooks from Jamaica) Jamaican restaurant/take-out and the Jerk was salty. The only time I've ever eaten salty Jamaican Jerk Chicken is when it was made from pre-made marinade bought from the supermarket. That Walkerswood is some really nasty stuff. It tastes like salt and heat.

    2. The first time I had Jerk Chicken dining out, it had been made with the breast meat. It was terrible...a disaster. Everything you described and on top of that, it was overcooked and dried out. To be fair, I'm not a fan of chicken breast to begin with unless it's cooked with some care...but this preparation made it even worse.
      I _may_ have liked it better if the stuff was made with the leg/thigh portion (which is more flavorful to begin with)

      1. I have to agree with Splatgirl,I too have eaten and prepared quite a bit of Jerk over the years but have never added orange or lemons,honey,mustard,rum,pineapple?
        Lime juice is used to cut the so called "rankness" from the chicken so that's about the only citrus regulary used in Jamaican jerk and if all you taste is the heat from the Scotch Bonnet then pull it back to maybe 2 peppers instead of 5 and agreeing again with splatgirl....lots more salt.
        Jerk in the islands is not only wicked hot but also salty as it was a method used not only cook but preserve precious meat protein.
        Good luck.

        Walkerswood jerk marinade is great but has a bit to much nutmeg for me, try Graces if you can find it.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Duppie

          It definitely needed more salt. I'm just surprised no other flavors seemed to come out of that ridiculously long list of ingredients.

          So I'm right to assume that jerk chicken should be very flavorful and complex, in addition to hot and salty?

          1. re: EarlyBird

            Most definitely, the jerk rub should be like a thin paste and make you cough and sneeze when it hits the grill. The taste should be of heat first,allspice,nutmeg and cinnamon next and finish with a smokey sweetness but that recipe is way too complex with some ingredient, that would never find it's way into a jerk rub.
            Now jerk recipes are as varied as BBQ rub recipes are over here and it takes time to get the right blend of spices.
            Not to mention that unless you're planning to make a lot of jerk... time consuming and expensive. In the islands the jerk rub is prepared gallons at a time and practically allowed to ferment in the heat and humidity which I personally believe adds a nuance to the flavor.

            1. re: Duppie

              Great information, Duppie. One problem I figured was that the marinade was just that, a marinade and so thin, rather than a rub. The rub or paste would have adhered to the chicken while cooking. My marinade just ran off, and I had hoped and assumed that it would have penetrated the meat. Not so.


          2. re: Duppie

            Duppie can you say which of the Grace's products you like? I am interested to try this but Amazon shows a few different versions...

            1. re: splatgirl

              I use the Grace mild in the old time 10 oz bottle but add my own pepper sauce as well as a grated onion,lime juice and some Trinidadian green seasoning that is always in my fridge.
              So I basically make it my own simply because it's less time consuming and taste very close to the jerk I remember from the "Yard"

          3. GOOD LORD! 5 habaneros? no wonder you didn't taste anything.

            and SOY SAUCE? WTH?

            try steve raichlen's jerk rub for rasta ribs (but reduce the amount of ground pepper -- i would use cayenne and not habanero, and only ½ the amount he uses). i have found it very tasty and not too, too hot (where you don't taste the meat). http://www.grillinggifts.com/Rasta-Ri...

            1 Reply
            1. re: alkapal

              I actually doubled the recipe so used 10 habaneros. When you say "didn't taste anything" you mean that the heat was too much so obliterated the other flavors? Not so. It wasn't too hot by any means, just bland + heat.

            2. If you want jerk and you LOVE spice, buy a bottle of Walkers Wood spicy jerk marinade, not the small bottle of their jerk seasoning. Nothing else has ever come close for me, and the flavors meld just incredibly with overnight marinade and grilling to a brown crust. I have a whole chicken in the fridge that I'll butterfly and drown in a pool of it, then grill in a day or two.

              1. Wow! That chow recipe is an Abomination!
                Here is the recipe I use and get Great reviews when ever I serve it.
                It is adapted From Enid Donaldson's "The Real Taste of Jamaica"
                3 whole chickens cut in half
                3 limes cut in half
                6 gloves of garlic
                2 teaspoons allspice
                ½ teaspoon nutmeg
                ½ teaspoon mace
                1 teaspoon salt
                1 teaspoon sugar
                3 teaspoons fresh thyme
                1 teaspoon black pepper
                1 3/4 cups chopped scallions
                2 medium onions
                3 scotch bonnet peppers seeded and deribbed

                2 teaspoons olive oil

                Squeeze fresh lime juice all over chicken, ½ a lime for each ½ chicken.

                Puree all other ingredients in a food processor.

                Rub mixture over chicken, cover and leave to marinate overnight in refrigerator, or at least four hours.

                Grill mostly on the bone side then finish skin over indirect heat till crisp and charred in spots.

                5 Replies
                1. re: chefj

                  An excellent recipe, I've was using it for years until I got too lazy and the bottled stuff proved to be good with some modification. I generally butterfly the chicken though.

                  1. re: Duppie

                    Pretty much the same difference with half the flipping dread mon More time for flex mon.

                  2. re: chefj

                    This is pretty close to what I do when not using Walkerswood. Main thing is jerk seasoning should be a paste, NOT a liquid. The essentials are scotch bonnets, salt, thyme, allspice and scallions. That gets you the basic jerk flavor. The most interesting thing that I found with homemade is that it's greenish in color and has a more herbal flavor, where the jarred stuff is very dark brown.

                    I agree, that chow recipe was a muddled mess.

                    1. re: sbp

                      IMO, Walkerswood marinade is 100x better than their paste. Just irresistibly perfect, so I don't care if it's in a bigger bottle, wetter and called marinade. I care about the taste.

                  3. I've never been to Jamaica, and I also have never tried the Walkerswood paste, though I've heard great things about it. I agree with others, you should try it.
                    That said, here is a dry jerk rub recipe that I really like: http://www.greeneggers.com/index.php?...
                    I make it in fairly large batches, and keep it on hand to use when the mood strikes. When I am able to plan ahead, such as last summer when I grilled jerk pork for a wedding, I leave out the cayenne and about half the onion. I then add chopped green onion and fresh habaneros. Sprinkle the rub on quite liberally, add the fresh onion and habaneros, pour just enough oil to make it a paste, and marinate overnight. Grill, and enjoy!

                    1. I'm also a big fan of Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning (that's what they label the paste as) when I do not make my own paste. I would buy a jar of Walkerswood to set the guage. To use it, make sure you get the paste under the chicken skin. I find this to be EXTREMELY important. So, you essentially rub your chicken parts, but also get some paste under the skin. Let it sit in the fridge for at least 8 hours, then, if at all possible, smoke roast it. I always do indirect heat over a mix of coals and wood - usually about 325-350. I LOVE JERK CHICKEN. LOVE it.
                      Did I mention to get the paste under the skin??

                      1. P.S. I almost want to send you a jar of Walkerswood - I have a feeling you'll love it. If you do get some, please report back. I think if you get a jar, it will help you in creating your own Jerk seasoning in the future. Remember, get some of it under the skin.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: gordeaux

                          I agree. Walkerswood is good stuff and will give you a measuring stick for when you make your own.

                          If all you can taste is heat, then your recipe is off. Jerk is extraordinarily flavorful as well as hot.

                          IMO, your recipe sounds a bit "fussy.". Jerk really isn't that.

                          1. re: C. Hamster

                            We had jerk pork (w/coconut rice & grilled pineapple...the weather is rockin' right now, seemed like a good night to work the grill) and it was great...your recipe looks awfully complicated. I confess that after a few attempts to make my own jerk seasoning I now buy jerk paste and it is delicious...I usually buy the Pickapeppa brand, but tonight I used something I bought from the discount grocery (too lazy to get up and look at the label) which I tasted prior to marinating my pork kebabs and thought lacked a little sweetness, so I added a little brown sugar and a little salt and it was fantastic. Sometimes it really is easier to buy it...cringe,cringe.

                            1. re: C. Hamster

                              I just love the flavors that come out with the marinade much more than the paste, but for my money, this is the only ready made brand to use.

                          2. I agree with the peanut gallery, the Walkerwoods is really good. I just buy than and add a chopped Scotch bonnet.

                            1. When I worked as a chef & later sold to restaurants for Sysco my motto was "don't waste your time making things from scratch that you can buy already prepared unless you can improve on them . Spend your (valuable) time makings things you can't buy". I think Walkerswood falls into this catagory. I liberally rub this stuff into bone in skin on chix thighs and marinate, refrigerated in a Ziploc for @ least 8 hours or as much as 48. Grill top down, indirectly careful not to burn the skin. Fantastic IMHO

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: zackly

                                Lesson learned: buy Walkerswood. Your motto makes a lot of sense. Thanks to you and all respondents.

                                1. re: EarlyBird

                                  You can improve on Walker's while it is good homemade is better.
                                  Walker's uses the same ingredients as the recipe listed above, but the volatile oils and esters deteriorate over time and processing.

                              2. I agree with everyone that says the recipe is overkill with ingredients. Further agree that Walkerswood products are great. I will say that I think habaneros are a bit hotter than scotch bonnets and the latter also have more flavor with them than pure heat.

                                Go with either the prepared products or other recipes mentioned and save the habanero for making hot sauce.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: gourmanda

                                  Purist will scorn - but this jerk chicken recipe is great for a crowd (like super bowl) cylantro and citrus slaw. it's cooked in the marinate. My friends rave, though I am still wanting to master a good marinate grilled jerk chicken...

                                  I will try the walkers wood (any one know when you can get it in the SF bay area?)


                                  1. re: sparky403

                                    sparky, that is the very recipe under discussion by the OP.

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      what is the op? sorry for my ignorance;-)

                                      1. re: sparky403

                                        OP = "original post", or "original poster", depending on the context

                                        1. re: MikeG

                                          thanks for the clarrification - I guess the brain is not working that well this a.m.

                                          The recipes are completely different - the one I posted is only boarder line Jerk - but it does have all the same ingridents - it's just that the chicken is cooked in the marinate in either a slow cooker or braised in the oven the way I do it.

                                          I add some additional onion and red bells to reduce while the chicken is cooling and being removed from the bone.

                                          Anyway, I really recommend the recipe though I am sure, as I said purist will scorn.. really great with a cylantro, jalepenon and citrus slaw for the sliders

                                          here';s the recipe I refer too.


                                          For the rub:
                                          •1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
                                          •2 teaspoons ground allspice
                                          •2 teaspoons kosher salt
                                          •1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

                                          For the chicken:
                                          •4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
                                          •2 tablespoons vegetable oil

                                          For the marinade:
                                          •1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
                                          •1/2 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap
                                          ) •1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
                                          •1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
                                          •1/3 cup soy sauce
                                          •10 peppercorns
                                          •5 medium garlic cloves, smashed
                                          •3 medium scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
                                          •1 1/2 cups cilantro (about 1 bunch), coarsely chopped
                                          •1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
                                          •1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, sliced into 1/4-inch coins
                                          •1 Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, sliced into rounds

                                          To serve:
                                          •24 (4-inch) deli French rolls or other crusty bread


                                          Combine all rub ingredients in a small bowl. Coat the chicken all over with the rub and set aside. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke, place half of the chicken in the pan skin side down and fry both sides until well browned, about 10 minutes total (the chicken will not be cooked all the way through). Place in a slow cooker and repeat with the remaining chicken.
                                          Place all marinade ingredients in a medium nonreactive bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over the chicken, cover, and cook on low, turning the chicken pieces every few hours, until the meat is falling off the bone, about 5 to 8 hours.
                                          When the chicken is ready, remove to a cutting board. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer, pour it back into the slow cooker, and set the cooker to warm.
                                          When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces (discarding the skin, fatty pieces, and bones) and place back in the slow cooker with the sauce until ready to serve.
                                          Split the deli rolls in half and toast, then place 1/4 cup of the jerk chicken mixture on each sandwich.

                                  2. re: gourmanda

                                    I don't know about more flavor, but definitely better. Habaneros have a stronger flavor in my opinion, but they're too citrusy and fruity for jerk. Scotch bonnets have a more subtle and less penetrating flavor that doesn't overwhelm the herbs.

                                    Black habaneros have a more subtle flavor that's a lot like Scotch bonnets though. Fataliis also have a flavor very similar to Scotch bonnets. These aren't very common but are sometimes available in some grocery stores and farmers markets. I think they make a better substitution than orange habaneros.

                                  3. Heinz has a Jerk Chicken with Rice and Beans soup---not bad. Must be new (at least to our area stores) since I never noticed it before.

                                    1. You need to slow smoke the chicken over REAL pimento wood. Use the leaves too - soak and put in tin foil to create smoke. THat is where the flavor comes from - the marinade itself is not enough. Pimento wood is easily found on line and a little goes a long way.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: JodiS

                                        Lord have mercy Jodi S..Really?have you tried sourcing Pimento wood in central NJ or central Anywhere USA? Perhaps in South Florida but not exactly something we can pick up at the local grocery and I know for a fact that the majority of Jerk stops in Jamaica don't come within a mile of a pimento tree but thanks anyway.

                                        1. re: Duppie

                                          That is because JAMAICA has strict export rules - it is easily found on line and has been in the USA since 2008. No, you can't go get it in every corner store - but it is easily found on line.

                                          1. re: JodiS

                                            I'm confused....Jamaica has an INTERNAL export rule? Pimento is the traditional planking used to smoke the Jerk but was over harvested and scares since the late 70's so the majority of roadside jerk is still done in halved 50 gallon barrels with nary a pimento in sight.
                                            Still the best in my opinion even though the more upscale /read tourist establishments have the ability to purchase and use pimento wood but lets not split hairs ....shall we?

                                        2. re: JodiS

                                          I'll definitely agree that smoking takes it to a whole new level, but I have yet to try pimento, tho I've always known that is the preferred wood - I'm too lazy to search for it, but if I found it, I'd buy it in spades. I do a blend of standard bbq woods as is. I have to find Spur Tree now. I don't think I've ever come across it at the normal haunts I find my Walkerswood at. Thanks for the tip.

                                        3. Also - we really prefer Spur Tree sauces. We've made jerk everything almost weekly since 2008. So we have tried every sauce and like Spur Tree better then our own recipe we used to make.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: JodiS

                                            I'll have to give it a try...Thanks.

                                          2. i thought i'd share this link for a jerk wings recipe from a caribbean cookbook i recently enjoyed -- from levi roots. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

                                            instructions are at the link -- and more recipes, too. here are the ingredients, though:

                                            Sticky jerk wings with sugared oranges

                                            Pile these high and serve them hot, hot, hot! The marinade is adapted from one by Bob Marley's chef Gilly. Serves 4 as a starter or as part of a barbecue spread.

                                            12 chicken wings
                                            2 tbsp soft light brown or Demerara sugar
                                            2 pipless oranges
                                            5 long, mild red chillies - whole and undamaged

                                            for the jerk marinade:

                                            4 spring onions - green part only, roughly chopped
                                            1 hot red chilli (ideally Scotch bonnet) - seeds left in
                                            a 3cm piece of root ginger - cut into chunks
                                            2 tbsp thyme leaves
                                            100ml cider vinegar
                                            3 tbsp honey
                                            2 tsp ground allspice
                                            1 tsp ground cinnamon
                                            2 tbsp olive oil
                                            salt and pepper

                                            1. This recipe is horrible! All those habaneros killed the taste! Also the tamarind paste and those citrus juices (minus a little orange juice) aren't necessary. If you want a good Jamaican jerk recipe, go to your nearest Jamaican take out and ask them for one. Most of the ones on the net are junk and call for ingredients not usually found in authentic jerk chicken.