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Sep 10, 2012 09:46 AM

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 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).

            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.