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Recipe for grilled not-too-spicy jerk chicken

Grilled Jamaican jerk chicken, a slightly milder version.

Good news: you don't have to be a jerk to love this Jamaican jerk chicken. In fact, the name jerk doesn't have anything to do with obnoxiousness, or that Steve Martin character. The term might have originated with the Spanish word charqui, used to describe dried meat, that later evolved to jerky and then jerk. Or, it might have come from the practice of jerking (poking) holes in the meat to fill with spices prior to cooking. The hallmark of jerk chicken, most popular in Jamaica but also found in other parts of the Caribbean, is a spicy dry rub that includes fiery Scotch Bonnet peppers and aromatic allspice. From there, the recipe varies, but always includes other spices, such as thyme or nutmeg. Scotch Bonnets lend authenticity, but the jalapeños in this recipe tone down the fire a bit while still evoking the heat of the islands. The chicken tastes best when marinated overnight, so plan ahead when you can. Store cooked jerk chicken in the refrigerator for several days, or make ahead and freeze. Serve hot, over rice, or cold, sliced and stuffed into pita sandwiches.

Grilled jerk chicken, from The Perfect Pantry.

Grilled not-too-spicy jerk chicken  {gluten-free}

From the pantry, you'll need: allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, powdered ginger, ground cloves, cumin, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, canola oil, onion, chicken breasts.

Jerk marinade adapted from this recipe for jerk seasoning on Food Network. Serves 4; can be multiplied.


4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed
2 Tbsp chopped onion
1 small jalapeño pepper, stem removed, cut in large chunks (keep most of the seeds and ribs in)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp mild red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh black pepper
2 Tbsp canola oil


Place the trimmed chicken breasts in a large mixing bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients in a mini food processor or blender, and pulse until the ingredients turn into a uniform paste. Pour this marinade over the chicken breasts, and turn the chicken over and over to make sure each piece is coated with marinade.

Transfer chicken and all of the marinade to a zip lock bag, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When you're ready to cook, preheat a grill or a panini press.

Remove the chicken from the bag, and shake off excess marinade. Grill for 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts.

Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More great chicken:
Brick-grilled chicken thighs, from The Perfect Pantry
Grilled tamarind chicken, from The Perfect Pantry
Grilled chile-lime-ponzu chicken, from The Perfect Pantry
Basil chicken in coconut curry sauce, from Simply Recipes

Get your grill on! You don't need a big rig to make great jerk chicken.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


jerk, hotter than hot is delicious but not too often...

I never knew the meaning behind jerk chicken - I just knew it was spicy. Funny how some terms convey their meaning even when one doesn't have the proper context.

I can't believe it, but I've never cooked or eaten Jerk Chicken (and had no idea where the name came from!) Sounds delicious. I think the less-spicy version would be plenty spicy for me.

I love Jerk Chicken ... especially when I'm enjoying it in the islands! I had no idea about the name (sort of wondered, but didn't pursue it). I do like the slightly less spicy versions although I've been know to "temper" the heat by alternating bites of chicken with blander foods and liquid refreshment, just so I could enjoy the chicken no matter what. ;-)


Herkkusuum, I love hotter-than-hot, but many readers of The Perfect Pantry prefer it a bit less so!

TW, this version is not overly spicy, so if you're not a fan of really hot food, maybe give this a try.

Kalyn, one bite of this chicken and you will imagine yourself on a beach in Jamaica. I promise.

Shirley, nothing better than eating hot food in the country it comes from. But this chicken is pretty terrific right here at home, too.

"jerk" style anything is delicious and has always intrigued me - the idea that up here in New England we associate spices like nutmeg and allspice with warm winter desserts and in the Caribbean they are paired with fiery spice. So interesting to me.

Carol, I love recipes like that one that use pantry spices in a way we don't typically use them here in New England. This jerk isn't overly spicy, though it does have a kick, and I hope you'll like it.

This chicken does look very delicious my friend :D
Thanks for introducing me to a new style!

Choc Chip Uru

I've never been to Jamaica but have tried jerk chicken at a local Jamaican restaurant and made it a few times, although it's been years. Love all the spices in jerk chicken - I do like spicy food, so I would probably add more chili.

CCU, my pleasure!

Jeanette, you could always substitute a hotter pepper for the jalapeño in this recipe, or leave all of the seeds and ribs in the pepper for a nice bit of warmth.

Thank you for going from a spicy pepper pantry quiz to a less spicy-hot recipe. My palate appreciates it!
This looks tasty good, and I like the variety of serving temps, though my spouse would insist it be served piping hot.

Kirsten, jerk does need a little bit of heat, but you can cut the heat down even more in this recipe if you wish. Take my word for it, this was just as good cold when I nibbled on it for breakfast the morning after I'd grilled it for dinner!

Hi Lydia! Great recipe! I'm a writer for GourmetFoodStore.com, and I'm currently working on an article on jerk spices. I'd like to feature your recipe and pictures, with your permission (we'd give you full credit of course). Thanks!
Albertina Roca

Lydia yet another hit! I followed the exact recipe and this was delicious!

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