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This jerk chicken marinade is the most flavorful chicken marinade you’ll ever have! This jerk chicken recipe can be made with whole chicken breasts, or you can skewer them with your favorite vegetables! Spicy and full of flavor, this jerk chicken marinade is a must-try.
Every year we go to St. Lucia for vacation, and I always eat half my body weight in jerk chicken. I don’t think there is such a thing as a more flavorful piece of meat!
As soon as I got home from our last trip there, I did everything I could to figure out what was in that chicken marinade. Lucky for me, I was able to figure it out!
What is jerk marinade?
Jerk seasoning has many influences, not just from the Caribbean, but Africa, Europe, and most recently Asian influences. All of these flavors blend together to make such a flavorful marinade.
Jerk was taught by Taino (indigenous people of the Caribbean) to enslaved Africans, who then translated it into jerk chicken in Jamaica.
It was traditionally cooked over a smokey fire pit, which gave it that delicious smokey taste and enhanced spices. The seasoning mainly consists of allspice, scotch bonnets, and either chicken or pork.
Throughout the Caribbean, each island makes their jerk a bit different. Some do just a dry jerk rub, and others make a wet jerk marinade, the one I am sharing today!
What type of meat to use for jerk marinade
You will usually see people make jerk chicken with this marinade. I have heard of people using it on pork. Pork has a similar flavor and texture as chicken, so you can use them interchangeably!
Jerk chicken marinade ingredients
For this recipe, I did a wet marinade to infuse as much flavor into the chicken and keep it juicy. This is especially true if you are using chicken breasts!
Chicken breasts tend to dry out faster, so letting them soak up the marinade will infuse them with more flavor.
These are the ingredients you will need to make the marinade:
- Yellow onions
- Garlic cloves
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh ginger root
- Ground all spice
- Ground nutmeg
- Dark brown sugar
- Soy sauce
- White wine vinegar
- Lime juice
- Scotch bonnet pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
What are Scotch bonnets?
Scotch bonnets are what really sets this recipe apart from other chicken marinades!
Scotch bonnet peppers, also known as Caribbean red peppers, are named because they resemble a Scottish tam o’ shanter hat. These hot peppers are around 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville heat unit.
I get mine at the local Jamaican market, but if you’re in a pinch and can’t find them, you can substitute with a habanero pepper.
Tip: If you like your jerk very spicy, you can add two peppers. We did two, and it was perfect for our taste. If not, just stick with one to be safe.
Making the jerk marinade
For the marinade, I use two scotch bonnets, but we like our jerk very spicy. You can use just one, and even remove the seeds depending on your spice preference (but jerk should definitely have some heat!).
Note: I recommend using gloves when handling them and washing your hands thoroughly after.
Here’s how to make it:
- Add all the marinade ingredients to a food processor.
- Blend on high until all ingredients are fully chopped and combined.
- Once the jerk marinade is blended, you can proceed to marinate your chicken immediately or store the jerk marinade.
Store the jerk marinade in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Marinate chicken in jerk seasoning
You can use this jerk chicken marinade for whole chicken breasts or skewer them first.
- To skewer, cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes prior to putting them in the marinade.
- Cover the marinade container and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours.
- For maximum flavor I recommend overnight.
Jerk skewer ingredients
Now is a really fun part – adding healthy fruits and veggies to the jerk chicken skewers!
To go with the jerk chicken, I also added:
- Bell peppers
- Red onions
Since the jerk chicken is so spicy, the pineapple cuts the spice with sweetness and is absolutely delicious grilled.
Assembling the skewers
If you’re going to use wooden skewers, soak them for 10 minutes prior to skewering (this will keep them from burning). You can use metal skewers instead. I also wear gloves with skewering due to the spicy marinade!
When assembling the skewers, alternate between the vegetables and the marinated jerk chicken.
Tip: I do not recommend leaving the pineapple on the ends because it tends to slide off while grilling!
Grilling the jerk chicken
We grilled it on our gas grill, but I can only imagine how amazing it would taste over a charcoal grill.
Grill over medium/high heat (425F) and cook until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees F. Cook time can vary due to the thickness and size of the chicken, so it is best to use a thermometer.
The jerk marinade will give you delicious charred crispy bits that are packed full of flavor! Once the chicken is fully cooked, remove it from the grill. I then finished it off with some chopped scallions!
What to serve with jerk chicken
My favorite way to enjoy these grilled jerk chicken skewers is with my fried okra coconut rice. The coconut rice helps cool down the heat of the jerk chicken, and they make the perfect pair!
What to use instead of a food processor
Using a food processor makes it so easy to puree and combine all the jerk chicken marinade ingredients. Ideally, you want the marinade to be completely pureed and thing, without any large pieces of peppers.
If you don’t have a food processor, use a blender. If you don’t have either, then get one. It’s really difficult to make this without one.
Why use brown sugar and honey in the marinade
Not only does the brown sugar and honey add complexity to the jerk chicken marinade, but it creates a gorgeous caramelization on the outside of the meat.
Use both brown sugar and honey. Brown sugar has a richer and deeper flavor profile. Honey is full-on sweetness with an iconic stickiness. You need both in the marinade!
How to make jerk chicken skewers in the oven
When you make them on the grill, the skewers will have distinct char marks and tastes. If you can’t get to a grill, no worries! You can just make them in the oven.
Just place the skewers on a baking sheet and bake them at 425F for 30 minutes, flipping them halfway through cooking.
Other chicken recipes
- Chicken Poblano Fajitas
- Peruvian-Style Roast Chicken with Aji Verde (Green Sauce)
- Spicy Chicken Taquitos (Baked or Fried)
- Tarragon Chicken
- Slow Cooker Chicken Tinga
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- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast (sliced into 1 inch cubes)
- 1/2 yellow onion (peeled and quartered)
- 6 cloves garlic (peeled)
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme)
- 1/3 cup chopped scallions
- 2 inches fresh ginger root (skin peeled and roughly chopped)
- 2 tablespoons ground all spice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or freshly grated
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 2 limes (juiced)
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper or habanero (stems removed (if you like really spicy add 2))
- 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 3 bell peppers (stem/seeds removed, cut into 1 inch squares)
- 1 red onion (peeled and cut into 1 inch squares)
- 2 cups cubed and peeled pineapple
- Okra Fried Rice
- Chopped scallions
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- In a food processor, combine all the marinade ingredients and blend on high until all ingredients are evenly chopped and combined. Once the jerk marinade is blended, you can proceed to marinate your chicken immediately, or store the jerk marinade. Store the jerk marinade in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- In a bowl or large ziplock, add cubed chicken and pour the marinade over the chicken, mix chicken with marinade so all chicken is coated. Cover the bowl or seal bag, place into the refrigerator, marinate overnight or minimum 4 hours (overnight is recommended for max flavor).
- If using wooden skewers, soak them in water 10 minutes prior to using, you can also use metal skewers. After chicken has marinated, alternate skewering the chicken, pineapple, bell peppers, and red onion. Do not leave the pineapple on the end of the skewer, they tend to fall off when grilling. I also wear gloves when skewering the chicken, thoroughly wash hands afterwards.
- Preheat and clean your grill. Grill the jerk skewers over medium/high heat (about 425F degrees) rotating every few minutes so all sides get cooked/charred. Cooking time will depend on thickness of chicken and grill heat. You are looking for an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for the chicken.
- Remove from grill and garnish with chopped scallions and serve with a side of rice or side of choice.
Scotch bonnet peppers
- I buy my scotch bonnet peppers at a local Jamaican market, if you cannot find them in a pinch you can use habanero peppers
- I use 2 scotch bonnets for very spicy jerk, you can use just one for regular spicy, or even remove the seeds for a mild spice. Jerk should be spicy though!
- I recommend using gloves when handling the peppers and thoroughly wash your hands afterwards
- Once the jerk marinade is blended, you can proceed to marinate your chicken immediately, or store the jerk marinade. Store the jerk marinade in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- This recipe can also be used to marinate whole chicken breasts