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"Waiting In Vain" Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe

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As part of this year’s Black History Month celebration, I’ve collaborated with several other amazing black food bloggers for our 2021 Black History Month Virtual Potluck Takeover

Not only do we celebrate and honor the culinary traditions of people across the African diaspora, but we also share some historical context behind many of the dishes.

My contribution this year is this smoky and aromatic grilled Jamaican jerk chicken that is full of flavor with mild heat levels and smoky undertones.

Chicken leg quarters are brined, then marinated overnight in a homemade jerk marinade, and finally slow-smoked on the grill for a main dish taste of classic Jamaican cuisine.

Jerk chicken is quintessential Jamaican cooking and is as flavorful a dish as they come. The intense deep flavor is accomplished in steps. There is the complex flavor and aroma in the actual jerk marinade, plus the slow smoking over wood coals or pimento wood if you have that luxury. The brining step is actually next level-up flavor boost that not only provides that deep internal flavor but also helps ensure tender, moist chicken.

I feel like I should have smoked chicken at least once a month. If not chicken, then something jerked whether it's Jerk Baby Back Ribs, lamb chops, or Air Fryer Jerk Salmon. These jerk chicken leg quarters met this month's fix and the wait was definitely not in vain.

chunks of jamaican jerk chicken pieces on.a white plate

What Is Jerk Chicken?

The history of jerk chicken begins like most things with African slaves. When British colonizers brought slaves to Jamaica some escaped into the mountains. In order to survive and remain hidden the slaves, named "Maroons" used a blend of spices and herbs to preserve and cook the wild boar they hunted.

They dug holes into the ground and "smoked" the meat covered as to prevent the smoke from revealing their location. Over time this jerk method of seasoning and preparing pork extended to other meats namely chicken. This became known as Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Today jerk chicken is the quintessential Jamaican soul food along with brown stew chicken.

What Exactly Is Jerk Seasoning?

In short jerk seasoning is what makes this famous Jamaican dish iconic. It is a style of seasoning proteins via a wet mix of spices, especially chicken and pork, in Jamaica.

It blends both savory and sweet, dry and wet, as well as hot and piquant ingredients for in most cases a wet paste or alternatively in a Dry Jerk Seasoning. For a longer explanation including recipes and serving suggestions try my detailed breakdown.

I use jerk seasoning on both veggies and meat proteins. It goes great believe it or not with roasted onion steaks.


Authentic smoked jerk chicken has to be paired with real deal Jamaican music, right? And with who else, but the brother Bob Marley. To know the history of Jamaica and its staple dish is to know and understand that at its core jerk chicken represents resistance food like so many other African diaspora-based culinary traditions.

So it only makes sense to blast Bob Marley's "Exodus" while cooking jerk chicken and sipping on ice-cold Red Stripe beer.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Ingredients

jerk marinade ingredients on tray

Good jerk chicken recipes start with the marinade. Most will buy and use store-bought jerk pastes, but I prefer to make my own homemade version using this jerk sauce recipe. You may not have access to pimento, the wood that gives jerk chicken that flavor and fragrance you find at a curbside shack in Jamaica, but you should have access to the ingredients to make a proper brine and marinade. 

The brine and spicy jerk marinade add flavor to the outer surface as well as infuse the interior with all those wonderful jerk spices and seasonings like fresh ginger, allspice, cinnamon, thyme, and garlic.

I like my jerk with some serious heat check, but feel free to remove the seeds from the habanero/scotch bonnet peppers if you prefer a milder profile.

I chose leg quarters for this recipe, but feel free to use chicken breasts as I've done in other recipes or use the whole chicken for that matter. Dark meat takes longer to cook, but it's also harder to mess up as chicken breasts can easily dry out if you're not careful.

The specific ingredients you'll need include:

For the Brine

  • Water
  • Sugar
  • Kosher or Sea Salt
  •  jerk marinade (store bought or homemade)
  • Cider vinegar (or basic white vinegar)

For The Jamaican Jerk Marinade

  • Sweet Allspice Berries (you can buy these ground if preferred)
  • Fresh Thyme sprigs
  • Scotch Bonnet Peppers (substitute habanero peppers if unavailable)
  • Green onions Scallions
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Whole Nutmeg (ground is fine as well)
  • Ground Cinnamon
  • Brown sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Soy sauce
  • Red wine vinegar
  • White Onion
  • Kosher or Sea Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Lime juice

For The Chicken

How To Make Jamaican Jerk Chicken (see recipe video at end of post)

Step 1: Brine the Chicken

Combine brine ingredients, place and seal chicken plus brine in ziplock bag, and refrigerate overnight.

Step 2: Make the marinade

Place all marinade ingredients into a food processor and blend into a smooth paste. I like mine on the thick side in terms of consistency.

jerk marinade in bowl

Step 3: Marinate chicken refrigerated 4-24 hours

jerk chicken marinating in bag

Step 4: Smoke the chicken

Heat your outdoor grill to 250 degrees F then smoke the raw chicken skin side up over indirect heat until done. Internal temperature of the thickest part of the chicken should be 165 degrees F.

jerk chicken legs smoking on a grill

Serving Suggestions

I like to chop my jerk into smaller pieces of chicken or chunks like it's served in Jamaica. Serve with a nice cabbage recipe, sweet plantains, coconut rice, or collard greens slaw along with Jamaican rice and peas. I also try to keep fresh pineapple on hand whenever I'm cooking any classic Jamaican recipes, especially jerk. Pineapple is a great tongue cooling agent against spicy chicken. For a fulled detailed list of pairing ideas try this guide of 21 Recipes To Serve With Jerk Chicken.

Other ideas include:

Grilled Vegetables Salad

Air Fryer Corn

Jamaican Steamed Cabbage

Jamaican Rice and Peas

Jerk Chicken Cooking Considerations Key Tips

  • Scotch bonnet peppers are essential to making authentic jerk chicken, but they are hot as hell! Wear gloves when handling the hot peppers as they are super hot
  • If you have a spice or coffee grinder use allspice berries instead of the ground version
  • I also like to buy whole nutmeg and grate in fresh for more aroma and flavor.
  • Wash knife, cutting board, and any other surface the peppers may have come into contact with
  • Cut slits into the chicken before marinating. This will help the chicken absorb more of the flavors
  • Trim your chicken of extra skin/fat if you notice it.
  • Adjust heat levels up or down by the amount of peppers used as well as seeds and veins. Heat comes from the seeds and veins of chili peppers.
  • Let chicken reach room temperature before cooking
  • Allspice berries and bay leaves can help replicate flavor from pimento wood. Smolder them with your heat source when grilling
  • The best jerk marinades achieve the perfect balance of heat and sweetness. You'll need to taste and adjust. The scotch bonnets will push the flavorful sauce to fiery heat levels. Brown sugar balances things out to make the dish edible and enjoyable. Adding some citrus like orange juice is another way to add some sweetness.
  • When preparing your grill for smoking create two heat zones. You'll want to maintain a cooler side of the grill (cool zone) and a hotter side of the grill (hot zone). Your hot zone will be the primary area for smoking the chicken, but occasionally as fat drips from the chicken it may cause a large or small flame to flare-up and burn the chicken. Or the zone just may get too hot. In both cases you'll want to move the chicken to the cool zone until you get things under control.
  • This recipe can easily be converted to an oven bake if you don't have access to a grill or prefer to use your oven.
  • If you have leftovers make this jerk chicken and dumplings recipe.
  • For a good bbq sauce try this easy Jerk BBQ sauce. Use reserved remaining marinade to doctor up store-bought barbecue sauce.
  • If you want to go full authentic jerk chicken recipe experience including all the fixings make sure you have a quality scotch bonnet sauce on hand.
  • Enjoy a nice Red Stripe Beer or two to cool the taste buds and counter the spicy flavor of Caribbean jerk chicken
jerk chicken legs on a white plate

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Pan-Roasted Jerk Chicken Thighs is one of my favorite recipes. The recipe calls for a dry jerk rub and the chicken is roasted in a cast-iron skillet for a quick weeknight dinner.

Can you make jerk chicken in an oven?

To roast chicken in traditional way: Place chicken skin sides up, in large baking pan on middle of a preheated 450°F oven, until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Then turn on broiler and broil chicken, about 4 inches from heat, until skin is browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes.

Can You Make Jerk Chicken on A Gas Grill?

Though I prefer a wood smoking grill or charcoal grill, you can definitely use a gas grill. In order to achieve that smoke flavor jerk chicken is known for, you'll need to create a "smoke pouch." You can do this by soaking wood chips in water then wrapping the chips in aluminum foil. Place the foil packets directly over the gas fueled flames to begin the smoking process.

What are good store bought marinades?

I prefer homemade for a lot of reasons, but Walkerswood and Grace brands both make solid jerk marinades.

What Type Of Wood Is Used For Smoked Jerk Chicken?

Authentic Jamaican jerk chicken is usually cooked over wood from pimento trees. Pimento (allspice) is a key ingredient in jerk cooking; the dried berries used in the marinade come from evergreen pimento trees. The fragrant pimento wood that comes from the trees is what is also used to give jerk chicken it's unique characteristic smoke flavor.

Access to it in the U.S. is pretty limited but there are a few companies online you can order from and have it shipped to you. I prefer Pimento Wood Company as they have chips, logs, chunks, and even pellets for you pellet smoker types. It's not cheap though, so unless you're a hardcore nerd/"purist" feel free to use fruity hard wood substitutes like apple or cherry.

My favorite hard wood for smoking chicken is oak followed by pecan. Whatever you do, don't use mesquite wood as the flavor is too strong and will compete too much with the jerk flavor resulting in a flavor mix you don't won't to deal with.

What Chicken Parts Are Best For Jerk Chicken Recipes?

I'm partial to chicken thighs. I find that they are much more flavorful and definitely less difficult to dry out or overcook in general. If using breasts the brine will definitely help prevent drying out, just know your cook time will be shorter vs. thighs. I also prefer bone-in pieces whether you go with thighs or breasts. There is flavor near and around those bones and plus the bones can be another buffer against drying out.

Does This Recipe Work For Other Types of Poultry?

Yes, I've used almost the identical recipe to make smoked jerk duck legs which turned out fabulous! Though I haven't tried it yet, turkey wings are on my list next!

Is jerk chicken spicy?

Jerk chicken can be as spicy or not as you want it. It all depends on whether you remove the seeds and veins from the chilis. Habanero or Scotch Bonnets pack some serious heat, so unless you want that fire of Jubilee, you might want to remove most if not all the seeds.

Can jerk chicken be fried?

Jerk Fried Chicken is actually a thing and one of my most popular recipes. The chicken is marinated in a buttermilk-jerk brine and dredged in jerk seasoned flour base before being deep fried and seasoned again with more of the dry jerk spice.

Can jerk chicken be cooked in instant pot?

Instant Pot Jerk Chicken can be tricky but definitely doable and worth a try. I created a recipe that's pretty fool proof.


Jerk Salmon

Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken

Jerk Compound Butter

For contributions by some of the other brilliant bloggers checkout any of the following links:

Sweet & Tangy Collards | FoodLoveTog

Jerk Shrimp Cakes and Grits | Geo's Table

Gluten-Free Chicken and Waffles with Maple Bourbon Glaze | Good Food Baddie

Tropical Candied Yams | Handy Chef

Trinidadian Beef Stew | Heal Me Delicious

Cornmeal Coo Coo Recipe | HomeMadeZagat

Caribbean Oxtail | Just Add Hot Sauce

Creole Oxtails Stew | Kenneth Temple

Sweet Potato Bundt Cake | Lenox Bakery

Brown Sugar Cornmeal Waffles w/ Sweet Tea Maple Syrup | Margaritas On The Rocks

Make this recipe

If you make these Jamaican jerk chicken quarters, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.

You can also keep up with my food exploits as well as original recipes! You can find me on InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest. If you like any of the music you find on the site, visit me at Spotify to find curated monthly playlists.

Lastly, go to my YouTube channel and subscribe to be notified when new weekly videos are uploaded.

chunks of jamaican jerk chicken pieces on.a white plate

Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Easy jerk chicken leg quarters marinated with spicy and fragrant sauce then slow smoked on the grill. 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Caribbean
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 650kcal
Author: Marwin Brown


For the Chicken

  • 4 whole chicken leg quarters
  • 2 cups jerk marinade or store-bought

For the Brine

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon jerk marinade
  • ½ cup cider vinegar


Brine the Chicken

  • Mix brine ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well until both sugar and salt are fully dissolve.
  • Place chicken in a large bowl or ziplock back and add the brine. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Marinate the Chicken

  • Remove chicken from the brine, rinse and set aside. Cut several 1-inch-long slits in each piece of chicken.
  • Blend your marinade ingredients and place chicken along with marinade in large ziplock back. Rub paste all over chicken, rubbing it into slits.
  • Marinate, covered and chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 1 day (longer is better for flavor).

Smoke the Chicken

  • Set up frill for indirect heat and pre-heat to 250-275 degrees. Smoke the chicken, skin sides up on indirect heat until cooked through, 1-2 hours.


YouTube video


  • Wear gloves when handling the peppers as they are super hot
  • Wash knife, cutting board, and any other surface the peppers may have come into contact with
  • Cut slits into the chicken before marinating. This will help the chicken absorb more of the flavors
  • Adjust heat levels up or down by amount of peppers used as well as seeds and veins. Heat comes from the seeds and veins of chili peppers.
  • Let chicken reach room temperature before cooking
  • Allspice berries and bay leaves can help replicate flavor from pimento wood. Smolder them with your heat source when grilling
  • This recipe can easily be converted to oven bake if you don't have access to a grill or prefer to use your oven. To roast chicken in oven: Place chicken skin sides up, in large baking pan on middle of a preheated 450°F oven, until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Then turn on broiler and broil chicken, about 4 inches from heat, until skin is browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes.


Calories: 650kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 142mg | Sodium: 2051mg | Potassium: 2603mg | Fiber: 41g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 35187IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 402mg | Iron: 21mg
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Recipe Rating


Thursday 8th of September 2022

Everything looks great! Although Jamaicans do not eat any cooked food with pineapples! I always cringe when I see this, we have no meals that involve pineapple!

Marwin Brown

Tuesday 13th of September 2022

Understood. It's something I picked up in Belize. Had a lot of grilled and fresh pineapple there after eating anything spicy.


Friday 2nd of July 2021

What kind of salt for the brine?

Marwin Brown

Saturday 3rd of July 2021

I use kosher salt as my all-purpose "house"salt


Sunday 7th of February 2021

What a great way to celebrate BHM! To me, sauces and marinades are always what makes everything taste good. Thanks for this recipe.


Friday 5th of February 2021

This chicken sounds so delicious. Jerk seasoning is very popular in my house, boys love it. I will give this recipe a try, for sure. Great weeknight dinner option.


Friday 5th of February 2021

Love the idea for the Virtual Potluck Takeover to celebrate Black History Month - that's so terrific!And what a perfect dish to include!My husband absolutely loves jerk chicken - he'll be delighted to eat this - thank you!