Jerk Chicken Marinade infuses chicken with the BEST jerk flavor before it gets tossed on the grill! This marinade features scallions, onions, spicy chili peppers, garlic, brown sugar, lime juice and an aromatic array of bold spices. It’s sweet, spicy, aromatic, and makes grilled jerk chicken impossibly good.
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Jerk Chicken is chicken that’s either been dry rubbed with jerk seasoning or marinated in jerk marinade. Most commonly, this chicken is cooked on the grill but you can also roast it in the oven. I prefer to cook it on the grill because the marinade flavors are beautifully enhanced by adding the smoke from the grill.
The most important ingredients in this marinade are the scallions, spicy pepper, aromatic spices like allspice, and fresh lime. When a recipes is this spicy, there’s also a need for the balance of those bold flavors. That’s why I believe that sugar is also quite important to toss into the marinade! Most other ingredients are added to increase the overall flavor of the chicken.
I’ve had a lot of experience with jerk chicken, whether it was marinated or dry rubbed. There have been some recipes that made me reach for the gallon of milk and down it in one breath and there have been some that were much more pleasant to eat! Personally, I prefer it on the less spicy side, but just spicy enough where I can still taste all of the other flavors.
Onion – A yellow onion is best but a white onion will also work well.
Spicy Pepper – For the best spicy flavor, use either a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper.
Garlic – It’s very important to use fresh garlic only.
Ginger – Freshly grated ginger adds such an incredible fresh flavor to the marinade!
Limes – You’ll need the freshly squeezed juice of two limes. Do NOT use bottled lime juice, as it won’t have the same flavor or acidity.
Soy Sauce – Use low fat Soy sauce. If you need a gluten free option, use gluten free soy, tamari or coconut aminos.
Brown Sugar – This is included to help balance the heat a little bit and add to the rich flavors.
Spices – A medley of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried thyme and salt create the very best flavor.
PRO TIP: Squeeze limes that are at room temperature! They will yield more juice than cold limes.
See recipe card for complete information on ingredients and quantities.
What Pepper to Use in Jerk Marinade
How spicy this jerk chicken ends up being is completely up to you. Some people like food to be so spicy that you need to call the fire department, and others like it with just a touch of spice! Luckily, the spiciness here can be easily adjusted by choosing what pepper is best for you.
Here’s a look at what peppers you can pick from:
Jalapeño – Choose a jalapeño pepper if you want the least amount of spice. Scrape out all the seeds and discard them.
Serrano or Cayenne – For a moderate amount of heat, you can choose either of these peppers.
Habanero – Habanero is a much hotter chili pepper! You should choose this one if you’re looking for a moderate to high amount of spice. Again, you can choose to leave seeds in or take them out for more or less spice.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper – The scotch bonnet pepper is a Caribbean variety of a chili pepper and most commonly used in an authentic jerk marinade. It’s similar to habanero but does tend to be a bit spicier. Using this pepper will make the marinade HOT!
PRO TIP: Personally, I would not dare to add more than ONE scotch bonnet or habanero pepper to the average marinade recipe. If we’re talking jalapeño, feel free to add two or even three. Younger jalapeño peppers are the least spicy ones and you can add more of those. As a jalapeño pepper ages, it gets spicier.
How to Make Jerk Chicken Marinade
Consider your spice level. Before blending everything together, choose your pepper. Then, choose if you want to keep the seeds in or not. Seeds add additional spice and tend to be even spicier than the actual pepper so take that in consideration.
Add it all to the food processor. Chop the onion and scallions and add them to the food processor. Add your spicy pepper, garlic cloves, and all remaining ingredients (1).
Blend it up. Pulse the food processor until everything is blended and smooth (2).
Cover the chicken. Place raw chicken into a large zip-lock bag and pour all the marinade over it (3).
Marinate the chicken. Close the bag and mix so chicken is coated evenly. Lay the bag down in a large plate and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to marinate (4).
How to Grill Jerk Chicken
Prepare the grill. Start the coals and make sure to preheat the grill first. Brush the grill grate with some oil to grease it and place chicken drumsticks on the grill.
Cook, flip, repeat. Close the lid and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Open the lid and use metal tongs to flip the chicken a quarter of the way. Close the lid and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Flip chicken another quarter of the way. Repeat until the chicken is cooked all around (5). (Depending on the size of the drumsticks, this will take 30-35 minutes).
Check the temperature. Use a leave-in thermometer to take the temperature of the chicken as it cooks. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the biggest drumstick and cook until the internal temperature is 165°F.
How to Cook Jerk Chicken in the Oven
Pick the right pan. To cook jerk chicken in the oven, you can use a cast iron skillet or another oven-safe pan.
Prepare. Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease the cast iron skillet.
Bake the drumsticks. Take the drumsticks out of the marinade and place them into the skillet. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
My vote will always be for the grill! The grill adds a nice smoky flavor that really compliments the marinade. Plus, it’s the most authentic way to prepare jerk chicken.
Sure thing! Drumsticks are my favorite cut of chicken to marinate with this jerk recipe, but you can use any other type of chicken that you like best. Adjust the cooking time accordingly depending on the chicken you use.
In an airtight container in the fridge, any leftovers you have of grilled jerk chicken will last for about 3-4 days. With bone-in recipes like this one, I recommend reheating either in the oven or air fryer as opposed to the microwave.
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Jerk Chicken Marinade Recipe
- 8-10 chicken drumsticks
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 spicy pepper like Habanero or Scotch Bonnet (may use jalapenos for less spice)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 2 limes juice only
- 1 lime juice and zest
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- Chop onion and scallions and add it to the food processor. Add spicy pepper, garlic cloves, and all remaining ingredients.
- Pulse until the mixture if completely smooth and blended.
- Place chicken into a large zip-lock bag and pour all the marinade over it.
- Close the bag and mix so chicken is coated evenly.
- Lay the bag down in a large plate and refrigerate overnight to marinade.
Cooking Jerk Chicken on the Grill:
- Start the coals and make sure to preheat the grill first. Brush the grill grate with some oil to grease it and place chicken drumsticks on the grill.
- Close the lid and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Open the lid and use metal tongues to flip the chicken quarter of the way. Close the lid and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Flip chicken another quarter of the way. Repeat until chicken is cooked all around. (Depending on the size of the drumsticks, it will take 30-35 minutes.)
- Use a leave-in thermometer to take the temperature of the chicken as it cooks. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the biggest drumstick and cook until the internal temperature is 165°.
- Make It More or Less Spicy: would not dare to add more than ONE scotch bonnet or 1-2 habanero peppers to the average marinade recipe. If you love the spicy, you can try two. If you want less spicy, you an use milder peppers like jalapeño. Younger jalapeño peppers are the least spicy ones and you can add more of those. As a jalapeño pepper ages, it gets spicier.
- To Cook Chicken In The Oven: To cook jerk chicken in the oven, you can use a cast iron skillet or another oven-safe pan. Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease the cast iron skillet. Take the drumsticks out of the marinade and place them into the skillet. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Originally published on Will Cook For Smiles on May 2019.