Jamaican BBQ Jerk Chicken

In the tangled lush heart of the island of Jamaica, a tree grows abundantly that we call allspice, and which the Jamaicans call pimento. This tree is revered by the locals because it provides the essential flavor of classic Jamaican cuisine. The dried and ground berries become the spice we also know as allspice, and the Jamaicans often use the wood from the trees in their 55 gallon oil drum BBQs to grill and smoke Jerk chicken and fish. Even the leaves are used for cooking, tossed into the fire to flavor the smoke that penetrates the meats and vegetables, resulting in one of the greatest grilled feasts in the world.

Also growing in this tropical interior, this country sized spice shop called Jamaica, is fresh ginger, thyme, the green onions, which we often call scallions, and most importantly, the final magical ingredient of this meal, Scotch Bonnet peppers. A close cousin of the Habanero pepper, the Scotch Bonnet is very hot, actually incendiary, but it also has an amazing flavor which contributes to the completely unique flavor of Jerk… aromatic yet scorching, sweet and smoky, yet somehow fresh and onion-like. These combinations of otherwise opposing tastes… soy sauce and malt vinegar… and brown sugar and thyme… come together to make this a feast to remember.

Once you have all the ingredients, it’s simple to make Jerk in a backyard BBQ, an oven, a broiler, and if you want to go whole hog, a 55 gallon steel drum converted into a smoker. Like Jamaica itself, Jerk is unpretentious but utterly amazing. If you can’t come to Jamaica quite yet, this is a real taste of what this magical island offers.

Main Ingredients

8 to 12 chicken thighs, or at least 20 legs, bone in and skin on (you can also use fish, turkey, pork or rabbit)
1 bottle authentic Jamaican BBQ sauce (we use Pedro Plains Jerk BBQ Madness or Walkerswood seasoning, both available on Amazon)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, sprinkled on both sides of chicken thighs
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground, sprinkled on both sides of chicken thighs
1 8 oz can black beans


10 scallions (green onions) chopped fine, totaling 2 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin,
2 large shallots, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup tightly packed)
4 tablespoons Scotch Bonnet or habanero sauce, or the peppers themselves
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons of dark rum
2 inches fresh ginger, grated
6 limes, squeezed (totaling 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup malt vinegar (a very authentic flavor, we use Sarson’s)
4 tablespoons hickory liquid smoke, if you don’t have a smoker with hickory wood (we use Colgin or Wright’s)
2 tablespoons soy sauce or Tamari
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

Jamaican Spices

2 tablespoons dried thyme, (or 4 tablespoons fresh thyme)
4 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg (about 2 nutmegs)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (8 to 10 cloves)
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 star anise, ground
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Prep Work…

Spread out the chicken thigh and/or legs, salt and pepper both sides.

Combine the marinade and the Jamaican spices and brush half onto the chicken thighs and allow to marinate for at least half an hour. Sometime we place all the chicken in 1 gallon plastic sealable bags along with the marinade and mix it together by hand. (Reserve 2 tablespoons of this combination for each 8 oz can of the black beans if you are preparing them as a side dish.)

In a 1 or 2 quart sauce pan, add the other half of this combination to the BBQ sauce and whisk in. Simmer on low heat until aromatic and married. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Wipe all the BBQ grills with vegetable oil so that the thighs won’t stick. Heat the BBQ grill on high with the lid down until you have achieved maximum heat inside.


Turn all burners to low and place the thighs onto the hot grills with the bone side down. Sear the bone side well, until it begins to show grill marks, about 8 minutes, and then flip all the thighs over.

Brush on the combined BBQ sauce onto the now seared bone side as you allow the former skin side to sear until they also have grill marks, about 8 minutes. Now flip them over with tongs, gently, so that the BBQ sauce doesn’t fall into the hot burners and flare up. Allow the bone side, with the first basting, to char slightly while you thickly brush on the rest of the BBQ sauce to the former skin side.

When the bone side is nicely charred, gently flip the thighs over for the last time and allow the former skin side, with the second basting, to char. Once both sides are nicely charred, turn off all the burners and allow the chicken thighs to rest in the BBQ grill for 5 minutes. The juices inside the thighs will re-distribute themselves fully as they finish cooking and begin to cool.

Once the thighs are cooling, remove from the grill and serve with black beans and added rice. Enjoy!