Grilled Jerk Chicken
Our bold, spicy-but-nuanced grilled jerk chicken starts with the jerk paste. We blended fiery habaneros (more readily available and less intense than the traditionally used Scotch bonnet peppers), scallions, and garlic with 10 whole thyme sprigs for a big herby punch that didn’t require time-consuming leaf-picking. Soy sauce added depth, cider vinegar contributed brightness, and warm spices (allspice, cinnamon, and ginger) provided the characteristic jerk flavor while brown sugar rounded out the spicy edge. After marinating bone-in chicken pieces in the paste, we first cooked the chicken on the cooler side of the grill, covered, which helped the marinade to stick to the chicken and not slide off over direct heat and burn. Once the chicken was cooked through, we brushed it with a little reserved marinade for a fresh burst of jerk flavor and seared it on the hotter side of the grill. Tasters preferred the chicken charred over the hotter side of the grill, not smoked per tradition. It picked up plenty of grill flavor and tasted cleaner, without any acrid or harsh smokiness.
Plan ahead: The chicken needs to marinate for at least 1 hour before cooking. Use more or fewer habaneros depending on your desired level of spiciness. You can also remove the seeds and ribs from the habaneros or substitute jalapeños for less heat. We recommend wearing rubber gloves or plastic bags on your hands when handling the chiles. Use thyme sprigs with a generous amount of leaves; there’s no need to separate the leaves from the stems. Keep a close eye on the chicken in step 5 since it can char quickly.
- 4 scallions
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 1 – 2 habanero chiles, stemmed
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 pounds bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half crosswise, drumsticks, and/or thighs), trimmed
- Lime wedges
1. Process scallions, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, habanero(s), thyme sprigs, garlic, allspice, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in blender until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of blender jar as needed. Measure out ¼ cup marinade and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Place chicken and remaining marinade in 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Press out air, seal bag, and turn to coat chicken in marinade. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
3A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
3B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s). (Adjust primary burner [or, if using 3-burner grill, primary burner and second burner] as needed to maintain grill temperature between 450 and 500 degrees.)
4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken skin side up on cooler side of grill, with breast pieces farthest away from heat. Cover and cook until breasts register 160 degrees and drumsticks/thighs register 175 degrees, 22 to 30 minutes, transferring pieces to plate, skin side up, as they come to temperature. (Re-cover grill after checking pieces for doneness.)
5. Brush skin side of chicken with half of reserved marinade. Place chicken skin side down on hotter side of grill. (Turn all burners to high if using gas.) Brush with remaining reserved marinade and cook until lightly charred, 1 to 3 minutes per side. Check browning often and move pieces as needed to avoid flare-ups.
6. Transfer chicken to platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with lime wedges.