The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Photo of author

By Christopher Spiker

Welcome to “The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ!” Whether you’re a seasoned grill master or just starting out, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know to create mouth-watering jerk chicken right in your own backyard. You’ll discover the rich history behind this flavorful Caribbean dish, learn the secrets to perfect marination, and uncover tips and tricks for achieving that ideal smoky char. By the end of this guide, you’ll feel confident and excited to fire up your BBQ and treat your friends and family to a delicious, unforgettable meal. Have you ever wondered how to make the perfectly grilled, smoky jerk chicken right in your backyard? Well, you’re in the right place! This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to become a jerk chicken grilling master.

What is Jerk Chicken?

Jerk chicken is a hallmark of Jamaican cuisine, bursting with a blend of spicy, sweet, and smoky flavors. Traditional jerk seasoning involves a unique combination of spices, including allspice, thyme, and Scotch bonnet peppers, all marinated into the chicken. When done right, jerk chicken offers a symphony of tastes that will leave your taste buds dancing.

The History of Jerk Chicken

Understanding the history of jerk chicken enriches the experience of making and eating it. The roots of this dish trace back to the indigenous Arawak people of Jamaica, who used pit-style cooking methods and local spices. Over time, African slaves introduced to the island further developed the technique, incorporating new ingredients like Scotch bonnet peppers.

The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Choosing Your Ingredients

The foundation of any dish, especially jerk chicken, lies in the quality of its ingredients. Here’s what you need:


While you can use any part of the chicken for jerk recipes, bone-in, skin-on pieces like thighs, drumsticks, and wings are traditional and offer the best flavor and juiciness.

Jerk Marinade

Making a good jerk marinade is crucial. You’ll need:

  • Scotch Bonnet or Habanero Peppers: These bring the heat.
  • Allspice: Ground allspice provides a warm, aromatic flavor.
  • Thyme: Fresh or dried works; this herb is essential.
  • Garlic and Onions: For depth and savoriness.
  • Ginger: Adds zestiness.
  • Brown Sugar: Balances the heat with sweetness.
  • Soy Sauce: Adds umami and saltiness.
  • Lime Juice: For acidity and balance.
  • Vegetable Oil: Helps with emulsification and grilling.
  • Salt and Pepper: To taste.

Here’s a simple table to summarize:

Ingredient Quantity
Scotch Bonnet Peppers 2-3 peppers
Ground Allspice 1 tbsp
Thyme 2 tbsp
Garlic Cloves 4-6 cloves
Onions 1 large
Fresh Ginger 1 inch piece
Brown Sugar 2 tbsp
Soy Sauce 1/4 cup
Lime Juice 2 tbsp
Vegetable Oil 2 tbsp
Salt To taste
Black Pepper To taste

Preparing the Marinade

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Blend Ingredients: Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  2. Marinate the Chicken: Place the chicken in a large ziplock bag or container. Pour the marinade over the chicken, ensuring every piece is well-coated. Seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Grilling Setup

Choosing Your Grill

Both charcoal and gas grills work well for jerk chicken, but a charcoal grill will give you a more authentic, smoky flavor. Here’s how to set up each type:

Charcoal Grill

  • Heat Setup: Create a two-zone cooking area. Pile charcoal on one side to create a hot zone for searing and leave the other side cooler for indirect cooking.
  • Wood Chips: Soak some wood chips (preferably pimento or hickory) in water and sprinkle them over the coals for added smoke.

Gas Grill

  • Heat Setup: Preheat your grill with one side on high and the other side on low. This creates a two-zone cooking area similar to a charcoal grill.
  • Flavor Enhancements: Use a smoker box or aluminum foil packet filled with soaked wood chips to add smoky flavor.

Grilling the Chicken

Cooking Process

  1. Preheat the Grill: Make sure your grill is appropriately heated before placing the chicken on it.
  2. Initial Sear: Place the chicken skin-side down on the hot zone to sear. This locks in juices and provides that coveted char.
  3. Indirect Cooking: Move the chicken to the cooler zone to cook through. This ensures the chicken cooks evenly without burning.

Cooking Times

Chicken pieces vary in their cooking times, so here’s a handy table to guide you:

Chicken Part Searing Time (Hot Zone) Indirect Cooking Time (Cool Zone) Total Cooking Time
Thighs 3-4 minutes per side 20-25 minutes 25-30 minutes
Drumsticks 3-4 minutes per side 20-25 minutes 25-30 minutes
Wings 2-3 minutes per side 15-20 minutes 18-23 minutes

Monitoring Temperature

Use a meat thermometer to ensure your chicken is cooked to a safe internal temperature of 165°F (75°C). Insert the thermometer into the thickest part without touching the bone for accurate readings.

The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Finishing Touches

Resting the Chicken

Once your chicken is done, remove it from the grill and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, making the chicken even juicier.


For an added touch of freshness, garnish your jerk chicken with chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, or lime wedges.

Side Dishes to Complement Jerk Chicken

No jerk chicken meal is complete without some delicious sides. Here are some ideas:

Rice and Peas

A traditional side that pairs perfectly with jerk chicken. The creamy coconut rice contrasted with red kidney beans is a Caribbean staple.

Grilled Pineapple

The sweetness of grilled pineapple balances the spiciness of jerk chicken wonderfully.


A crisp, creamy coleslaw can provide a refreshing contrast to the fiery, smoky jerk chicken.

The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Dry Chicken

If your chicken turns out dry, it could be due to overcooking. Always use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature.

Lack of Flavor

Marinating for a short time can result in less flavorful chicken. Aim to marinate overnight for the best results.

Uneven Cooking

Creating a two-zone grilling setup ensures the chicken cooks evenly. Always start with a sear and then move to indirect heat.

Tips for the Best Jerk Chicken

  • Use fresh ingredients: Fresh herbs and spices make a significant difference in flavor.
  • Don’t rush the marinating process: Give the marinade time to infuse the chicken thoroughly.
  • Maintain grill temperature: Consistent heat is key to even cooking.
  • Use wood chips: For that authentic smoky flavor, don’t skip the wood chips.

The Ultimate Guide To Grilling Jerk Chicken On A BBQ

Variations of Jerk Chicken

While the traditional method is unbeatable, you can always experiment with different twists:

Oven-Baked Jerk Chicken

If you don’t have a grill, you can still enjoy delicious jerk chicken by baking it in the oven. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C), place the marinated chicken on a baking sheet, and bake for 40-45 minutes, turning halfway through.

Jerk Chicken Tacos

Turn your grilled jerk chicken into flavorful tacos. Just shred the cooked chicken and serve it in soft tortillas with mango salsa and avocado.

Jerk Chicken Skewers

For a fun twist, try making jerk chicken skewers. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces before marinating and then grill on skewers for a quick and tasty meal.

Pairing Drinks

Pairing the right drink with your jerk chicken can elevate the entire meal.


A light and refreshing beer, such as a lager or pilsner, complements the spicy, savory flavors of jerk chicken.


Consider serving a rum-based cocktail like a mojito or piña colada to enhance the Caribbean theme.


For those who prefer non-alcoholic options, a cold ginger beer provides a zesty contrast to the heat of the jerk chicken.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers


Store any leftover jerk chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep well for 3-4 days.


To maintain the best texture and flavor, reheat the chicken in an oven preheated to 350°F (175°C) for about 10-15 minutes. Microwaving is quicker but can make the chicken rubbery.


By now, you have all the knowledge and tips needed to grill the most delicious jerk chicken. From selecting the right ingredients to marinating, grilling, and serving, each step is crucial in creating a masterpiece. So fire up that grill, invite some friends over, and enjoy the authentic flavors of Jamaican jerk chicken right in your backyard. Happy grilling!

Feel free to share your jerk chicken grilling experiences and tips below. We’d love to hear from you!