Jerk chicken for summer grilling
We can replicate the flavours of that rich and spicy style of Jamaican cooking by making our own mix of jerk spices.
Jerk chicken is coated in a blend of zesty spices, grilled to perfection, then slathered with a sweet, hot, and tangy sauce. It’s tender and juicy, smoky and spicy. It’ll revolutionize your summer barbecuing experiences. Whip up a batch of Jerk Seasoning to have this Jamaican taste sensation all summer long.
A few years ago on a family trip to Jamaica, I had the opportunity to take a Jamaican cooking class and learn all about the tradition of jerk cooking.
Jamaicans are famous for their Jerk — which is actually a cooking method rather than a seasoning. The original inhabitants of the island, before the colonization by the Spaniards and the English, used fire pits to cook their food. Highly seasoned and marinated meat was cooked long and slow over glowing coals of allspice wood, imbuing it with a smoky flavour. In this cooking method, the outside of the meat is charred and spicy while the inside is falling-off-the-bones tender and moist. Traditionally, pork was the only meat that was ‘jerked’, but nowadays chicken and fish are popular, too.
We don’t usually cook in fire pits nowadays, and allspice wood isn’t to be found here in Canada, but we can replicate the flavours of that rich and spicy style of Jamaican cooking by making our own mix of jerk spices. In Jamaica, there are as many variations of jerk seasoning as there are cooks, though they all contain hot pepper, allspice, thyme, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Allspice (called pimento in Jamaica) is one of Jamaica’s main export crops and is used to flavour much of the delicious island cooking. Using the spice in the jerk seasoning is a good way to get the flavour you’d have from smoking food over allspice wood.
Ingredients are for one portion. Multiply the amounts for more servings.
For each serving:
- 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast or whole chicken leg or pork chop
- 1 – 1½ teaspoons dry jerk seasoning (purchased, or make the easy recipe below)
- 1 tablespoon beer (gluten-free if necessary) or substitute with apple juice
- 1 – 2 teaspoons vinegar
- a squirt of sriracha or hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon beer or apple juice, plus more if needed (gluten-free if necessary)
Rub the meat all over with the jerk seasoning. Marinate for a few hours (or up to overnight).
Preheat the barbecue grill on medium heat (until the temperature is about 350°F).
Lay the seasoned chicken or pork pieces on the barbecue grill, drizzle each with about ½ tablespoon beer (or apple juice), shut the lid of the barbecue, and grill. The liquid helps it smoke more. After 10 minutes, turn the meat over, drizzle the top of each one with another ½ tablespoon beer or juice, shut the lid again, and grill for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink when you cut into the thickest part, but is still moist and juicy.
Alternately, you can cook the meat in a grill pan on the stovetop, on an electric grill, broil it, or bake it in a 350°F oven until cooked but still juicy.
Stir together the sauce ingredients in a shallow pan or bowl. Add extra beer or apple juice until it’s a thin consistency like heavy cream.
If using chicken breasts, place them directly into the sauce and cut it into bite-sized pieces or slices. Toss with the sauce to moisten. If using chicken legs or pork, cut deep slits into the grilled meat and pour the sauce over.
- 1 tablespoon crushed dried red chili pepper
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Stir together all spices. Keep in an airtight container. Makes about six tablespoons.