Spicy Grilled Jerk Chicken Recipe

To make spicy Jamaican-style jerk chicken, marinate and brine the bird, then smoke it low and slow on the grill.

Spicy grilled jerk chicken on a white platter with scotch bonnet peppers surrounding it

Melissa Hom

To make our spicy jerk chicken, start with a powerfully flavored marinade and brine combination, followed by a low and slow smoke over smoldering allspice berries and bay leaves. It's a backyard grill-friendly version of the Jamaican classic.

Recipe Facts



Active: 30 mins
Total: 12 hrs
Serves: 3 to 4 servings

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  • 6 whole Scotch bonnet peppers (see note)

  • 6 scallions, roughly chopped

  • 1 (2-inch) knob fresh ginger, roughly chopped

  • 6 garlic cloves

  • 2 tablespoons freshly picked thyme leaves

  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice

  •  1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons zest and 1/4 cup juice from about 4 limes

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 large whole chicken, back removed, split in half along breastbone (4 to 4 1/2 pounds, see note)

  • 1/4 cup whole allspice berries

  • 3 dozen dried bay leaves (about 2 loosely packed cups)


  1. Combine peppers, scallions, ginger, garlic, thyme, allspice, nutmeg, brown sugar, soy sauce, lime zest and juice, olive oil, 2 teaspoons black pepper, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt in the work bowl of a food processor or the jar of a blender. Blend until a rough purée is formed, about 1 minute.

    collage: before and after ingredients blended in a food processor for jerk chicken marinade

    Melissa Hom

  2. Place chickens in a large bowl or baking dish. Pour marinade over chickens and turn until thoroughly coated. Divide chicken and marinade between two gallon-sized zipper-lock bags, or place in a large baking dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place whole allspice berries and bay leaves in a gallon-sized zipper-lock bag and fill with water. Refrigerate chicken and bay leaves at least 10 hours and up to 1 day.

    collage: two chicken halves in a baking dish covered in jerk chicken marinade; allspice berries and bay leaves in a ziplock bag filled with water

    Melissa Hom

  3. When ready to cook, remove chicken from bags, allow excess marinade to drip off, and transfer to a large plate. Light one half chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and pile the coals against one wall of a kettle grill. Alternatively, set the leftmost burners of a gas grill to medium-high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Set bottom and lid vents to half open.

    charcoal piled up against one wall of kettle grill

    Melissa Hom

  4. Drain bay leaves and allspice berries in a fine mesh strainer. Spread 2/3rds of bay leaves evenly over the cooler side of the grill (it's ok if some allspice berries fall through) in a pattern just large enough to fit the chickens. Lay the chickens over the bay leaves skin side up with the legs pointed towards the hotter side of the grill. Place 1/3 of remaining bay leaves over hot side of grill and immediately cover, with the vent above the chicken. Cook for 15 minutes.

    collage: wet bay leaves and allspice berries laid out on top of cool side of grill; chicken halves places atop the pile; a handful of bay leaves and allspice berries set atop the grill grate above the hot coals

    Melissa Hom

  5. Open lid and place half of remaining bay leaves and allspice berries on hot side of grill directly above the coals. Immediately cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Open lid, add 15 new coals to the pile of hot coals, then place remaining bay leaves and allspice berries on hot side of grill directly above the coals. Cover and continue to cook until the coolest part of the chicken breast registers 145°F on an instant read thermometer, about 20 minutes longer.

    placing more bay leaves and allspice berries on the grill; chicken cooking on grill

    Melissa Hom

  6. Uncover grill and wait five minutes until coals are hot again (if using gas grill, increase heat to high). Carefully lift the chicken off the bay leaves and transfer it to the hot side of the grill skin side up. Using tongs, drop the bay leaves into the grill directly onto the coals or burners so that they smoke. Cook the chicken until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook until skin is crisp and charred and coolest part of breast registers 150 to 155°F on an instant read thermometer, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Transfer to a large platter, allow to rest 5 minutes, and serve.

    collage: chicken halves flipped and directed over hotter side of grill, bay leaves and allspice berries tossed into the kettle directly on the coals; two grilled chicken halves resting on a cutting board

    Melissa Hom

Special equipment

Grill, instant-read thermometer, food processor or blender


Scotch bonnet peppers are extremely hot. Handle with caution. Wash knife, cutting board, and all surfaces immediately after working with them. Do not touch your face or any sensitive areas until you've thoroughly scrubbed your hands. If they are unavailable, substitute habanero peppers.

To split a chicken, start by using sharp poultry shears to remove the backbone by cutting along both edges of the spine. Next, flip the bird over and flatten it slightly by pressing down. Cut the bird in half along the center of the breastbone with a sharp knife. Your butcher should be able to do this for you. You can also substitute 4 chicken leg quarters if you prefer more dark meat (I do).

This recipe can easily be doubled. To double, use twice the amount of chicken but the same amount of marinade. Cook all four chicken halves on the grill at the same time.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
1181 Calories
69g Fat
8g Carbs
126g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 1181
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 69g 88%
Saturated Fat 18g 91%
Cholesterol 399mg 133%
Sodium 1881mg 82%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 126g
Vitamin C 21mg 106%
Calcium 100mg 8%
Iron 7mg 36%
Potassium 1186mg 25%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)