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How to make it: Jerk chicken

Helen Graves, a food and recipe writer and editor of Pit magazine, shares her version of this sweet and spicy Jamaican classic.

By Helen Graves
Published 2 Apr 2019, 15:14 BST, Updated 15 Jul 2021, 13:25 BST
Jerk chicken
Jerk chicken

I became obsessed with what's arguably Jamaica's most famous style of cooking when I moved to South London more than 10 years ago. The hunt for jerk became a daily one and I worked my way around the joints of the city in search of the perfect combination of meat, smoke and seasoning. It wouldn't always work out, and to this day I'm loyal to just two restaurants. The key is the combination of ingredients in the marinade and, of course, the cooking, which should be done on a metal drum barbecue (but who has one of those?). Fiercely guarded recipes vary widely across the Caribbean, but the common essentials are Scotch bonnet peppers, allspice berries, thyme leaves and spring onions. This is a recipe I've endlessly tweaked over the years — it has sweetness to balance the fierce, fruity heat. Everyone asks for it and, unlike many, I'm happy to share.


3 tbsp allspice (freshly ground from whole berries)
100g dark brown sugar
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
2 tbsp thyme leaves
2 bunches spring onions
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
4 Scotch bonnets, deseeded
Juice of 4 limes
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
8 chicken legs and 8 chicken thighs, skin on


1 Process everything except the chicken in a blender until smooth. Separate 100ml of the marinade into a separate bowl and use the remaining marinade to cover the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.

2 Cook the chicken over indirect heat on a barbecue for approximately 30 minutes, lid on, turning frequently. Brush occasionally with the 100ml of marinade.

Tip: Jerk is traditionally cooked over pimento wood, which can be hard to find in the UK. Instead, soak bay leaves in water, then place them under the chicken on the barbecue like a leaf 'mat' — they will infuse the meat with a similar flavour.

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Published in the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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