Spicy Jamaican Jerk Chicken

By Sally Cameron on May 14, 2016

Chicken & Turkey

After being gone for a month with spotty internet access, it’s good to be back in the kitchen cooking and working on new recipes. The trip to Jamaica for five days, and then three weeks in New Zealand (with one day apart to change out luggage!) have given me new ideas for food and recipes so stay tuned! Here is the first post trip post for spicy Jamaican Jerk Chicken.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken|AFoodCentricLife.com

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Tender, lip-smacking, and sinus-draining, Jamaican Jerk chicken is famous for a good reason: it’s delicious. It’s one of the great barbecue chicken traditions of the world. Once wary of trying it because of its super spicy reputation, we fell in love with it on our recent trip to the Caribbean. The resort chefs shared their secrets to making it.

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Clad in swim suits and sun burns, a long line of people snaked down the sandy path in front of a colorful little beach shack at the Hyatt Ziva in Montego Bay. The sign read Barefoot Jerkz. With stomachs growling for lunch, we got in line.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken|AFoodCentricLife.com

When our turn came, the chef pulled pieces of grilled chicken from the barbecue grates, swiftly chopped it into pieces and scooped it into a paper dish. Squeeze bottles of fiery Jerk and barbecue sauces stood waiting to complete lunch. My nose was soon running. It was hot but terrific. I could breathe so well after lunch!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken|AFoodCentricLife.com

The chicken was tender and moist with a light smoky flavor. The Jerk sauce was a blend of warm spices and fruity sweet heat all at the same time. It was so good, we ate lunch there three days in a row.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken|AFoodCentricLife.com

Thankfully there are relatively mild expressions of Jerk sauce that us heat wimps can take. Still, I had to mix the Jerk sauce half and half with barbecue sauce and still eat lunch packet of tissues by my side.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken|AFoodCentricLife.com

The Hyatt Ziva, Montego Bay, Jamaica

The long hours, hard work and dedication my husband put in last year paid off with a company rewards trip to Jamaica to the waterfront Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a great place to stay. Everything was included and they had 16 restaurants to choose from when you got hungry
Jerk chicken-2894The Hyatt Ziva is ocean front on the azure waters of the Caribbean with a gorgeous pool and sandy beaches. Jamaican music went all day and friendly resort staff were helpful and smiling, ready to deliver tropical libations for thirsty guests. They sure made good Mai Tai’s!

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Hyatt Ziva|AFoodCentricLife.com

The Brazilian Steakhouse

Our first night, the team gathered to celebrate at the Hyatt’s Brazilian steakhouse called a Churrascaria. Servers artfully wielded huge skewers of grilled meats and carved off portions of whatever you wanted right onto your plate. The food was terrific and the highlight for me was the Jerk chicken. I headed directly to the kitchen and asked for the chef.

Chef Kevon graciously took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk with me about how to make their Jamaican Jerk chicken. Not wanting to take too much of his time, I asked to meet with him later in the trip for a longer conversation where I could take notes.

The Secret to Jamaican Jerk Chicken

The Hyatt’s culinary team was happy to answer my questions about Jerk chicken. They told me the secret to Jerk chicken is in the marinade, a combination of ginger, garlic, allspice, soy sauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, clove, onion, scallions, thyme, salt, pepper, oil and the smokin’ hot Carribbean Scotch Bonnet pepper. Ingredients that mostly grow on the island.

Place all of the ingredients into a blender of food processor and puree, then use part as the marinade and part as the sauce. They start the chicken in the oven and finish it on split steel drum barbecues or grills with pimento wood from the allspice tree.

Pimento Wood

One thing unique about Jerk chicken, it’s grilled over wood from the allspice tree, also called pimento. Pimento wood gives the chicken an aromatic, smoky quality. For authentic Jerk, buy it through Exotic Wood Chips. For another fruity wood option, try applewood, is more readily available.

A Quick Lesson on Hot Peppers

For reference, Scotch Bonnet peppers rate from 100,000 – 350,000 points on the Scoville heat scale. They are 12 to 140 times hotter than a Jalapeño pepper. Yeah, they are hot, REALLY HOT, so go easy if you are a heat wimp like I am. Scotch Bonnet peppers have a slight sweet, fruity taste and they are closely related to the Habanero pepper in taste. If you can’t find Scotch Bonnet peppers, use Habanero peppers. The Hyatt’s original recipe calls for 6 Scotch Bonnet peppers in a single batch of marinade. I started with half that amount to test my heat tolerance.

Another notes on peppers. They can vary widely on their heat level from pepper to pepper, from batch to batch, so maybe starting with 1-2 and building up is a smart idea. Unless you just want to call the fire department.

Final Note – Making it at Home

After we got home I re-read the recipe they gave me and knew it just wasn’t right. We talked about oil, yet it was left off the recipe, and the amount of allspice listed was crazy, like 1/2 cup. So I adapted the recipe. On the hot peppers,  I used 2-3 Habanero peppers. That was enough heat for us. Traditional would be Scotch Bonnet peppers but there were none available.

The first marinade was very thick. On the next batch I added fresh squeezed orange juice and lime juice, which thinned it out and added to the fruity flavor. A little dark rum might be a good experiment too, if you cook with spirits.

Mine did not come out exactly like what we had at the Hyatt, but it was fantastic and I will be making it throughout grilling season. Might have to order some of that pimento wood. Great flavors and spicy heat!

My sincere the culinary team at the Hyatt Ziva in Montego Bay, Jamaica for the education on Jerk Chicken!

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Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Hi Everyone. If you are looking for the recipe, it disappeared! Got to love technology and websites! I am trying to get it back, one way or another. It will be back soon as we head into grilling season. Thanks for your patience! Sally. 
  1. Jodi Schoenauer - May 15th, 2016

    You can EASILY get pimento wood (allspice) in USA – pimento wood.com has been importing and selling since 2006. Only authorized company to do so.

  2. Sally Cameron - May 15th, 2016

    Thanks Jodi! I’ve added that to the post for other readers as a source. I may have to try that myself for more authentic flavor. Appreciate your comment!

  3. Chris Kerr - May 7th, 2017

    Not sure why you think this company is the only seller here in the United States. You can get it here in the United States much cheaper than your suggestion simply by going to http://www.pimentowoodproducts.com That is the lowest cost supplies in the United States. I have ordered from them for several years now and never have had any issues and product is of great quality too

  4. Sally Cameron - May 7th, 2017

    Thanks for the tip Chris!

  5. Hafsa - May 17th, 2016

    I really like your blog. Pictures are so vivid and food looks great !

  6. Chris Kerr - May 7th, 2017

    I cook jerk all the time and if you are here in the United States the cheapest outlet to get the wood at is http://www.pimentowoodproducts.com Not sure where Jodi is getting her info from cause they are NOT the only sellers here in the U.S.
    The best price for the wood has been for the past several years is at http://www.pimentowoodproducts.com
    The owners are totally cool and shipping is really quick too.

  7. steve - August 13th, 2017

    Any luck with getting the recipe re-posted. Stayed at the Hyatt and the jerk chicken was great.

  8. Sally Cameron - August 14th, 2017

    Hi Steve, thanks for the nudge to get it done. I almost forgot!

  9. John Nagel - March 10th, 2021

    I cannot believe this blog post exists! I was at the Hyatt Ziva in Montevideo bay a few years ago and that was the best chicken I’ve had in my entire life. I was thinking about calling the resort for the recipe when I stumbled on this blog post. How can I get the recipe from you? Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

  10. Sally Cameron - March 11th, 2021

    Hi John. That Jerk stand was quite something! We loved it too, but boy was it hot for me (I’m a wimp). I had to eat with a box of tissues. We ate there a few times ourselves and always a line. I sent you my recipe journal notes. What happened is when I changed up my website a few recipes disappeared. It’s so frustrating. And I could not find my final recipe. The chef at the Hyatt gave me their recipe, but honestly it did not work like it should so I changed it a bit. My recipe is close. The quantities on some of the ingredients just didn’t seem right and I don’t know if he truly gave me their recipe. Anyway, I have not had a grill/bbq in almost two years between moving and new yard construction. I get one back in a few months and look forward to redoing this. In the mean time I will write it up for you and you can test it if you’d like. Then please let me know what you think! Because you’ve been there. It is not easy to completely replicate their recipe and the taste because it has much to do with how they cook it in steel drums and the wood they use. But we can come close! Check your email!

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