Jamaican Jerk Chicken Breasts

Early summer is a great time to fire up the barbecue for spicy chicken breasts. Jamaican Jerk is a Caribbean dish that is marinated by either a wet rub or marinade and usually barbecued over smoldering allspice and wood. The marinade usually is a fiery paste of oil, vinegar, habanero chilies, allspice, scallions, thyme and many other spices, aromatics, herbs, citrus juice, rum and brown sugar. Jerk got its name by the Jamaican term “jooking” which means to poke with a pointed stick. This is done to the meat or seafood so the marinade may penetrate it. The food is then refrigerated for a minimum of six hours to several days before barbecuing over direct heat with smoldering wood and allspice berries. I created the following recipe after researching many recipes for Jerk. The longer it marinates the more tasty and tender it becomes. I like to marinate it for three days, which makes it a great do-ahead recipe for a party. It pairs well, sliced on the bias, and served warm over the top of the a romaine and mango salad.


This recipe is a companion recipe to be served alone or on Mango, Avocado, Lettuce Salad with Sour Orange Vinaigrette found on page 27 of the book, Sharing the Table, A Northwest Chef Instructor's Quest to Recreate Memorable Meals. Though it is not predominantly plant based it can be made more healthy by using organic herbs, spices, and vegetables in the paste. But of most importance choose free-range, organic chicken breasts. Should you wish to forego the chicken try marinating extra firm tofu, well-drained, sliced and patted dry. In this case pierce the tofu with a very thin toothpick. Grill on both sides of the tofu until just heated through.

10 servings (recipe can be cut in half)


¼ cup safflower oil

¾ cup onion, small diced

4 scallions, trimmed, chopped

2 small or 1 large habañero chili, seeds and veins removed (use disposable gloves, they burn!)

1 ½ teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled, grated

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (stems also if young, not woody)

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup dark brown cane sugar

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

½ teaspoon allspice

½ cup soy sauce

¾ teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon Meyer’s rum

½ teaspoon tamarind concentrate

10 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless

1 cup hardwood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes or more


1.     In a food processor purée all the ingredients except the chicken breasts to a smooth paste.

2.     Between two sheets of plastic wrap, gently pound the chicken breasts to equalize the thickness. Pierce each breast several times with a fork on both sides.

3.     Rub the jerk paste on the chicken breasts. Place in a non-reactive pan, covered with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of twenty-four hours up to three days.

4.     Preheat a grill. Drain and heat water-soaked hardwood until smoking, directly on hot coals. Liberally rub the grill grates with safflower oil. Place the chicken breast on a grill directly over the heat. Grill on both sides until just barely done. Do not over-cook, as they will become dry and stringy. Rest covered with foil for five minutes before slicing on the bias.

5.     Slice each breast on the bias into five or six slices. Serve hot.