The definitive recipe for BBQ jerk chicken

Jerk chicken is a popular Jamaican dish that is known for its aromatic and spicy flavours,” says Nathaniel Smith, author of new cookbook Flayvaful.

“Jerk chicken is traditionally cooked on a grill over pimento wood and coal, which gives it that distinctive smoky flavour. The perfect jerk chicken for me has to get a slight smoke ring. I like to let mine cook on the BBQ and really soak up that smoke because it honestly penetrates right to the bone. Jerk chicken isn’t jerk chicken without some sweet jerk-spiced ketchup – it’s zingy, it’s sweet and it just adds an extra layer of love to this meat.

“This delicious dish has gained so much popularity all over the world and is often served at BBQs, parties and family gatherings. So, fire up your grill and get ready to experience my take on the mouthwatering flayvas of jerk chicken.”

Jerk chicken

Serves: 4-6


8 skin-on chicken legs

350-400g wet jerk marinade

1 tbsp all-purpose seasoning

2 large handfuls of pimento leaves, soaked in water for 1 hour

3 tbsp pimento (allspice) berries, soaked in water for 1 hour

200ml Jamaican lager

For the lager-spiked honey jerk ketchup:

250g ketchup

200ml Jamaican lager

150ml chicken stock (reduced sodium)

200g honey

Juice of 1 lime, plus zest of ½

1-2 tbsp leftover jerk marinade

For the wet jerk marinade:

2 tbsp pimento berries

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole nutmeg

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

7 spring onions

1 medium onion

2 Scotch bonnet peppers

10 garlic cloves

10 sprigs of fresh thyme

6 dried pimento leaves (optional)

3 dried bay leaves

4 tbsp dark soft brown sugar

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp white vinegar

2 tbsp minced fresh ginger

1 tbsp flaky salt

1 tbsp ground allspice

1 tsp black pepper

5 tbsp dark soy sauce

4 tbsp fresh lime juice

4 tbsp fresh orange juice

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp browning


1. Make the wet jerk marinade: The first thing you want to do is toast your pimento berries, cinnamon stick, whole nutmeg and peppercorns in a pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes or until fragrant. By doing this you intensify the flayvas! Now you want to grind your toasted spices until coarse. If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can simply add all of these ingredients to the blender, minus the nutmeg. You’ll need to grate in the nutmeg before blending. Now add all the remaining ingredients to the blender and blitz until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze this in cubes and defrost when ready to use; however, it will lose some potency.

In ‘Flayvaful’, Smith’s Jamaican heritage influences many of his dishes

In ‘Flayvaful’, Smith’s Jamaican heritage influences many of his dishes (Murdoch Books/PA)

2. For the jerk chicken: Pat the chicken legs dry, then poke carefully with a knife to create some holes. Season with the wet jerk marinade and all-purpose seasoning, carefully separating the skin from the legs to get it all up in there! Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.

3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

4. Prepare a charcoal grill (with a lid) for indirect cooking – this means you want your coals on one side and the other side to have no coal under the grates where your meat will sit. You’re looking for a temperature of 150-160C and the majority of your coals should be white. You can cook at a higher temperature, but I personally prefer more of a low and slow method. You don’t want too much coal as you will ‘bun up the chicken’, as my grandad would say. You can add coal later to maintain the temperature.

5. Now oil your grates. Opposite the coals you want to create a layer using two-thirds of the soaked pimento leaves and a few of the pimento berries; it’s fine if some fall through the grates. You essentially want the leaves as a bed for the chicken. Shake off the excess marinade from the chicken and place skin-side up on the leaves. Close the lid and leave to cook for 15 to 20 minutes. You want your top vents completely open and bottom/side vents half to two-thirds open.

6. While the chicken is cooking, spray it with lager every 15 to 20 minutes to keep it nice and moist.

7. To prepare the larger-spiked honey jerk ketchup, put all the ingredients in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer over medium heat until it can coat the back of a spoon.

8. Open the BBQ lid, rotate the chicken pieces so that the ones closest to the coals are now on the opposite side. Check if you need to add more coal to maintain the heat, then place the remaining pimento leaves on the hot side of the grill – it’s going to get smoky! Close and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.

9. Now rotate the chicken again, give it another spray of lager, dash your remaining berries directly onto the coals and cook until the thickest part of the chicken has an internal temperature of 80C.

10. Once the chicken is at 80C, spray it once more with lager and place directly over the coals to gain some colour and char. You’re going to want to turn the chicken regularly because it is cooked at this point. Once the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 84C and has gained some nice bits of char, pull it off the heat. You can also leave the chicken on the indirect side with no coals if you want to keep it warm. Some people like to brush their chicken with some of the lager-spiked sauce at this point, but that’s optional.

11. Allow the chicken to rest for five to 10 minutes before chopping your legs into four to five pieces with a cleaver. Serve with plantain, rice and peas, coleslaw and lashings of your lager-spiked sauce.

‘Flayvaful’ by Nathaniel Smith (Murdoch Books, £22).

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