Jamaican Jerk Chicken


Introduction

We thought we would dip our toes into the world of jerk cooking with some Jamaican jerk chicken. What is jerk cooking? It is a method of flavoring and cooking meats and vegetables that produces a spicy-sweet flavor and tender results. This method comes from Jamaica and it was to Jamaica that we looked for the ingredients and materials necessary to cook authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, via the helpful folks at Pimento From Jamaica. Note that this is our first attempt at jerk cooking, and we have plans to try some different changes to this method. (We'll update the page when we do.) But we hope this information will get you started on using the jerk method of cooking.


Pimento Wood and Leaves

To make authentic Jamaican jerk chicken, you need pimento leaves, sticks and chips. We purchased our sticks, leaves and chips from Pimento From Jamaica. They were very helpful in putting together a package of these items for us. They sell boxes of sticks, boxes of chips, boxes of leaves, etc. but we asked them to send us a mix of all three to get us started.


Preparing the Rub and Marinade

We used the recipe off the Pimento Wood website for the wet rub and marinade (which is where we purchased our pimento berries). We repeat it here with our commentary on how we made it:

Jerk Wet Rub Place the first 3 ingredients into a "whirly bird" coffee grinder (or other spice grinder you might have) and grind to a fine powder.

Place the next 5 ingredients into a blender and combine on high speed.

Add the ground spices and the remaining ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.

If you aren't going to use the rub right away, pour into a container with a lid and refrigerate. Makes about 2 cups.


Jerk Marinade

Combine all ingredients. (If you just made the rub, simply add the vinegar and oil to the blender and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.


Preparing the Chicken For Cooking

We cut the chickens into halves by first cutting out the backbone in order to open the birds up, and then removing the keel bone and ribs and other bones inside. After cutting to separate the two halves, we were left with chicken halves that only had the leg and wing bones remaining.

Place two halves in a gallon zip top bag and pour half the marinade into the bag. Seal the bag while trying to get as much air as possible out of the bag. Repeat with the remaining halves. Place the bags into the refrigerator for 24 hours (although see note 2 below).


Preparing the Grill and Fire

Before you get started, you should soak the pimento leaves and sticks in water for at least 30 minutes. You'll want them ready once the fire is burning and you are ready to place the chicken on the cooker. Also take a quantity of the pimento wood chips and wrap them in a foil pouch, pierced in several locations. (However, see note 4 at the bottom.)

Since we would be cooking at a fairly low temperature with indirect heat, we decided to use our Kamado Joe BigJoe cooker along with the firebox divider. This allowed us to have fire on one side and the food on the other. Also we decided to have the chicken raised up in the dome, so we used the frame of the heat deflector accessory to raise the main grid up to the cooking level. Light the fire and stabilize at 250° F and place the foil pouch on the fire:


Spread your wet pimento leaves on the grate and then place pimento sticks on top of the leaves. Finally, place the chicken halves on top of the sticks:


Cooking the Chicken

You can expect the chicken to take 3 to 4 hours to cook. We were planning on 3 hours, but at about 2½ hours we could see it was going to be longer, so we raised the cooker to 350° F to hurry things along. The finished chicken was perfectly moist and had a nice light smoky flavor. Read the notes at the bottom of the web page for additional thoughts on what we might do differently next time.


Sources

Pimento From Jamaica — Source for Pimento wood, chips and leaves. They also have various spices, sauces, marinades and seasonings. We bought our leaves, sticks and chips from these folks, as well as a jerk seasoning that we have yet to try. You can email them and chat with them on Facebook. They were very helpful in putting together a box of sticks, leaves, and chips so that we would have plenty of each for doing many cooks. These folks are located in Jamaica, and it usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks to ship a box of goodies.

Pimento Wood — Source for all sorts of jerk supplies. They have wood, leaves, planks, sticks, chips, and often pimento charcoal. They also have spices and sauces and marinades. We bought our Jamaican pimento spice (also known as allspice) from this place. They are relatively expensive and are located in the midwest, so shipping is faster.


Notes

  1. Heat: We were very conservative when it came to selecting the number of habenero peppers to use in the marinade. We used one. When we tasted the wet rub which we then used to make the marinade, it was about as hot as we would want to tolerate (we aren't big hot pepper eaters). However, when the chicken was done cooking, there was very little heat, so you should take that into consideration when you taste your wet rub.

  2. Jerk Flavor: We didn't find much jerk flavor in the chicken except where the marinade had collected in certain locations. Next time, we are going to marinate for 48 hours. We will also either reserve some of the wet rub for placing on the chicken once it is on the grill, or else ladle some of the marinade over the chicken once it is on the grill. We might also try placing some of the wet rub under the skin when we place the chicken on the fire.

  3. Cook Time: Using the setup and temperature that we used, you can count on the chicken taking 3 to 4 hours. We were hoping for 3, but dinner time drew near, so after 2½ hours, we bumped the temperature up to 350° to get the chicken from 140° up to the finished temperature of 170°

  4. Smoke: We followed the suggestions from Pimento From Jamaica and placed a few chips in a foil pouch with holes poked in it. We think this is fine for gas grills, but in retrospect, we think we would have done better to place the wood chips on the fire directly. With such low cooking temperature, there wasn't much smoke being generated, and when we bumped the temperature up to 350°, the pouch started smoking like a chimney. Next time, we'll use the chips (which are more like small sticks) like we would any other chunks of smoking wood and just place them on the fire.


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