This simple Jamaican Jerk Chicken Marinade uses pantry staple ingredients to develop its warm, vibrant, and distinctive flavor! The quick and easy marinade whips up in just minutes but I've also included some super fresh additions for anyone desiring a more 'authentic' jerk seasoning!
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Marinade Recipe
My quick and easy and kind-of-a-cheat jerk marinade will have your chicken on the way to 'where have you been all my life?!' flavor in no time at all!! I really have kept it simple with as few ingredients as I could use to best recreate an amazing Jamaican jerk chicken flavor with minimal effort.
The whole family seriously loves this flavorful and aromatic chicken! The smell while cooking will have you drooling and thinking of more ways to enjoy this addictive jerk chicken marinade!!
Ingredients You'll Need
In addition to a plastic storage bag or freezer bag, you'll need to gather some common pantry items. I love spices, so I typically have all of these readily on hand.
When summer rolls around and the sun shines on my Minnesota home, my patio garden blesses me with fresh herbs. If you have some herbs growing at home, fresh thyme is a great addition to this chicken marinade!
- Olive Oil - is my favorite cooking oil to use for most of my marinades, followed by coconut oil. The flavor of extra virgin olive oil combines perfectly with all of my jerk marinade spices!
- Lime Juice - adds that amazing tangy flavor that works so well with spicy ingredients! If you need to swap anything out for fresh lime juice, use freshly squeezed lemon juice instead. Bottled lime or lemon just doesn't work well for this citrus-based marinade.
- Brown Sugar - brings just a touch of sweetness that adds depth of flavor to this wonderfully warm and rich marinade. Use dark brown sugar for extra rich flavor!
- Garlic Powder - or fresh minced garlic both add that unique garlic flavor that is earthy and spicy and savory all at once.
- Thyme - is one of those herbs that is a perfect pairing with chicken. The lightly floral taste of thyme is simply meant to be added to chicken recipes! Fresh to dried herbs is 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs for each teaspoon of dried herbs, so increase the thyme to 1 tablespoon if you have fresh thyme.
- Cinnamon - and you may be doubting me, but believe me, cinnamon is AMAZING in savory recipes too! I use cinnamon sticks in my turkey carnitas and will never look back from making that ingredient choice.
- Cayenne Pepper - is my best ground pepper spice to use for this marinade recipe as it is readily available. This means there's a good chance you have it too! If you have fresh peppers or jalapenos at home, do use a food processor and mix them in!
- Allspice - this fantastic, warm spice is good for more than just baking! If you don't have allspice, you can mix together ¼ teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves or simply double the total cinnamon amount to 1 teaspoon.
- Salt & Pepper - are the best basics to add to recipes, they work to highlight the flavorful ingredients! Start with a base amount and season to your own personal taste or what your family will like best.
How To Make Jamaican Jerk Chicken Marinade
I've been saying how simple this insanely delicious marinade is, and now here's the proof! If you want to get as close to authentic Jamaican island jerk chicken as possible, try my alternate instructions and ingredient swaps below!
- In a small bowl combine the olive oil, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic powder or minced garlic, fresh or dried thyme, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, allspice, salt, and pepper. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
- Place the chicken and marinade in a ziploc plastic storage bag or freezer bag, then squeeze all of the excess air out while you seal the bag securely.
- Massage the marinade into the chicken by squishing the marinade throughout the bag. Be sure that all of the chicken has been coated with the marinade.
- Refrigerate and marinate the jerk chicken for at least 4 hours. Freeze and store for up to 3 months.
Pro Tip: If you will be grilling whole chicken breasts, it is best to flatten the chicken breasts for quick and even cooking. Place your chicken breast pieces between two sheets of plastic cling film then pound with a meat mallet or tenderizer ( the flat side ). Start at the center of the chicken breast and work your way outward and toward the edges.
Your chicken should marinate for at least 15 - 20 minutes before cooking. The longer you can let the chicken marinate, the more flavor it can absorb!
I would usually recommend at least 4 hours, or overnight ( 8 hours ) for optimal marinating. However, you can marinate the chicken for up to 2 days refrigerated. This is the maximum amount of time that I would marinate any chicken in a citrus-based marinade.
While frozen chicken pieces can usually be frozen for 6 months or more, I recommend no more than three months for the chicken with marinade. Allow the frozen marinated chicken to thaw in your refrigerator overnight.
The marinade will slowly seep into your chicken as it thaws, making your chicken rich and delicious!
Jerk Marinade Alternative
To make your jerk marinade more like the real deal, chop one-quarter of a medium-sized onion, 1 - 2 green onions, and enough ginger root to yield ½ a tablespoon.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic and as many scotch bonnets as you desire for heat ( habanero or jalapeno peppers work too, whichever you have available to you ). I would start with half of one scotch bonnet pepper with the seeds removed.
You will also want 1 cube or square of chicken bouillon, 1 tablespoon honey, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. A splash of browning sauce wouldn't hurt either!
Use the same spices, omitting the garlic powder if you use fresh garlic. Taste and adjust to your liking, as there is plenty of room to season more aggressively. The last thing I would recommend for the very best jerk marinade is some freshly grated nutmeg. Yum!
Use an immersion blender or process in your food processor to make this marinade into a paste consistency. DO marinate for a minimum of 24 hours for authentic flavor.
Another tip for the perfect jerk chicken flavor is to use pimento wood for smoking the chicken. I've literally been admonished that any other wood type is not a great 'jerk chicken'!
Why pimento wood? It's native to the Caribbean and would be readily available for use in cooking there. Additionally, the allspice berry is harvested from pimento trees, so it's doubly important to a really great and truly authentic jerk chicken recipe!
BUT, pimento wood is not super available here in the states. You can buy it on Amazon, they even have 'jerk wood pellets' for Traeger grills.
If you don't want to go to that extreme of buying the pimento wood or pellets, you can use fruit woods for a close flavor. Apple wood is easy to get hold of and is what I have used with results that are simply addictive!!
Check out all of my incredibly delicious and ridiculously easy chicken marinades in one place! The marinades are absolutely perfect for grilled, pan-fried, or roasted chicken breasts, thighs, wings, skewers, kabobs, and more!
Jamaican Jerk Chicken Marinade
- 2 Tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar (packed)
- 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp allspice
- ½ tsp each, salt & pepper (to taste)
- In a small bowl combine the olive oil, lime juice, brown sugar, garlic powder, thyme, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, allspice, salt, and pepper.
- Transfer the chicken and marinade into a ziploc plastic storage bag then squeeze out excess air while sealing securely.
- Massage the marinade into the chicken pieces by squishing the bag contents around to thoroughly coat the chicken.
- Refrigerate for 4 hours to marinate. Freeze for up to 3 months.
If you will be grilling whole chicken breasts, it is best to flatten the chicken breasts for quick and even cooking. Place your chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic cling film and pound with a meat mallet or tenderizer ( the flat side ). Start at the center of the chicken breast and work your way toward the edges.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!