Jerk chicken is a Caribbean dish featuring chicken marinated in the famous jerk sauce of Jamaica. The “jerk,” incidentally, is derived from “jerky,” a type of preserved meat, rather than a reference to a “jerk” as in an obnoxious person. Various versions of this dish can be found throughout the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, and it is also popular in regions with a large Caribbean diaspora. Some home cooks also enjoy making it at home.
The jerk sauce is actually traditionally a dry rub that is famous for being extremely spicy. At a minimum, the spicing includes scotch bonnet peppers, among the hottest in the world, and allspice. Most cooks also include shallots, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, pepper, and a variety of other ingredients to taste. A good jerk sauce has a strong spicy kick with a hint of sweetness to it, and many households develop their own specific version.
To make traditional jerk chicken, cooks rub the chicken in the spices and allow it to marinate overnight so that the flavors penetrate the meat. Then, the chicken is prepared on an open grill, and served with sides like rice, salad, and mixed vegetables. The chicken is dry, fiery, and slightly smoky.