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Food & Recipes

A Jamaican Jerk Marinade Will Transform Your Everyday Chicken Dishes Into Spicy Masterpieces — For Pennies!

You probably already have everything you need to whip up these 5 fast, easy, delicious meals

After a long day of checking off to-dos, the last thing you want to worry about is cooking a complicated meal with a ton of ingredients. But that doesn’t mean you need to settle for a bland, boring dinner. Got chicken, bread and a cabinet full of spices? Jerk chicken sandwiches are the perfect throw-together meal for you. Full of spice, heat and tropical flavor, this inexpensive weeknight wonder can be made in a pinch with things you already have on hand. Keep reading to see how you can make a simple, delicious jerk chicken sandwich that will make your busy night feel like a trip to the Caribbean.

What is jerk cooking?

Jerk cooking has roots in Jamaican culture, and it typically refers to slow-cooking meat that’s marinaded in a specific “jerk” spice blend. Some food historians believe the term “jerk” came from the Peruvian word “charqui,” which is a word for dried strips of meat. Others say it simply came from the way people may “jerk” a strip of meat to eat right off the barbecue. Whatever it means, we know it’s delicious. Keep reading to learn how you can make your own jerk marinade. (And click through for another delicious chicken marinade — pickle juice!)

Jerk chicken marinade recipe

The best jerk chicken sandwich starts with a delicious spice mix. You can easily make your own with spices and herbs you have on hand already, or you can go for a pre-made mix. Either way, this simple marinade delivers big flavor without a lot of fuss.

To make your own jerk marinade, you need just three spices. “The defining distinctive ingredients in jerk seasoning are 2 Tbs. cayenne pepper (or ¼-½ tsp. habanero pepper for the brave), 1 tsp. allspice and 1 tsp. dried thyme,” says test kitchen manager Susan Chiusano. To give it even more flavor, Chiusano recommends adding 1 tsp. nutmeg, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1 Tbs. garlic powder, 1 Tbs. onion powder, 2 tsp. smoked paprika and 1 tsp. dried parsley. (Click through to learn which spices go bad and when to discard them.)

But if you don’t have time to make a marinade or spice blend from scratch, you can simply buy an inexpensive one that’s pre-made, like Badia Jamaican Jerk Seasoning (Buy from Walmart, $2.73). Then, “rub spice blend over the whole chicken and marinate for at least 2 hours,” Chiusano recommends. And that’s it: You’ve got jerk chicken! Keep reading for additional ways to use your jerk chicken marinade seasoning in sandwiches, kebabs and more.

Pulled chicken sandwiches with jerk seasoning

pulled jerk chicken sandwich
LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Just shred some jerk chicken, top it with coleslaw and slap it between two sides of a bun for a sandwich hearty enough to serve for supper.

Servings: 4 | Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes


  • ½ cup chili sauce, such as Heinz
  • ⅓ cup mango chutney
  • 2 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp. dry jerk seasoning
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped, ⅔ cup
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 Kaiser rolls, split
  • Potato salad, coleslaw and pickles, optional


  1. In bowl, combine chili sauce, chutney, vinegar and ½ cup water; reserve. Sprinkle seasoning and salt over all sides of chicken thighs.
  2. In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken; cook, turning once, until browned, 4-5 minutes per side. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion to droppings in skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes, adding garlic during last 30 seconds of cooking time. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to skillet; add reserved sauce mixture. Bring to boil; reduce to medium-low. Cover; cook until chicken is no longer pink in centers, about 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer chicken to bowl; cool slightly. Using 2 forks, shred chicken; return to sauce. Divide chicken mixture evenly among rolls. If desired, serve with potato salad, coleslaw and pickles.

Grilled jerk chicken and pineapple sandwich

grilled jerk chicken sandwich with pineapple
Ivan/Getty Images

Grilling jerk chicken makes getting this tasty sandwich on the table a cinch.

Servings: 4 Active time: 10 minutes Total time: 30 minutes


  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 ½ tsp. dry jerk seasoning
  • 4 thin-sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.) 
  • 3 tsp. olive oil 
  • 4 (¼” thick) cored, peeled fresh pineapple rounds
  • 4 sandwich buns, preferably with sesame seeds
  • 8 thin slices Swiss cheese (5 oz.)
  • 2 cups mixed baby greens
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion


  1. Prepare grill for medium-high direct-heat cooking. In small bowl, combine mayonnaise and ½ tsp. jerk seasoning; reserve. In another bowl, gently toss chicken pieces with 1 ½ tsp. oil; sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. jerk seasoning so all sides are coated. In separate bowl, toss pineapple with remaining 1 ½ tsp. oil. 
  2. Grill chicken until no longer pink in center and pineapple until lightly browned and heated, flipping once, 3-4 minutes per side. 
  3. Spread mayonnaise-seasoning mixture on bun tops. Evenly divide cheese among bun bottoms. Dividing evenly, top cheese with mixed greens, chicken, pineapple, red onion and bun tops. 

Caribbean jerk chicken on the bone

jerk chicken
from_my_point_of_view/Getty Images

These bone-in chicken pieces are easy to enjoy, no bread needed. But you can easily pull off the meat, place it on a bun and you have yet another delicious jerk chicken sandwich.

Servings: 6 | Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 3 hours


  • 4 lbs. chicken drumsticks and thighs
  • 1 ½ cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. dried thyme
  • 1 Tbs. dried sage
  • 1 Tbs. grated lime zest
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
  • Pineapple slices and lime wedges


  1. Pierce chicken with fork; place in large plastic food storage bag. In large bowl, whisk together vinegar, juice, oil, soy sauce, salt, sugar, thyme, sage, zest, allspice and cayenne until smooth. Stir in onion, jalapeño and garlic; pour over chicken. Seal bag; turn to coat. Refrigerate 2 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line jellyroll pan with foil; coat with cooking spray. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Transfer chicken to pan. Roast until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part away from bone registers 180 degrees Fahrenheit, 35-40 minutes. Garnish with pineapple and lime.

Jerk chicken and veggie kabobs

grilled jerk chicken kabob
MosayMay/Getty Images

Six-ingredient magic! Jerk seasoning adds easy Caribbean flavor to tender chunks of chicken grilled up with pineapple, red pepper and onion. Eat them off the skewer or throw in a pita for a Mediterranean take on the Caribbean sandwich.

Servings: 8 | Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes + grill prep time


  •  1 ¾ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1 ½” pieces
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Tbs. dry jerk seasoning
  • 1 small pineapple, rind removed and pineapple cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1” pieces
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1” pieces


  1. Brush grill rack with vegetable oil. Heat coals or gas grill for direct heat. 
  2. Brush chicken with 2 Tbs. oil. Place chicken and jerk seasoning in resealable plastic food-storage bag. Shake bag to coat chicken with seasoning. Thread chicken, pineapple, pepper and onion alternately on each of eight 12” metal skewers, leaving ¼” space between each piece. Brush kabobs with remaining 2 Tbs. oil. 
  3. Cover and grill kabobs over medium heat 15-20 minutes, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in center. 

Caribbean chicken with coconut rice

jerk chicken with rice

There’s nothing that absorbs the jerk chicken flavor better than a bed of rice, and if you place the ingredients in a wrap, you’ll have a savory jerk chicken burrito.

Servings: 4 | Active Time: 10 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes


  • ½ cup sweetened, flaked coconut
  • 1 pkg. (6 oz.) rice pilaf blend, such as Uncle Ben’s Country Inn
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • ¼ cup chopped scallions, about 1 scallion
  • ¼cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. dry jerk seasoning
  • ½ tsp. grated lime zest
  • ½ cup store bought duck sauce
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, about 1 ½ lbs. quartered


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread coconut on ungreased baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, 3-4 minutes; cool. Tip: For speedier preparation, toast your coconut while the chicken heats in the oven: On a microwave-safe plate, microwave coconut in 10-second intervals until fragrant and lightly browned.
  2. Cook rice mix according to package directions using butter. Stir in scallions, cilantro and coconut. Transfer to platter.
  3. Meanwhile, line roasting pan with foil; coat with cooking spray. Stir jerk seasoning and zest into duck sauce; brush over chicken. Place in roasting pan. Roast until heated through and golden, 10-15 minutes. Serve with rice.

Click through for more delicious chicken recipes perfect for a weeknight dinner:

10 Delicious Bone-In Chicken Recipes That Save You Money Too

Our Test Kitchen Director’s 5 Favorite Chicken Leg Recipes — So Delicious For Less!

This ‘Lazy’ Roast Chicken Only Needs 2 Ingredients and a Cast Iron Skillet

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