We're not exaggerating when we say this is the best jerk chicken marinade! It's a smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet blend of jerk seasoning, onion, garlic, fresh lime, and jalapeño. It's a quick and easy recipe that makes the most tender and juicy chicken every time!

This Jamaican jerk chicken recipe pairs perfectly with a side of our favorite coconut rice and sweet summer peach salsa.

chicken thighs marinated in jerk marinade on a plate

Spice up your life with this recipe for jerk chicken marinade. Made with only fresh ingredients, it's incredibly flavorful and healthy, too. Not only do marinades give food amazing flavor, but they also help tenderize and add moisture to the meat.

Jerk is traditionally used in the Caribbean on chicken but it also tastes great with beef, pork chops, and seafood like fish and prawns. You can even use it to transform bland tofu and vegetables so vegetarians can enjoy it, too!

It's really simple to make and freezes well for easy make-ahead meals. Scroll down for tips on adjusting the heat so the whole family can enjoy the taste of jerk!

jerk chicken marinated chicken thighs

What you'll need to make jerk chicken marinade

The marinade gets its distinct flavor from jerk seasoning, which is made from a delicious mix of aromatics, spices, herbs, and brown sugar. Then we add fresh onion and garlic, lime juice, and jalapeño pepper for even more delicious flavor!

Here's everything you'll need to make this bold jerk chicken marinade:

  • Onion + garlic – for their distinctly pungent flavors.
  • Lime juice – fresh is best!
  • Cooking oil – any neutral-tasting cooking oil will work. Our go-to's for grilling are avocado and olive
  • Soy sauce – adds a rich, salty taste.
  • Jerk seasoning – we use our homemade jerk seasoning, but you can use store-bought in a pinch!
  • Jalapeño pepper – optional, for extra kick and flavor.
  • Chicken – chicken thighs or chicken breasts work equally well in this recipe.

How to adjust the heat

Jerk is known for being a hot spice mixture. To make a less spicy version of jerk marinade, use sweet paprika instead of cayenne in the seasoning and omit the jalapeño pepper. If you're using a store-bought jerk seasoning, test a little bit with your finger to see how spicy it is before using it.

On the other hand, if you love heat and want to make a jerk that will knock your socks off, try using scotch bonnet peppers in place of the jalapeño peppers. They're often used in Jamaica and are one of the hottest peppers you can buy!

4 pictures showing how to make Jerk Chicken Marinade

How to make jerk chicken marinade

  1. Blend – place the onion, lime juice, oil, soy sauce, jerk seasoning, garlic, and (if using) the jalapeño pepper into your blender or food processor and blend until it's nice and smooth.
  2. Marinate – if you plan on cooking the chicken tonight, place it into a shallow bowl or baking dish and pour the marinade overtop. Mix it around to coat the chicken and then marinate it for up to 24 hours in your fridge. For the best flavor, make sure it sits in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Option to freeze – if you're not using it right away and you're going to freeze it, put the raw chicken into freezer bags (we love these reusable stasher freezer bags) and pour the marinade overtop. Squish the bag around a little so that the chicken is coated, seal the bag, and place it into your freezer.
  4. Cook the chicken – to bake it, place the chicken on a shallow baking sheet and bake it in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until it's cooked through. To grill it, remove the chicken from the marinade and grill on medium until cooked through and you get some nice dark, crusty edges. If you're using a charcoal grill, try adding some pimento wood chips for a distinct Jamaican flavor.

Full recipe instructions are in the recipe card below.

How long should I marinate jerk chicken?

We recommend marinating the chicken for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours. Marinating not only imparts amazing flavor but also helps to tenderize the meat. Longer isn't necessarily better, but ideally, several hours will allow the flavors to really sink in.

chicken cooked in Jerk Chicken Marinade sliced on a plate with limes.

FAQS

How long does jerk marinade last in the refrigerator?

To save time, you can make the marinade ahead of time. It will stay fresh in a sealed jar or container for about 3 days.

What are pimento wood chips?

Pimento wood gives Jamaican jerk its distinct flavor. Pimento wood comes from pimento or allspice trees. While traditional jerk uses the wood, sticks, and leaves from the tree to impart flavor, using the wood chips can still provide lots of flavor.

How do I use pimento wood chips?

If you have a charcoal or gas grill, you can use pimento wood chips in the same way you'd use other wood chips. Either place them in a smoker box or make a bed of chips on the coals and lay the food directly on top of the chips.

What to serve with jerk chicken

Jerk chicken is traditionally served with a simple side of rice and beans. We love it with a side of our favorite coconut rice and some sweet mango, pineapple, or summer peach salsa to offset the heat.

It also pairs perfectly with vegetable sides like sautéed green beans with garlic, or baked plantains.

Make a big batch of this crowd-pleasing jerk chicken for a flavorful meal that everyone will enjoy. It's a perfect recipe for backyard BBQ parties and it's easy to serve with other grilled foods like chili lime grilled corn on the cob, grilled potato salad, or grilled peach salad.

a plate of jerk chicken marinated chicken thighs

Favorite chicken marinade recipes

chicken thighs marinated in jerk marinade on a plate

Jerk Chicken Marinade

We're not exaggerating when we say this is the best jerk chicken marinade! It's a smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet blend of jerk seasoning, onion, garlic, fresh lime, and jalapeño. It's a quick and easy recipe that makes the most tender and juicy chicken every time!

If you love this recipe as much as we do, let us know with a 5-star rating!

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Ingredients

  • ½ medium onion
  • ¼ cup lime juice, fresh is best!
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, gluten-free if needed
  • 2 tablespoons jerk seasoning, see notes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, optional
  • 2 lb chicken thighs or breast

Instructions 

  • Place the onion, lime juice, oil, soy sauce, jerk seasoning, garlic, and if using the jalapeño pepper into your blender.
    ½ medium onion, ¼ cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons cooking oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons jerk seasoning, 4 cloves garlic, 1 jalapeño pepper
    image for recipe instruction
  • Blend on high speed until the marinade is mostly smooth.
    image for recipe instruction
  • Place the chicken in a shallow bowl or baking dish and pour the jerk chicken marinade over the top. Mix it around a little so that all the chicken is coated in the marinade then let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes – or up to 24 hours in your fridge.
    2 lb chicken thighs or breast
    image for recipe instruction

Cook the chicken

  • Bake: Put the chicken onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, for 15 minutes for boneless thighs, 20-25 minutes for breast, and 35-40 minutes for bone-in thighs.
    Grill: Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill over medium heat for 10 minutes for boneless thighs, 18-22 minutes for breast, and 30-35 minutes (over indirect heat) for bone-in thighs.
    image for recipe instruction

Optional: freeze the chicken

  • Put the raw chicken into freezer bags (we love these Stasher freezer bags!) then pour the marinade over the top. Squish the bag around a little so that the chicken is coated in the marinade then seal the bag and put it into your freezer.
    image for recipe instruction

Notes

We use our homemade jerk seasoning in this recipe. While it has a fairly long list of spices in it, most are common pantry ingredients. We recommend making the full recipe to save you time next time you make a jerk recipe, but if you only want to make enough for this marinade, use these quantities:
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne (spicy!) OR paprika (mild!)
  • ½ teaspoon EACH: sea salt, black pepper, brown sugar, parsley, thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon EACH: all-spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin
Serving: 1 = 1/6 of the recipe, Calories: 234kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 33g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.04g, Cholesterol: 97mg, Sodium: 412mg, Potassium: 666mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 842IU, Vitamin C: 6mg, Calcium: 26mg, Iron: 1mg
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