My childhood home came with a grill. Far to the back of our half-acre lot, the red brick grill was built by a previous owner alongside a large serving table; no doubt to encourage cookouts. And cookout we did. It was the only motivation for the days of labor it took to maintain the heavily wooded backyard. And for every major summer holiday and countless weekends besides my mother would decide to host a gathering.
The role for each of us hosts was clear. My mom would call the guests and ask each family to bring something for the potluck. My father would clean the yard, start the fire, and tend the grill. I would stay in the kitchen baking desserts, preparing sides, and seasoning the meats. Though I would experiment with different blends of spices and marinades before the guest-testing audience, sadly, it wasn’t until I got to college that I discovered Grilled Jerk Chicken.
I first tasted jerk chicken my sophomore year when it was the main dish for the Black Students Organization’s annual Kwanzaa dinner, which I planned. From Mobay’s, an upscale Caribbean/Soul Food restaurant in Harlem, the chicken was a magnificently confusing blend of sweet and spicy flavors that was still on my mind months later when I decided to recreate my family’s tradition with friends for the Fourth of July.
Because of the absent fire-starting skills among the group, when I first made this recipe I baked the butterflied, whole chicken before placing cut pieces on the grill for a smoky finish. The chicken is great baked or grilled. If you don’t have a backyard like I was fortunate enough to have last year, check the NYC parks website for locations where grills are provided or allowed. I made this recipe again just yesterday for the Inside New York company picnic in Morningside Park as several cookouts filled the lawns and music from a neighboring group filled the air.
To start this chicken follow the brine and butterfly instructions provided in my earlier Rosemary-Lemon Roasted Chicken recipe here.
This recipe is a slight tweak on the one I first used from Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. Just as I have, don’t feel compelled to stick to these exact proportions. To make the chicken spicier or milder simply adjust the amount of cayenne pepper. The formula provided makes for a medium-hot chicken.
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons salt
1.5 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground garlic powder
1.5 teaspoons ground allspice
1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
.75 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Mix together all of the ingredients well. Store in a sealed container. Makes a little more than enough for one whole, small roaster.
Put it all together
I prefer to cook the chicken whole and cut later, but if you’re working with a hot grill it can be hard to judge the doneness of the bird without a thermometer and keeping it flat requires bricks and hassle. If you’re serving a group, cutting the breast into three pieces and separating the other limbs prevents waste as people come back for another taste. Make the cuts before cooking on the grill and before serving from the oven.
Dump 3/4 of the seasoning blend on the chicken and rub all over. If areas remain naked, spoon more of the rub.
When making this in the oven, I like to use a 13x9x2″ Pyrex baking dish because the pan can hold up to the scraping and scratching of clean-up. If you don’t have one, try lining a metal pan with foil because the sugar in the rub will bubble and burn.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Pour a small amount of olive oil in the pan and move it around to coat. Place the chicken open side up and bake for 20 minutes. Flip the chicken over and continue to cook for another 25-30 minutes (more depending on the weight) until chicken reaches 165° in the thigh/no blood runs.
Remove from oven. Let rest for about 10 minutes. Cut the chicken limbs apart and the breasts into thirds.
To learn more about outdoor cooking, I truly suggest reading another guide such as the Cook’s Illustrated book mentioned above. True grill skills will come to me with time and practice. Note the variations for a gas vs. charcoal grill.
Light one side of the grill so you create a section with direct heat and one without. Place the chicken on cool side of the grill and cover with the lid (or tent with an aluminum pan if using a charcoal grill.) Monitor the temperature of the lidded grill and control the burners and/or vents to keep it to about 375°. Check on the chicken every 5-10 minutes to flip the pieces and rotate around the grill so no piece is too exposed to the flame. Continue to cook for 45-60 minutes total, noting that the smaller wing pieces will be done sooner than thick breast and thigh pieces. Check temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure the middle has reached 165° or test a piece by cutting it open and checking for no sign of blood.
The dark meat and bone-in pieces keep very well as they are, but the breast meat invites more dishes. Try cutting the white meat and serving over salad, in wraps or sandwiches.
Update September 2, 2013:
Years later, I have added photos to this post. Also, with more experience on the grill, I have revised the instructions to give better guidance for the grilling method.