Wood Grilled Jamaican Jerked Chicken


By Priscilla Martel

Nothing says summer like grilled chicken. Pair the bird with the flavors of Jamaica and I’ve escaped the winter doldrums. As long as I don’t look outside that is.

Here we’re splitting game hens, slathering them in jerk marinade and grilling them in our home fireplace. Of course you can cook them on a gas grill on in the oven for that matter. But if you’re adventuresome, cooking in the fireplace has many rewards. The flavor of the wood smoke adds to the pleasure of these birds. And we what better way to bask in the warmest corner of an old house?

(Read all about cooking with wood in your home fireplace here.)

You can use this recipe with any chicken parts but we like the flavor of game hens on the grill.

An optional step is to let the split game hens, sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight before marinating. This dries out the skin helping ensure a crisp crust after grilling.

Our grill has setting that holds the rack 5, 9 or 14 inches above the ash bed. We position it at the highest setting for longer gentler cooking.

Yield: 4 Servings

2 whole Cornish game hens

1 Scotch Bonnet or habañero chili pepper

1 teaspoons ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 scallions green and white parts, chopped coarse

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 large clove of garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 Tablespoons lime juice

½ teaspoon brown sugar, optional


For the Coconut Milk Rice:

1 cup water

½ cup pure unsweetened coconut milk

Pinch salt

1 ½ cups Basmati rice

Finely chopped scallions, as needed for garnish

Fresh limes, quartered, as needed for garnish

  1. Split each game hen down the back to flatten. Then cut each game hen along the breast bone into two halves.
  2. Wearing disposable gloves, split the chile in half. Remove and discard the seeds.
  3. Combine the chili, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend into a coarse paste.
  4. Slather the paste over the birds rubbing it vigorously into the exposed flesh. Cover the birds evenly with the mixture. Let the game hens marinate in the refrigerator for anywhere from thirty minutes to overnight
  5. Prepare a wood fire for grilling. Let the flames burn down. Rake the embers into an even level. The fire is ready when the flames have died down and all that remains are glowing embers. Put the Tuscan grill over the embers for at least 15 minutes before grilling. Or heat a gas grill to a medium heat, around 325°F
  6. Sprinkle some oil on each side of the cut birds. Place them cut side down on the grate with the legs placed in towards the back wall of the fireplace, which should be the hottest spot. If your fire is steady, low and hot, expect to grill the birds for 10 to 15 minutes on this side. Hold your hand about 8 inches above the embers. You should only be able to hold your hands above them for 3 or 4 seconds before it gets too hot. (Or maybe less. We have chef hands.) Spray water on any flames that shoot up and scorch the birds.
  7. Flip over the game hens and continue grilling for another 10 minutes.
  8. Once the game hens have been seared on each side, move them to a cooler section of the grill. Allow the game hens to cook slowly, basting them from time to time with any of the marinade that is left in the pan. Cook until the poultry is cooked through, tender and crisp, approximately 40 to 45 minutes in total. (All this depends on the fire heat, size of the birds. Use your judgment making certain the birds are cooked through. The recommended internal temperature of poultry is 165°F. )
  9. While the chicken cooks, prepare the coconut rice. Bring the coconut milk, water and salt to boil in a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Add the rice. Stir. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a very low simmer.
  10. Cook the rice for 15 minutes without uncovering the pot. Turn off the heat, stir the rice with a fork to fluff the grains. Let it sit covered for 5 more minutes before service.
  11. Serve the game hens with the rice garnished with chopped scallions and lime wedges.


Read more about this recipe here.