Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos

by Eat Well with Lex

Jamaican jerk chicken tacos are an explosion of sweet and fiery flavors that will transport you straight to the vibrant streets of Jamaica. They are juicy pieces of chicken marinated in a homemade jerk marinade and accompanied by a sweet and fresh pineapple salsa. And the best part? You can tailor the heat level to your liking, whether you prefer it mild or crave that fiery Jamaican heat.

For me, jerk chicken isn’t just a dish—it’s a connection to my roots, my culture, and the flavors of home. And now, with this recipe, I’m excited to share a little piece of that with you.

Loving the Jamaican jerk flavors? Check out more jerk chicken recipes like this Rasta Pasta with Jerk Chicken.

spicy jerk chicken tacos with fresh pineapple salsa and creamy jerk crema. eatwellwithlex.com

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Here’s Why You’ll Love This Jerk Chicken Taco Recipe

Easy Peasy: Incredibly easy to whip up, making it perfect for quick lunch, busy weeknights or casual gatherings.

Impressively Delicious: Whether you’re cooking for family, friends, or yourself, these jerk chicken tacos are guaranteed to impress.

Family Favorite: With its customizable spice levels, this recipe is sure to become a new family favorite. It’s a great way to introduce kids to different cuisines while still keeping the meal familiar and approachable.

Memories of Jamaica: For those who have visited Jamaica, these jerk chicken tacos offer a delicious taste of nostalgia.

What is Jamaican Jerk

Now, let’s talk a little bit about Jamaican jerk and its fascinating history. As someone who was born and raised in Jamaica, jerk chicken holds a special place in my heart and my culinary repertoire. Jamaican jerk is more than just a seasoning—it’s a way of cooking that dates back centuries to the indigenous Taino people of Jamaica.

Originally used to preserve meat, the combination of fiery Scotch bonnet peppers, aromatic spices, and slow cooking over pimento wood creates that distinctive smoky flavor that we all know and love today.

Jerk Marinade

Jerk marinade is a flavorful and aromatic seasoning blend that originates from Jamaica. It typically includes a combination of ingredients such as Scotch bonnet peppers (or other spicy peppers), scallions, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice (also known as pimento), cinnamon, nutmeg, soy sauce, vinegar, and citrus juice (like lime or orange). The marinade is used to season meats, most commonly chicken or pork, before grilling or smoking. It imparts a spicy, smoky, and savory flavor profile to the meat, making it a hallmark of Jamaican cuisine.

Is Jerk Marinade Spicy

While traditional jerk marinades are known for their fiery heat, you can certainly adjust the recipe to make it milder to suit your taste preferences. Here are a few ways you can make a mild jerk marinade:

  • Adjust the Pepper: Reduce or omit the Scotch bonnet peppers or spicy peppers altogether. Replace them with a milder variety of pepper or use bell peppers for flavor without the heat.
  • Seed and Devein the Peppers: If you still want to use Scotch bonnet or other spicy peppers for flavor but want to reduce the heat, remove the seeds and white membrane (devein) from the peppers. This is where most of the heat resides.
  • Increase Sweetness: Balance out the heat by increasing the sweetness in the marinade. You can add more brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup to mellow out the spiciness.

Ingredients

Here’s a list of ingredients you’ll need to make Jamaican jerk chicken tacos with homemade pineapple salsa. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for measurements on recipe card)

Jerk Chicken Marinade

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • Scotch bonnet peppers or habanero
  • Garlic cloves
  • Green onions (scallions)
  • Fresh thyme leaves
  • Fresh ginger, grated
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Ground or whole allspice
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Browning sauce (for achieving the dark jerk marinade color but optional)
  • Limes
  • Salt

Pineapple Salsa (for more details, see my homemade pineapple salsa recipe)

  • Pineapple
  • Green and red bell peppers
  • Red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Salt and pepper

Jerk Crema and Additional Taco Ingredients

  • Sour cream, Mayonnaise or Greek yogurt
  • Jerk marinade (from above)
  • Lime juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Cabbage

How to Make Jerk Chicken Tacos

Prepare the Jerk Chicken Marinade

In a food processor or blender, combine the Scotch bonnet peppers, garlic, yellow, green onions, thyme leaves, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, browning sauce, honey, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. Blend until smooth to create the jerk marinade.

Marinate the Chicken

Thinly chop your chicken breast into strips. (or cook the chicken breast whole then chop after) Place the chicken breasts strips into a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Pour the jerk marinade over the chicken, making sure it is evenly coated. Cover and allow and the meat to marinate for at least 15-30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Prepare the Pineapple Salsa

While the chicken is marinating prepare the other ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine the diced pineapple, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Mix well to combine, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the Jerk Crema

In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream or mayo, jerk marinade, lime juice, and a pinch of salt until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can also toss the shredded cabbage with a few drizzles of the sauce.

Cook the Jerk Chicken

Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for about 15 minutes. Preheat a skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken strips for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through and nicely charred on the outside.

Assemble the Tacos:

Warm the tortillas on the grill or in a skillet for about 30 seconds per side, until lightly toasted and pliable. Lay the warmed tortillas on a flat surface, place some of the shredded cabbage on each tortilla then place a few slices of jerk chicken on top. Top with a generous spoonful of homemade pineapple salsa. Drizzle with jerk crema then garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve the Jamaican jerk chicken tacos immediately with lime wedges on the side for squeezing.

Tools You Will Need for This Recipe

  • Stove Top Grill Pan or Skillet: For cooking the marinated chicken breasts.
  • Food Processor or Blender: To blend the ingredients for the jerk marinade into a smooth paste.
  • Bowl or Resealable Plastic Bag: For marinating the chicken breasts. A bowl allows the chicken to be evenly coated with the marinade, while a resealable plastic bag is convenient for marinating and can be easily stored in the refrigerator.
  • Medium and Small Mixing Bowl: For preparing the homemade pineapple salsa and jerk crema.
  • Chef’s Knife: For chopping ingredients such as garlic, onions, peppers, pineapple, and cilantro. As well as the chicken.
  • Cutting Board: To provide a stable surface for chopping and preparing ingredients.
  • Tongs or Spatula: For flipping and handling the chicken.

Optional tools:

  • Latex Gloves: To protect your hands when handling hot peppers for the jerk marinade.
  • Citrus Juicer: For juicing fresh limes for the marinade and salsa.
  • Meat Thermometer: To ensure that the grilled chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (75°C) for safe consumption. (Optional)

Recipe Tips for Success

Here are some recipe tips for success when making Jamaican jerk chicken tacos with homemade pineapple salsa:

  • Marinate Overnight: For the most flavorful and tender chicken, marinate it in the jerk marinade for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. This allows the flavors to penetrate the meat thoroughly. If you don’t have time aim for 15 minutes before cooking.
  • Adjust Spice Level: Control the heat of the jerk marinade by adjusting the amount of Scotch bonnet peppers or spicy peppers used. Remember to wear gloves when handling hot peppers and taste the marinade before adding the chicken to ensure it’s not too spicy.
  • Use Fresh Ingredients: Opt for fresh herbs and spices whenever possible for the best flavor. Freshly squeezed lime juice, minced garlic, and grated ginger will enhance the marinade and salsa.
  • Slice Chicken Against the Grain: When slicing the cooked chicken for the tacos, be sure to cut it against the grain. This ensures that the meat is tender and easy to bite into.
  • Serve Fresh: Assemble the tacos just before serving to prevent the tortillas from becoming soggy.

More Delicious Dishes You Can Make Using Jerk Marinade

Rasta Pasta with Jerk Chicken

Sweet Chili Jerk Chicken Wings

Honey Jerk Shrimp

Jerk Chicken Mac and Cheese

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Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos

Jamaican jerk chicken tacos are an explosion of sweet and fiery flavors that will transport you straight to the vibrant streets of Jamaica. They are juicy pieces of chicken marinated in a homemade jerk marinade and accompanied by a sweet and fresh pineapple salsa.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine Jamaican
Servings 8 tacos

Equipment

  • Stovetop Grill Pan
  • Blender or food processor
  • Cutting Board
  • Tongs or Spatula
  • Latex Gloves Optional, to protect your hands when handling hot peppers for the jerk marinade.

Ingredients
  

Homemade Jerk Chicken Marinade (or store-bought)

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2-3 Scotch bonnet peppers or habanero, adjust to taste for spiciness
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 4 green onions scallions, chopped
  • 5 – 6 springs fresh fresh thyme
  • 1 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or 10 Pimento Seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 teaspoon browning sauce optional, Available on Amazon
  • Salt to taste

Homemade Pineapple Salsa:

  • 1 cup pineapple diced
  • 1/3 cup red bell pepper diced
  • 1/3 cup green bell pepper diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion diced
  • 2 tbsp cilantro finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 tsp salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper to taste

Jerk Crema:

  • 1/4 cup sour cream or mayonnaise
  • 1-2 tablespoons jerk marinade
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • salt to taste

Additional Taco Ingredients:

  • 8-10 small corn or flour tortillas warmed
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Chopped cilantro

Instructions
 

Prepare the Jerk Chicken Marinade

  • If using store-bought jerk marinade, skip this step.
  • In a food processor or blender, combine the Scotch bonnet peppers, yellow onion, garlic, green onions, thyme, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, browning sauce, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. Blend until smooth to create the jerk marinade.

Marinate the Chicken

  • Thinly chop your chicken breast into strips. (or cook the chicken breast whole then chop after) Place the chicken breasts strips into a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Pour the jerk marinade over the chicken, making sure it is evenly coated. Cover and allow and the meat to marinate for at least 15-30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Prepare the Pineapple Salsa

  • While the chicken is marinating prepare the other ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine the diced pineapple, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, red onion, pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Mix well to combine, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the Jerk Crema

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream or mayo, jerk marinade, lime juice, and a pinch of salt until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can also toss the shredded cabbage with a few drizzles of the jerk crema.

Cook the Jerk Chicken

  • Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for about 15 minutes. Preheat a skillet or stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken strips for about 6 minutes, or until cooked through and nicely charred on the outside.

Assemble the Tacos

  • Warm the tortillas on the grill or in a skillet for about 30 seconds per side, until lightly toasted and pliable. Lay the warmed tortillas on a flat surface, place some of the shredded cabbage on each tortilla then place a few slices of jerk chicken on top. Top with a generous spoonful of homemade pineapple salsa. Drizzle with jerk crema then garnish with fresh cilantro.
  • Serve the Jamaican jerk chicken tacos immediately with lime wedges on the side for squeezing.
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