Jerkin Chicken: Flavorful Jamaican Food In Jersey City

The island of Jamaica is famous for its beautiful beaches, reggae music, unique dialect, Blue Mountain coffee, exotic fruits, cheerful people, and their distinctive-tasting jerk chicken. Luckily, for Hoboken and Jersey City locals, traveling all the way to the island isn’t necessary to get a taste of that spicy delicacy. Enter, Jerkin Chicken. What started out as a family decision with a simple concept in mind to provide authentic Jamaican food to people turned into a major success and a go-to spot for Jamaican cuisine. Owner Trevor McKenzie took on his family legacy with a mission to honor it, and take it to the next level so that he can pass on something special to his children through his JC restaurant {located 234 West Side Avenue}. Here’s what’s on the menu at this delicious locale.

Jerkin Chicken’s Family Roots

“I moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn from Jamaica when I was 11 years old. I graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Advertising and pursued jobs in corporate America. I opened up a bridal and tuxedo shop in Brooklyn for a time. Later, I moved to Jersey City in 1994.”

Jerk chicken runs in the McKenzie family, and they have been serving up their delectable food in the metro area for over 20 years.  “There weren’t a lot of jobs and opportunities in the country-side of Jamaica so my family has always sold food as a way to support themselves. That’s what most Jamaicans do in the country,” Trevor shared. Because of that upbringing, Trevor and his siblings always knew how to provide for themselves, and furthermore, how to think like entrepreneurs. 

Now, the owner of the Jerkin Chicken is Trevor but it was his older sister Deloris “Keysha” that opened up the family’s first restaurant in Crown Heights Brooklyn in 1989, under the name “McKenzie’s”. “Most Jamaicans settled in Crown Heights and Flat Bush. There is a strong Jamaican community there,” Trevor told Hoboken Girl

Read more: 7 Mouth-Watering Chicken Sandwiches You Must Try in Hoboken

Deloris, however, was the first in the family to bring their knowledge of Jamaican food and secret recipes to the United States. Trevor’s brother expanded Deloris’ restaurant to a second location in Brooklyn but both locations eventually closed in 2014. In 2012, Trevor re-branded the restaurant and with a mission to honor his sister’s legacy, opened up a spin-off — Jerkin Chicken at 234 West Side Avenue in Jersey City. “I always knew I would run my own business, I just didn’t think I would be working this hard at this stage of my life,” he says with a laugh.

“Deloris inspired me to get into this business. She was one of my favorite people in the whole world. I worked at the original restaurant with her and then with my brother when he opened the second location,” Trevor shared with Hoboken Girl. “Deloris passed away in 2016 and I really wanted to honor her memory and make her dream realized. The first food truck I purchased has a picture of her painted on it. I will always keep it there. I want to make her proud, and bring the vision that I discussed with her to life.”

Trevor has deep roots in Brooklyn. It was the first place he called home after leaving his home country, where he was raised, where he went to school, and where he became a businessman. However, it was in Jersey City that he chose to raise his family. “I bought a house in Society Hill and set new roots down. My wife Penny and I raised five children here. Jersey City is the only home they’ve ever known. They were born and raised here,” he said.

The Origins of the Food

{Photo credit: @jerkinchicken}

“Jerk is the process of adding spice and grilling meats, poultry, and even vegetables. These spices were brought to the island from our African ancestors. The resulting food yields a spicy-sweet flavor and a tender texture,” Trevor explains. “People often ask what jerk chicken is, and assume that it’s when you literally jerk chicken around, and I explain that it’s a spicy seasoning.”

Like most successful family businesses, the glory is owed to the secret family recipes. “The base of the recipe for the jerk seasoning has been passed down in my family, but I am a perfectionist, and have given it a twist until I created a unique formula of my own.”

“Some people cook the jerk chicken at different spice levels, but we cook ours to a light to medium spice level, as many people can’t handle extremely spicy foods.” Fret not, spicy food lovers, that’s where the sauces come in. There are several homemade sauces available for topping off the flavorful dishes to add an extra kick.

The Menu

{Photo credit: @jerkinchicken}

If you’re looking for delicious meals with jerk seasoning, you’ve come to the right place. Protein options include jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk salmon, jerk shrimp, oxtail, and curry goat. Customers can choose any meat and create a dinner combo with the option of rice, salad, and maduros. Tacos, burritos, wraps, and salads topped with any meat are also options. 

The fun part is choosing what kind of chicken you want. The boneless jerk chicken is a hit, as it’s easier to eat. There are also jerk chicken wings, curry chicken, and stew chicken available on the menu. “The salmon salad is a new addition to the menu, and it’s been a hit in Hoboken, as well as the tacos. We also have red snapper available for purchase at the brick and mortar location,” Trevor explains.

The jerk chicken may be the star of the show, but the homemade tropical juices will sweep you off of your feet as well. Trevor’s 78-year-old mother-in-law makes them everyday at the brick and mortar location. The flavors include limeade, sorrel, and ginger beer. “I don’t know how she has all of this energy, because I’m ready to fall asleep after a shift on the truck.” Trevor plans to update the logo for the juice bottles, and officially launch them nationally. “You can’t find a national brand for island drinks like these.”

The Food Truck = Catering

In a world where everything is mobilized, and centered around convenience, Trevor knew he needed to pivot the approach to his business. “Jerk shacks thrive on the side of the road in Jamaica as a local fast-food industry, and I knew that’s exactly what I needed to do here.” 

In addition to the brick and mortar store, Jerk Chicken owns three food trucks. The trucks can be found in downtown Jersey City near Exchange Place or in Hoboken on River Street or Sinatra Drive.

For those in need of original, one-of-a-kind food that your party guests will love {when we can host parties again}, fret not. The restaurant provides its food trucks for catering, as well as platters. The truck has been hired to cater corporate parties, weddings, picnics, fundraisers, special events, and more. “Some of the larger companies we’ve worked with are Domino Sugar, Grace Foods, and Delta Airlines,” Trevor shared.

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That’s not all. If you’re interested in something that isn’t on the menu, Trevor has no problem working with you to create a menu you’re happy with. “Just because we specialize in jerk food, doesn’t mean we can’t make hamburgers, pasta — whatever the customer needs.”

Trevor creates an authentic Jamaican vibe and experience for customers that visit both the brick and mortar location, and food trucks by playing reggae music, offering island beverages and of course, the food — think of it as a vacation without the travel.

The Future of Jerkin Chicken

Trevor doesn’t plan on stopping at one brick and mortar location and three food trucks. “I know that I have an amazing, one-of-a-kind product that people will love if they could just try it. That’s why I have already met with lawyers to expand the restaurant even more, and branch out internationally,” Trevor explains. 

Jerkin Chicken is available for takeout via the storefront at 234 West Side Avenue.

It’s only a matter of time before the world is introduced to the gem that is Jerkin Chicken but for now, we’re happy to keep the extraordinary food to ourselves!

Have you tried Jerkin Chicken? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Written by:

Victoria is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, Hoboken Fire Museum/Hoboken Historical Museum, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.