Add some sweet heat to your cookout with jerk marinades

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Burgers and dogs may be the traditional staples of a cookout, but when you're craving something more than meat on bun, a well-assembled skewer is a colorful showstopper on the grill.

It's scientifically proven that food tastes better when it's served on a stick, especially when that stick features alternating bites of grilled, spicy chicken and sweet, fruity goodness. (Disclaimer: This is not a scientific fact, but your taste buds might tell you otherwise.)

Jerk marinades can rely on different peppers for heat, such as Scotch bonnet, jalape o and habanero. Here, we're rolling with the latter, which delivers a perky punch without overwhelming the thyme, scallion and allspice that round out a typical jerk flavor profile. Fresh lime juice adds brightness and tang.

Cutting slightly larger chunks of chicken (1 1/2-inch pieces) helps the meat stay juicy on the grill, even as its edges take on a nice char. We like to use the pineapple chunks as stoppers at either end of each skewer.

Reserve some of the marinade before the raw chicken goes into it; that way, you can use the reserved marinade as a sauce for drizzling.

About those hot peppers: We recommend wearing food-safe gloves when seeding them.

You'll need to soak 8-inch wooden/bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before loading them up to prevent the ends from burning. The chicken needs to marinate in the refrigerator for 3 hours, or up to overnight.

Jerk chicken and pineapple skewers

(Based on a Bon App tit recipe from cookbook authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee)

8-12 servings

INGREDIENTS:


For the marinade and sauce:

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

Juice from 1 or 2 limes (1/4 cup)

4 scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped

4 habanero chile peppers, stemmed, seeded, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

Leaves from 4 to 6 stems fresh thyme (2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger root

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

For the skewers:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (no tenderloins), cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 large yellow onion

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

12 ounces peeled, trimmed and cubed fresh pineapple (from about 1/2 pineapple)

DIRECTIONS:

For the marinade and sauce: Combine 4 tablespoons of the oil, the 1/4 cup of lime juice, chopped scallions, chopped habanero chiles, garlic, thyme, ginger, brown sugar, allspice, salt and pepper in a food processor; puree to form a fairly smooth marinade. The yield is about 1 cup.

Alternatively, you can puree the mixture in a blender or in a large bowl using an immersion (stick) blender.

Transfer 1/4 cup of the marinade to a liquid measuring cup, then whisk in the vinegar and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Season lightly with salt, then cover and refrigerate. This will be your sauce.

Put the chicken in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Add the remaining marinade and seal, massaging through the bag to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.

Prepare the grill for direct heat. If you are using a gas grill, preheat to medium-low (325 degrees). If you are using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; when the coals are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 8 to 10 seconds. Lightly coat a grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

While the grill is heating, assemble the skewers: Cut the onion into quarters, then separate some of the layers. Fill the soaked skewers by alternating pieces of pineapple, onion, the marinated chicken and bell pepper. Transfer the skewers to the grill, close the lid and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, then turn the skewers over, close the lid and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (with no pink showing inside) and the fruits and vegetables are slightly softened. Don't worry if the fruits and vegetables get a little charred on the edges.

Re-stir the reserved sauce before serving with the skewers. Serve warm.


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