Jamaican Jerk chicken and pork has a worldwide following and not just with the Jamaican diaspora. It’s viewed as a delicacy by many and even Michelin starred restaurants are trying to emulate the unique Jerk flavors.
Jerked meat has a long history in Jamaica. The cooking technique and combination of spices originated with the Taino, an Arawak tribe indigenous to the island, whose origins date to prehistoric times. The Taino slow roasted their meat over the dying embers of pimento wood.
The Taino shared their knowledge with runaway enslaved Africans, who became known as the Maroons. The Maroons incorporated their own knowledge of spices to arrive at today’s Jerked meat. Jerk continues to evolve, while providing Jamaicans with a tie to their ancestors.
Home chefs can purchase pre-bottled jars of authentic Jamaican Jerk seasoning or buy the ingredients and make it themselves. However, it’s not just the seasoning that makes Jerk meat special. It also relies on utilizing the correct marinating and grilling techniques.
- Use the appropriate amount of seasoning per pound of meat.
- Top Caribbean chefs recommend the meat be room temperature for best absorption of the marinade. If frozen, leave the meat out for an hour after marinating.
- It’s essential that the marinade be massaged into the meat to ensure the spice permeates each bite. It’s not enough to simply cover it with the seasoning mix.
- Place the meat, along with the marinade mix, in a plastic bag. Close the bag and squeeze the contents to massage the mix into every crevice and cavity of the meat. Make sure the meat is evenly coated.
- Let the marinade and meat rest overnight in the refrigerator, though 2-3 days is even better. That gives the marinade time to soak into every inch of the meat.
- Never put the meat in the freezer after marinating if you are cooking it a few days later. It prohibits the meat from soaking up the marinade.
- Ideally, the meat should be smoked in a smoker. However, the meat can be cooked in an oven or on the grill over a low fire on the lowest possible setting.