Jerkin' It

Jerk is one of the first things that come to mind when one thinks of Jamaican food. It’s smoky, spicy and incredibly delicious. That’s why it ranks among the top favorites and most popular dishes around the island. Jerk is so popular that it can now be found all over the world.

But like many dishes, the taste is somewhat different from place to place. There’s a special method of combining all the ingredients and its preparation to get it just right. If you do your research, you’ll find the perfect jerk place, but keep the following in mind.

The meat used in Jerk is typically chicken, pork, or fish. It’s dry rubbed with spicy Jamaican Jerk seasoning. This consists of key ingredients Scotch Bonnet peppers and allspice, as well as garlic, cloves, thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg. However, every cook has its own special blend or twist to make the dish unique.

Jerk food is best grilled over wood like bamboo poles, or charcoal to ensure the flavors are slowly and thoroughly cooked through. Around Jamaica you’ll notice barrels sawed in half and used as makeshift grills. These are typically located outside of clubs, festivals, parties or shopping areas for those late night or on the go meals. Many restaurants in Jamaica also specialize in Jerk such as Scotchies located in Montego Bay and just outside Ocho Rios, Grants located in Ewarton, and Boston Jerk located in Port Antonio, the Jerk capital of Jamaica. Port Antonio is where the annual Jerk Festival takes place every year in July, and quite possibly where you can find the best Jerk in the world.

When ordering Jerk Chicken, you choose the size of your order, quarter, half, or whole. You also choose whether you want the breast, or leg and thigh, which is the difference between white and dark meat. The dark meat is generally juicier since the white meat cooks faster on the grill and tends to be a little overcooked. Some places will even have a batch of jerk seasoning on the side so that you can add more peppers to your order if you choose. And to help ease those fiery scotch bonnets on your taste buds, hard dough bread and festival (which is a sweetened fried bread) are served as a side order.

Anywhere you go in Jamaica, you’ll find authentic Jerk food, but don’t be fooled if you’re new to this type of cuisine. Be sure you’re getting flavorful, juicy, and spicy flavors when eating Jerk. The pepper shouldn’t be so overwhelming where you’re not enjoying your meal. Be adventurous and experience a few places, you’ll find the one that’s just right for you.

Written by Sabrina K. Marshall