Jerk in our A-Z - Cooking Index
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meats (traditionally pork and goat were used but now including chicken, fish, beef, sausage and even tofu) are dry-rubbed with a fiery spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice.
Jerk seasoning is a mixture of allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers (among the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale). Other ingredients may include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, which are mixed together to form a marinade which is rubbed onto pork, chicken, or fish.
Jerk chicken, pork, or fish is said to be at its best when barbecued over aromatic wood charcoal or briquettes. Pimento (allspice) wood or berries placed over coals give jerk its authentic flavor.
Originally the jerk meat was cut into strips and dried in the sun for use at a later date. A small fire was lit under the meat so that the smoke would prevent flies from laying their eggs on the raw meat.
Jerking has evolved over time from pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container of choice. In about the 1960s, Jamaican entrepreneurs sought to recreate the smoked pit flavour, and relatively quickly came up with a solution. The solution was to cut oil barrels lengthwise and attach hinges, drilling several ventilation holes for the smoke. These barrels are often heated by layers of charcoal, which some say lends itself to making the burnt smokey taste.
A grill over an open fire suffices in the modern rendition. The widely available pre-made seasoning mixes give a passable jerk flavour to meat baked in a kitchen oven.
“Making jerk is like spending time with a kid,” said Oneil Reid, the chef and owner of the shiny Jamaican Dutchy food truck that parks daily on West 51st Street in Manhattan. “You have to watch it every second.”