See also: Jamaican Cuisine; Jerk History; Pickapeppa Sauce;
Walkerswood Caribbean Foods
This is a unique Jamaican way of preserving and cooking meat, originally pork, but now chicken and even fish is 'jerked'. The origins of the word "jerk" in its application here are obscure. Your bodies reaction as you eat jerked meat; to pull or jerk a portion of meat off the fire; the jerking action as the meat is turned on the fire. Maybe its origins are in the Arawak Indian language. Take your pick. Who cares. Jerked pork or chicken is fabulous, by any definition or origin. It is truly one of the great culinary delights of the world.
Its origins date back to the native Arawak Indians traditional method of using Jamaican pimento (what we call allspice) to season and smoke meat (primarily wild pigs). Combine this with hot chilies (originating in South America and the Caribbean) with pirates bringing in a variety of new spices from both the old and new worlds; add salt and escaped slaves with skills at slow roasting in pits, mix well and you have jerk. Both dry seasoning rubbed into the meat, and fiery hot marinades. The escaped slaves, called Maroons, are believed to have developed and perfected this method of preserving and cooking meat during their years living in the Blue Mountains fighting the British troops.
Recipes have been handed down through generations, recipes and techniques kept secret, as competition and pride runs high among jerk cooks in Jamaica. Pimento (allspice), hot chilies and salt are common to all mixtures, plus additional herbs and spices (sometimes up to 30 or more) usually including thyme, garlic, cinnamon, scallions, and nutmeg. Sometimes the dry seasoning mix is rubbed into the meat, sometimes the meat is left to soak overnight in a wet marinade. The meat is basted with the seasonings as it grills slowly over a smokey wood fire, preferably of pimento (allspice) wood.
Commercial jerk mixtures are available, both dry and wet (marinades), but you should experiment with your own mixtures, starting with a recipe you like and building on that. Become an amateur jerk man!