The History of Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

Jerk chicken is believed to have been conceived when the Maroons introduced African meat cooking techniques to Jamaica which were combined with native Jamaican ingredients and seasonings used by the Arawak Indians. The method of smoking meats for long periods of time served for good reasons (1)  keeping insects away from the raw meat and (2) Preserving the meat longer once it has been cooked. This process also introduces a strong smoky flavor to the meat.

According to most food historians tells us the “Jerk” is the Spanish word that comes from a Peruvian word “Charqui” meaning dried strips of meat like what we call “Jerky”. Most historians agree Jamaica was settled by the Arawak Indians over 2500 years ago from South America. They used similar techniques to smoke and dry meat in the sun or over a slow fire and this were common in Peru. This was important as the dried beef could be taken on journeys and eaten as is or chopped and reconstituted in boiling water.

During the early seventeenth century, The British brought slaves to Jamaica in order to Guarantee a steady supply of sugar, coffee, cocoa, pimento, and other goods to merchants. A group of these slaves escaped into the mountains and were later named the Maroons. The Maroons would blend an array of spices and herbs that they would later use to marinate and cook the wild game they hunted, mostly wild boar. This led to the famous “Jamaican Jerk”. Traditional Jamaican Jerk is a method of cooking pork. Nowadays chicken, seafood or beef can be seasoned in this manner as well. Jerk is a complex blend of seasonings including scallions, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, salt, thyme, allspice, black pepper and many other spices. all of ingredients grow on the island’s fertile green landscape.

The legendary Mecca for Jerk is Boston beach on the northeastern end of Jamaica. here most of the vendors have built huts over fires directly on the beach like the maroons that came before them. The meat is cooked on pimento wood or sheets of metal used as griddles and sometimes covered with plantain leaves. The typical cooking style uses a marinade or paste that includes pimento, known as allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, similar to habanero. The meat is then marinated and slow smoked over pimento wood.