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 its ingredients grow on the island’s fertile green landscape.
During the time of slavery, 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. This led to the invention of the now famous “Jamaican Jerk”.
Ask a Jamaican what the word “jerk” means they they’ll tell you it refers to the motion in either turning the meat over burning coal or in chopping off the hunks of meat for customers. The explanation refers to the English form of a Spanish word of Indian origin that described a method of preparing pork. That method was then modified and then preserved by the Maroons.
The legendary mecca for Jerk is Boston Beach on the northeastern end of Jamaica. The smell of alluring fragrances of grilled pork, chicken, fish and beef that Hurston wrote about infuse the air. 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.