Jerk Chicken

05/31/2017 | Jamaica,

No visit to Jamaica would be complete without a good sampling of one of the island’s signature meals, jerk pork or jerk chicken.

You can find this indigenous dish everywhere from roadside jerk vendors, to upscale restaurants. The recipes vary, but the fundamental promise of jerk chicken remains universal—a sweet, spicy, smoky and seriously delicious meal.

Why the name “jerk?” First of all, rest assured it has nothing to do with the character of anyone involved with the process, including the end consumer. Actually, “jerk” is a derivation of Quechua word, “charki,” meaning dried meat. (It was the Spanish who brought this word to the island. It is also the source of the English word, jerky.)

Let there be no doubt about it, jerk pork and jerk chicken are Jamaican to the bone. The island’s Taino Indians are credited with first cooking meat (mostly pork) with the wood of the allspice tree, which brings a sweet smokiness to the dish. The Maroons, enslaved Africans who escaped the sugar plantations and hid in the mountains, developed the technique of cooking meat in underground pits. This not only kept the meat moist and smoky, but it prevented British slave- hunters from finding the hidden Maroon villages.

Some jerk recipes call for treating the meat with a dry rub before cooking, while others prefer a wet rub—often made with a rum base. However, all jerk recipes incorporate fresh ingredients that can be found growing robustly in Jamaica: scallions, thyme, ginger and most important—the Scotch bonnet pepper. Adding soaked allspice wood chips to the cooking fire gives jerk chicken its obligatory smokiness.

Traditionally, jerk chicken is served with bammy (deep-fried cassava flatbread), or festival (sweet, fried dumplings), though today, you’ll probably get it with peas (red beans) and rice. Washing everything with a cold Ting (grapefruit soda) or Red Stripe (it’s beer, hooray beer!) completes the Jamaican jerk chicken experience.

Of course, the best place to savor the full jerk chicken experience is Jamaica, but if all this has got your mouth watering, and you just can’t wait for your trip, here’s a recipe from, so you can try your hand at jerk chicken at home.

( Photo courtesy of Jamaican Tourist Board )