Jamaican jerk, the unique island method for seasoning and grilling food, represents one of the most popular cuisines in the world, and in recognition of the flavorful cooking practice, the fourth Sunday in October each year has been designated National Jamaican Jerk Day in the United States. The special day offers the opportunity to celebrate not only tasty Jamaican jerk recipes but also the entirety of Jamaican culture: its music, dancing, and community. The annual celebration reflects the pride Jamaicans have in their cultural identity and their eagerness to share their culture with the world.
Jerk represents a history of cultural fusion, combining the foods of the island’s indigenous Taino people who were the first to cook jerked meat, and the dishes brought to the island by enslaved African peoples during the Spanish colonial period of the 17th century. In the 1800s, enslaved Africans escaped from colonial plantations and lived with the Taino, establishing free and independent communities. These were the first communities of the people who would come to be known as Jamaican Maroons, and they learned about jerk foods from the Taino.
The word “jerk” is believed to derive from the Spanish word “charqui,” which itself was derived from the language of the Quechua people of the Andes in South America. “Charqui” means “jerked” or “dried meat,” and the Maroons used the word to refer to the Taino’s meat-cooking method.
The three chief ingredients necessary for Jamaican jerk are Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and allspice. The dry jerk spice rub typically combines these ingredients with sugar, salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and garlic, although ingredients may differ throughout the Jamaican Diaspora and with the preferences of individual cooks. The jerk method has also evolved over time as entrepreneurs developed easier and more portable means of preparing jerked food.
The best way to celebrate National Jamaican Jerk Day is to cook your own jerk meal and share it with friends and family. Below are five tried-and-true Jamaican Jerk recipes that will make National Jamaican Jerk Day of 2022 especially memorable.
Miss G’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe
This easy recipe relies on commercially available jerk sauce for seasoning.
- 8 chicken breasts (cut into 2-inch cubes)
- Jerk Seasoning
- Ziploc freezer bag or large bowl
- Wooden kabob skewers
- Place the chicken cubes in a mixing bowl and add the sauce.
- Mix well to thoroughly coat the chicken with the sauce.
- Transfer chicken to a ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine your favorite BBQ sauce with the jerk sauce, adjusting quantities to taste, and let rest in the refrigerator until ready to grill.
- Soak the wooden skewers in water for an hour or so.
- Heat the grill to 350 degrees and grease it with cooking oil or butter. Pierce 5 or 6 pieces of chicken with each skewer and arrange the skewers on the grill. Cook, covered, for about 5 minutes on each side.
- Frequently brush the chicken with the sauce to ensure it absorbs the flavors and doesn’t dry out. When done, arrange on a platter and serve hot.
Jamaican Jerk Lobster
So delicious, and with commercially available jerk seasoning, so easy! A sure way to please everyone with the flavors of Jamaica straight from your grill.
- 4 Lobster Tails
- 6 tablespoons Jerk Seasoning
- ½ cup Butter
- 4 teaspoons. lemon/lime juice
- 1 Small Onion (optional)
- ½ tablespoon of Jamaica Pickapeppa sauce or 3 drops of Jamaican hot pepper sauce (optional)
- Melt the butter in a small skillet. Lightly sauté the diced onion in the butter until it is golden (optional).
- Add 3 teaspoons of lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of Jerk Seasoning.
- Add ½ teaspoon of Jamaica Pickapeppa sauce or 3 drops of Jamaican hot pepper sauce (optional depending on your taste). Let it simmer for about 1 minute and set aside.
- Remove the membrane from the lobster tails and use a sharp knife to split the lobster tail in half lengthwise.
- Brush each tail with the butter sauce, then use the same brush to spread the Jerk sauce over the tails, especially on the exposed meat.
- We will pre-cook the lobster before putting it on the grill. Preheat your oven to 250 °F and get your grill started. Put the lobster tails in the oven, meat side down, for 8 minutes
- Turn and then cook the shell side for 2 minutes. Combine the set-aside 2 tablespoons of Jerk Seasoning and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. This sauce will be used to keep the lobster tails moist while on the grill. Put the lobster tails on a grill for 3 minutes, with the shell side down for most of the time.
- Use a brush to put more sauce on the tails to keep them moist. Serve with Jamaican Festival, Bammy, or Jamaican hardo bread.
- Serves 4
Grilled Jerk Shrimp Recipe
A special recipe that brings out the best in shrimp.
- 1 lb. Jumbo shrimp (peeled & deveined)
- 2 tbsp Jerk Seasoning
- 2 tbsp Olive oil for Brushing
- 1 Ripe Plantain
- Marinate shrimp in a mixture of Jerk seasoning in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Peel Ripe Plantains and cut them into thick slices, lengthwise.
- Thread the shrimp and plantains on skewers. Brush with Olive Oil and grill for 3 minutes on each side.
- Serves 4
Snapper marinated in spicy jerk sauce, then wrapped in foil and grilled over allspice (pimento) branches or other aromatic wood mixed with charcoal. This is the way to get that smoky Jamaican flavor in a fish dish that’s easy to make – and eat!
Note: Pimento (allspice) branches mixed with charcoal is the traditional heat source used to cook jerk in Jamaica. If you can’t find pimento, use another aromatic wood in the grill to enhance the flavor.
- Jerk Sauce – Buy Now or Make your own
- 3 Medium Snappers
- Pimento (allspice) branches or aromatic wood
- Rub the fish with the jerk sauce.
- Marinate for about 2 hours in the refrigerator.
- Wrap the fish in foil and grill at the lowest possible setting over a low fire until done.
- Chop meat into pieces and serve in the traditional way with hard-dough bread
Jamaican Jerk Pork Recipe
Pork shoulder marinated in Jerk Sauce and cooked to perfection. Jerk Pork is best when grilled over branches of pimento (allspice) wood, but tasty even when cooked over charcoal.
- Jerk Sauce – Buy Now or Make your own
- 5 lbs. Pork Shoulder, cut into pieces
- Pimento (allspice) branches or other aromatic wood
- Rub the meat with the sauce. If using a pork shoulder, make shallow cuts and rub in.
- Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
- Grill at the lowest possible setting over a low fire until done. Pimento (allspice) branches mixed with charcoal as used in Jamaica is best, but any aromatic wood can be substituted to enhance the flavor. Chop meat into pieces and serve with hard-dough bread.
Photo – Deposit Photos