It was originally developed by African slaves who fled into the wilds of Jamaica when the British invaded the island in 1655. Adapting to their new surroundings, the slaves made use of the natural food sources available to them, creating the spicy sauce and slowly cooking the meat over a smoking wood fire. Nowadays, the smoky taste of the meat is achieved using various alternative cooking methods, including the use of modern wood burning ovens.
The meat is normally, but not limited to, chicken or pork, and the main ingredients of the spicy jerk marinade sauce are pimento and chili peppers. Jerk cooking is popular in Caribbean/West Indian communities throughout North America and Western Europe.
Jerk is also derived from the action of jerking, which referred to poking meat with holes so that flavor could more easily be absorbed.
The term jerk spice (also commonly known as Jamaican jerk spice) refers to a spice rub. The word jerk refers to the spice rub, wet marinade, and to the particular cooking technique. Jerk cooking has developed a following in the United States, Canadian and Western European cosmopolitan urban centers with Caribbean/West Indian communities.
Jamaican jerk sauce developed as an adaptation by escaped enslaved Coromantee Africans in Jamaica. When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655 the Spanish colonists fled, leaving behind a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, they escaped into Jamaica's mountainous regions where they mixed in with the local Taínos.
Jamaican jerk sauce primarily developed from formerly enslaved Africans, seasoning and slow cooking wild hogs over allspice wood, which was native to Jamaica at the time and is the most important ingredient in the taste; over the centuries it has been modified as various cultures added their influence.
From the start, the Coromantee slaves found themselves in new surroundings on the island of Jamaica and were forced to use what was available to them. As a result, they adapted to their surroundings and used herbs and spices available to them on the island such as Scotch bonnet pepper, which is largely responsible for the heat found in Caribbean jerks.
Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world, and forms of jerk can now be found at restaurants almost anywhere a significant population of Caribbean descent exists, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States. French Caribbean's poulet boucané ('smoked chicken') is quite similar to traditional Jamaican jerk chicken.
The cooking technique of jerking, as well as the results it produces, has evolved over time from using pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container of choice. Around the 1960s, Caribbean entrepreneurs seeking to recreate the smoked pit flavor in an easier, more portable method came up with a solution to cut oil barrels lengthwise and attach hinges, drilling several ventilation holes for the smoke. These barrels are fired with charcoal, which enhances the spicy, smoky taste. Alternatively, when these cooking methods are unavailable, other methods of meat smoking, including wood burning ovens, can be used to jerk meat. However, oil barrels are arguably one of the most popular cooking methods for making jerk in Jamaica. Most jerk in Jamaica is no longer cooked in the traditional method and is grilled over hardwood charcoal in a steel drum jerk pan.
Street-side jerk stands or jerk centers are frequently found in Jamaica and the nearby Cayman Islands, as well as throughout the Caribbean diaspora and beyond. Jerked meat, usually chicken or pork, can be purchased along with hard dough bread, deep fried cassava bammy (flatbread, usually with fish), Jamaican fried dumplings (known as Johnny or journey cakes), and festival, a variation of sweet flavored fried dumplings made with sugar and served as a side.
Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called "pimento" in Jamaica) and Scotch bonnet peppers. Other ingredients may include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, and salt.
- The History of Jamaican Jerk http://kitchenproject.com/history/JerkChicken/
- "Jerk, Charqui and the Wonders of Walkerswood". Jamaica Observer. 12 February 2015. Archived from the original on 3 August 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
- Cloake, Felicity (11 July 2012). "How to cook perfect jerk chicken". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 January 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "The Africans". National Library of Jamaica. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- Bray, Matt (29 June 2013). "Scotch Bonnet Pepper: The Caribbean Chili of Choice". Pepperscale.com. Archived from the original on 16 March 2016. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
- Glennie, Alex; Chappell, Laura (16 June 2010). "Jamaica: From Diverse Beginning to Diaspora in the Developed World". MigrationPolicy.org. Migration Policy Institute. Archived from the original on 20 April 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "Cuisine de la Martinique et Guadeloupe". Jamaica Observer. 29 May 2008. Archived from the original on 30 May 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "Jamaican Jerk Chicken". Sunny Tours Jamaica. 20 October 2014. Archived from the original on 20 August 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "Ready to Eat". Skies. Cayman Airways. 1 January 2016. Archived from the original on 3 January 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- "Jamaican Festival Recipe". Jamaica No Problem. Archived from the original on 7 September 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
- Cook, Ian and Harrison, Michelle. "Cross over Food: Re-Materializing Postcolonial Geographies". Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol. 28, No. 3 (September 2003), pp. 296–317. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
- Connelly, Michael Alan (December 18, 2014). "20 Must-Try Street Foods Around the World". Fodor's. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
- Media related to Jerk (cooking) at Wikimedia Commons