What is Jerk Chicken & How Did It Become So Popular?

what is jerk chicken

When you hear “jerk chicken,” for some reason, no matter who you are or where you’re from, you automatically think of Jamaica.

We’ve been on a couple catering runs in our lifetime, and many of our customers have never had Jamaican food before, but when we ask them what do you know about Jamaican food, the first thing they say is…you guessed it…JERK CHICKEN!

So what is Jerk Chicken?

what is jerk chicken
via The Independent

To answer this question, we have to take you back, way back.

The style of cooking is native to Jamaica and is a national staple, however, it is now commonly appropriated across the world.

The flavorings can be applied to beef, pork, goat and vegetables, although jerk is typically synonymous with chicken.

The meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a hot mixture of spices called Jerk Spice and placed over an open grill, indigenously called a “jerk pan.”

Most historians believed it is a form of cooking that was developed by African slaves who escaped into the hills after the British invasion of Jamaica in 1655.

Out in the wild, they adapted to the environment around them to create the spice, applying it to meat as a form of preservation or for flavor, and then cooking that meat over a wood fire.

Some however argue that the practice started with the native Amerindians from the Arawak and Taino tribes who mingled with the Maroons.

What makes Jerk spicy?

The main ingredients of jerk spice is a type of habanero pepper called “scotch bonnet.” On the Scoville heat scale, this pepper racks up 80,000 to 400,000 Scoville units. Mind you, most Jalapeno peppers come in at 2,500 – 8,000 units.

Other items like Pimento and all spice is added to increase flavor and ensures the meat is well marinated. It is common practice in Jamaica to marinate Jerk meat at least 12-24 hours before cooking.

How did it become so famous?

As with many ethnic foods from around the world, Jamaican Jerk Chicken really started taking a place in the global food culture when Jamaicans started migrating to places like the United States, Canada and England.

With them they brought the indigenous flavors of the island and opened up restaurants and “cook shops” around their new home towns and cities to replicate the feel of home and make a living.

Also, visitors to the island who go out into the small towns and cities to experience authentic Jamaican every day life, sample Jerk offerings from street vendors and small restaurants, opening up to the cuisine in its truest form. These visitors then take their experiences home and spread the word via conversations and nowadays, via the internet.

How do we prepare our Jerk Chicken?

what is jerk chicken
via JamaFo’s Kitchen

At JamaFo, we aim to offer the best Jamaican dishes in their most authentic form, however, to accommodate varying palates, we slightly tone down certain elements such as the spice level.

Also, we add Pineapples to our jerk dishes (chicken, pork, tofu) to create an even better tropical experience. The bite of a spicy piece of jerk with the sweet calming taste of pineapple will take your taste buds on a high.

Of course, our exact recipe is a secret ;), but our flavor profile and cooking method ensures you are getting all the best elements of authentic Jamaican jerk and more.

Have you ever tried Jerk chicken before?

Author:
Dave-Anthony is the Director of Marketing for JamaFo Jamaican Food. He's Jamaican born and migrated to New York in 2011. He has since gained over 3 years of experience in the food industry as the Marketing & Locations Manager for a NYC restaurant chain and thinks LA is the best move he's ever made. His favorite Jamaican dish is Jamaican-style Fried Chicken with Coconut Rice & Peas accompanied by Island Slaw.