The Base of Jerk Cooking

Jamaicans are known for many things: reggae music, rum, and a particular style of cooking. For my foodie friends out there, especially those of you who like spicier foods, you all know about jerk seasoning and jerk style of cooking. Yes, it’s a form of Jamaican cooking, but what exactly is does it mean for the food to be considered “jerk?” And can there really be jerk cooking outside of Jamaica? Read along to find out.

What Exactly is “Jerk?”

“Jerk” food is so called because it involves the Jamaican jerk seasoning. The meat is traditionally pork or chicken that has been marinated in either a dry rub or a wet base of the jerk seasoning spice.  The traditional base for jerk seasoning is usually allspice and scotch bonnet peppers, but can include any combination of the two with cinnamon, cloves, garlic, nutmeg, scallions, thyme, and salt. While the chicken and pork are two of the most popular proteins to be jerked around, modern adaptations of the Jamaican dish have included beef, sausage, shrimp, shellfish, and even tofu.

Where Does “Jerk” Come From?

Jerk pork’s roots can be traced back to West Africa, so it is believed that Africa is where the jerk tradition derives from. But, as is so common with culture, the jerk seasoning we known today has changed over time to include flavors from all of the different cultures that laid claim to Jamaica at one point or another. Aside from the natural flavors that the spices provide, jerk style cooking is also known for a smoky flavor, as it is tradition made over a pit fire.

Where/How You’ll Find Jerk Cooking

It may be thanks to Jamaican’s that we have barbecue grills. Traditionally, jerk food was cooked over a fire in an oil barrel. Wanting to make things easier, the design was modified for a tall, standing position to a lengthwise position in which to put charcoal. Add some spice and you have some smokin’ flavor. Over time, the methods have changed and adapted, but jerk food is still popular in Jamaica and around the world. In America, you can even get it fried. While many popular restaurants serve variations of jerk food, another popular way to satisfy your cravings is to catch it on a food truck. And, nowadays, you can get it as sweet or spicy as you like. No matter how you cook it, one thing is for certain: there is no jerk food like that from Jamaica.


Come on over to the island and try some jerk food for yourself! There are several popular places in Kingston and Ocho Rios, or (if you’re lucky enough) you can try it courtesy of one of the locals. Head over to to book your non-stop flight to Jamaica today for some authentic Jerk style cooking!

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