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Port Antonio: Jerk Chicken 101

As synonymous with Jamaica as Red Stripe beer and Usain Bolt, jerk embodies the flavours and spice of the Jamaican people. 

Boston Beach, a small coastal community on Jamaica’s north coast, is not only home to some of the best waves for surfing on the island but also the birthplace of jerk.

 
With roots that lie with Jamaica’s earliest ancestors, jerk is said to derive from the Coromantee hunters that were brought to Jamaican shores from West Africa. A group of these slaves escaped to the Blue Mountains and became known as Maroons.
 
Traditional African cooking techniques and recipes were modified as these Coromantee slaves adapted to their new surroundings, using the ingredients and seasonings that were now available to them. Pimento (allspice), scallions, nutmeg, garlic, thyme and, most important, scotch bonnet pepper (a uniquely Jamaican addition) form the base of the jerk seasoning and were combined to create a dry rub or paste.
This seasoned meat that was then cooked in pits in the ground over a slow, long-burning fire. This allowed for a level of discreetness in the cooking (so as to not give away their location to the European invaders) but also ensured the meat was tender and succulent.
In 1720, the Maroons were officially granted ownership of 500 acres of land in the Blue Mountains, and the need for discretion ended. Now, the Maroons moved away from the fire pits to cooking over an open flame, on sticks of pimento wood, but still slow cooking to deliver as much sweet smokiness as possible. And so the tradition of jerk as we know it today was born.
 
So, how does Boston come into play? It is said that the recent ancestors of the current Boston residents came down from the mountain, bringing their jerk tradition with them. By the 1940s, the first jerkmen were known to have set up their pimento wood fire pits less than a quarter mile east on the A road from Boston Beach, known at the time as Buckley Beach. In fact, Boston Jerk Center still honours that first generation of men who jerked pork for sale. They are Isaiah Smith, Drelton Williams, Authur Wilson, Rufus West, and Sydney and James Marshall. Generations have joined them since, passing on family secrets that continue to deliver some of the island’s sweetest and spiciest jerk.