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Have You Had Authentic Jamaican Jerk?

Are you a fan of spicy Caribbean flavors? If so, you have probably tried Jamaican jerk. You’ve at least heard of it, right? Jamaican jerk is a style of meat smoking that is unique to Jamaica. You might call it the Jamaican version of barbecue. A lot of places these days have a jerk dish on their menu to give their menu a little spice (no pun intended). Not a lot of them are making authentic Jamaican jerk pork, though.

If you’ve ever been to a Jamaican restaurant, you may have noticed that what you get is different than in big, chain restaurants. Chances are, it’s more authentic. Here’s the thing, though. If you’ve been to a Jamaican restaurant in the U.S., or elsewhere, and you’ve had jerk in Jamaica, you may have noticed a difference. The jerk in American restaurants, even ran by Jamaicans, isn’t quite the same. It’s not typically as good. It’s not typically as authentic. There’s a reason for that and it’s not just some magical vibes floating in the air in Jamaica.

Getting Jerk In Jamaica

When traveling to Jamaica, there are many great Jamaican jerk pits to be found. Often, they are called “jerk centres”, or something along those lines. Usually, they involve a big, open barbecue pit for smoking meat. That’s what jerk is all about – smoking meat. And that also happens to be why most jerk dishes in America do not taste authentic. It is fairly rare to find a restaurant outside of Jamaica that smokes the meat they serve. There is a particular type of seasoning involved in jerk, also. Usually these restaurants will use jerk seasoning and that’s it. It’s good, but not as good as it could be. It’s definitely not as authentic.

One of my favorite lunch stops when I arrive in Jamaica is The Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay. Heading from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, it is a convenient stop along the north coast highway. It is right by the Caribbean Sea, so you can enjoy a nice breeze, some salt air and some good jerk chicken, or pork. It’s one of my recommended places if you happen to be going to Jamaica. I even wrote an article about it. You can check it out HERE.

The Ultimate Jerk Center
The Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay, Jamaica is a solid choice for authentic jerk.

What’s the Secret to Making Authentic Jamaican Jerk Pork?

You want to know a secret, though? I make jerk pork at home that tastes pretty much like what you buy at The Ultimate Jerk Center. It tastes like what you would eat all over Jamaica. That’s the secret. You can make real-deal, authentic Jamaican jerk pork right at your own house. Making authentic jerk that is better than what is served in American restaurants – even Caribbean ones – is simple. First, you just need to know how.

I’m going to break it down for you on how to make wood smoked, authentic Jamaican jerk pork at home. I will walk you through the process that I use. Most of the time, I make jerk pork. I think pork takes smoke better than chicken, in general. Also, the wood for making jerk is pricier than many other woods. It takes the same amount of smoke for a big pork shoulder as for a medium sized chicken. Getting the most bang for my buck is part of the equation.

To Make Authentic Jamaican Jerk, You Need A Smoker

My smoker of choice is the Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. These instructions will assume the use of an electric smoker, but can be adjusted to whatever smoker you use. I know there is a debate among grill and smoker aficionados about using electric, gas, or charcoal. When it comes to grilling, I agree with the purists. Charcoal is better. When it comes to smoking, though, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. A system that produces smoke and allows for controlled temperature is all you need. Admittedly, electric smokers do not crisp the skin of poultry as well as charcoal smokers. That’s another reason I usually smoke pork. That being said, there are ways to deal with that issue if you want to smoke chicken. Just finish it off in your oven broiler to crisp the skin up before serving.

Electric smokers are easy to use. Digital controls let you set the temperature where you want it. They also come with built in timers. Wood chips for electric smokers are readily available and are easy to use. The whole process with an electric smoker is simple and clean. Well, cleaner than with charcoal, at least. There are multiple brands on the market, but if you are interested in investing in a smoker, I recommend Masterbuilt. I am on my second Masterbuilt electric smoker and they have worked well for me.

The Most Important Thing You Need to Know

So, let’s get down to business. We’ll assume you have your smoker and know where to find the meat of your choice. What you need now are the ingredients to turn that uncooked meat into authentic Jamaican jerk pork. Really, there are just two things you need – the right seasoning and the right wood.

The most important thing for authentic Jamaican jerk is not the seasoning, it’s the wood. Real Jamaican jerk uses a specific type of wood. That wood is not widely available in much of the world. Actually, that’s one of the reasons authentic jerk is hard to come by outside of Jamaica.

If You Don’t Use Pimento Wood, It’s Not Real Jerk

To make real, authentic, Jamaican jerk, you need pimento wood. There is a saying that “if you aren’t smoking with pimento wood, you can’t call it jerk. I agree. I know of only one legitimate seller of Jamaican pimento wood in the United States. Pimentowood.com will sell you genuine, Jamaican pimento wood in different forms, for use in all kinds of smokers. Pimento wood has one of the most distinct flavors out there. If you use something else, it will not taste authentic. Splurge on the pimento wood. It should last you a long time. Without the pimento wood, you are just another cook making second-rate jerk dishes.

Get Your Wood at Pimentowood.com

Pimento Wood for Jerk Pork
If you don’t use pimento wood, you can’t call it jerk.

The Other Most Important Thing You Need to Know

As important as the wood is, the seasoning is a very close second. Like I said, most Jamaican restaurants outside Jamaica simply use authentic seasoning and call it done. They usually don’t smoke the meat and, even less often, will they smoke with pimento. So, good seasoning is good enough for some people. It’s not good enough to be called authentic Jamaican jerk, though. Given my appreciation for real Jamaican jerk, you might be surprised at what I tell you next.

When it comes to seasoning my jerk meat, whether it’s pork, chicken, or anything else, I use store bought seasoning. Sure, you can find plenty of recipes online for Jamaican jerk seasoning. Some of them may be good, or even great. In my opinion, though, there is one company that makes a commercial jerk seasoning that is as good as homemade. Rather than spending the time, energy and money on tracking down authentic, quality ingredients, let them do the work for you. My go-to Jamaican jerk seasoning is made by Walkerswood. It is real, authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning and it’ s all I use. I absolutely do not use any other commercial jerk seasoning, nor would I recommend any other brand. I’ve been using Walkerswood for more than 20 years and have never regretted it. If you want to make authentic Jamaican jerk pork, Walkerswood is authentic seasoning.

Walkerswood billboard in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Walkerswood is a trusted Jamaican brand and my only go-to jerk seasoning.

Walkerswood: My Go-To for Jerk Seasoning

The name Walkerswood actually comes from a small, village in rural St. Ann, Jamaica. It’s not far from one of the main tourist centers on the island, Ocho Rios. The Walkerswood brand evolved out of a local farmers co-op and much of the ingredients are still grown right there in the community.

What’s not grown in the village of Walkerswood is still grown in Jamaica and the company prides itself on using the best ingredients. I can’t argue with them. You can buy the traditional jerk seasoning rub in either mild, or hot. They also sell a jerk marinade. Personally, when I am making jerk, I use both the rub and the marinade. Whether you choose hot, or mild, is up to you and your taste buds. If you’re unsure, I’d recommend starting with the mild. Mild is a relative term. Jerk seasoning is spicy, flavorful and packs some heat. Mild versus hot is a relative term.

Walkerswood Farm and Factory
This is the front entrance to the Walkerswood Farm and Factory. Yes, I’ve been there.

Once you have your seasoning and your wood, all you need is to buy your meat and you’re ready to roll. The general rule for smoking meat is “low and slow”. That’s true for jerk, or anything else. It’s true for pork, or chicken. You want to cook it on as low a temperature as possible, for as long as possible. That will help the meat not only maximize the flavors, but helps it retain its juicy goodness. A good digital thermometer is handy for keeping track of the meat’s internal temperature. The fewer times you open the smoker, the better. So, if you can get a digital smoker with a remote reader, that’s even better.

Walkerswood authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning.
I use both the marinade and the rub for jerk pork.

Let’s Talk About the Meat

Another rule of thumb for a pork shoulder (also known as a pork butt), is 1 hour in the smoker per 1 pound of meat. I usually get a pork should that is 8 – 10 pounds. That means I’m looking at approximately 8-10 hours. The cooking temperature should be kept between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with a digital smoker, the temperature will fluctuate a little. Although you may have a long smoking time, be sure to keep tabs on your progress.

Smoking meat is one-part science, one-part art. Don’t simply wait for the timer to go off and pull the meat out. It could either be undercooked, or overcooked. What you are going for is a final internal temperature of between 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit. You may know that pork is safe to eat at an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. When cooking a pork butt, though, you are aiming higher than that. When it’s done, you want to be able to “pull” the pork. In that regard, smoking jerk is much the same as smoking American-style barbecue. At 190-195, the pork is easier to pull apart, but still tender and moist.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Authentic Jamaican Jerk Pork

Here are your step-by-step instructions for smoking, authentic, Jamaican jerk at home:

  • Trim the fat cap off of the pork butt.
  • Using your Walkerswood marinade and a meat injector, inject an ample amount of marinade into the pork butt.
  • Using the Walkerswood rub of your choice (mild or hot), apply a coat to the entire outside of the pork butt. Thicker, or thinner, will have some affect on how hot and spicy it ends up, regardless of which rub you choose.
  • Using the Walkerswood rub of your choice (mild or hot), apply a coat to the entire outside of the pork butt. Thicker, or thinner, will have some affect on how hot and spicy it ends up, regardless of which rub you choose.
  • Once you have applied the marinade and rub, place the pork butt in the refrigerator to marinate. I recommend no fewer than 4 hours. Personally, I marinate overnight, at least 8 hours.
  • If you are using an electric smoker, you will need to soak your pimento wood chips before use. For an 8-10-pound pork butt, you should plan on 3 to 5 good handfuls of wood chips. Soak the chips between 20 and 30 minutes before using.
  • Pre-heat the smoker to between 210- and 220-degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once the smoker has reached the desired temperature, place the pork butt inside the smoker.
  • For an electric smoker, fill the wood chip tube with pimento wood chips (drain excess water first) and insert into smoker.
  • Smoke the meat for approximately 1 hour per pound. Smoke only penetrates the meat during the first few hours, so make sure you are keeping a good flow of smoke going. If you see the smoke diminish during the first few hours, add another handful of wood chips.
  • Smoke the meat for approximately 1 hour per pound. Smoke only penetrates the meat during the first few hours, so make sure you are keeping a good flow of smoke going. If you see the smoke diminish during the first few hours, add another handful of wood chips.
  • Once the internal temperature has reached to between 190- and 195-degrees Fahrenheit, you are ready to remove pork from the smoker. Allow the meat to rest for 15 – 30 minutes.
  • After the meat has rested, you are ready to pull it apart. You can simply use forks and/or a knife, or some handy “bear claw” devices made specifically for the task.

Making It Your Own

And there you have it – authentic Jamaican jerk pork, smoked with pimento wood. This process has never failed me, but once you’ve tried your hand at it, you will get a feel for what works best for you. You can always adjust the seasoning to your taste the next time around.

If you prefer to smoke a chicken, or other poultry, there are a plethora of instructions online for doing so. To make jerk chicken, simply apply the lessons learned here to the general instructions for smoking chicken. As you now know, the main thing is to get your pimento wood and your authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning.

If you use my instructions for making real, authentic Jamaican jerk pork, drop me a comment. I’d love to know how it turned out.

If the tastes of Jamaica have inspired you pack your bags, check out our guide to Jamaica’s north coast.

Pro Tip: Geddy's Pimento Marinade
If you visit Jamaica, pick up a few bottles of Geddy’s Pimento Marinade at the grocery store.

Here’s A Bonus Tip For You

Pro Tip: If you are in Jamaica, pick up a few bottles of Geddy’s Pimento Marinade (pictured above, to the right). This isn’t part of my jerk pork strategy, but it will give you something different to do with pimento wood. I like to marinate a pork tenderloin in Geddy’s Pimento Marinade and smoke it with pimento wood. If there’s anything that beats authentic Jamaican jerk pork, it may be this pork tenderloin. I have never seen Geddy’s in the U.S. and have never found it available online, so this is a genuine insider tip if you visit Jamaica.

Make Authentic Jamaican Jerk Pork
Make Authentic Jamaican Jerk Pork. Pin it!

Looking for a Place To Stay In Jamaica? Check Out Our Review of Turtle Beach Towers.

This page may contain affiliate links, or other advertising, from which we may receive commissions (at no extra cost to you). For further information on our use of affiliate links, data use and related matters, see our Privacy Policy.

Updated August 2, 2019

Getting the Real Deal

I’m a fan of jerk. No, not rude people. I’m a fan of jerk: the Jamaican-style of barbecuing meat. It’s very difficult to find authentic jerk in the United States. That includes at most every Jamaican restaurant I’ve eaten at in the States. If I want good, authentic, jerk pork, chicken, or whatever else, I usually have to make it myself at home. What I prefer, though, is to go to Jamaica and get it there. In fact, my first stop after leaving the airport is usually The Ultimate Jerk Center.

As much as I enjoy firing up the smoker and cooking at home, it’s not the same as going to Jamaica and eating freshly cooked jerk. Even better is eating it while looking at the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Yeah, that sounds way more fun, right? Even in Jamaica, though, not all jerk restaurants are created equally. Honestly, I’ve never eaten anywhere that I simply didn’t like their jerk. However, some places have established a bit more of a reputation than others.

Before booking your Jamaica vacation, read our guide to the north coast, from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios.

Ultimate Jerk and More

The main raod that hugs the north coast is the A1 highway. If you are meandering along the A1, you are likely to pass one of the better known jerk restaurants, so you might as well stop by for lunch. “Jerk Centre” is a common appellation for the roadside eateries that specialize in this uniquely Jamaican style of smoking meats. This one, as the name indicates, considers itself to be the “Ultimate”. Is it really the ultimate? Eh…who’s to say? Tastes are subjective, so I don’t normally like to declare things to be definitively “the best”. I do consider the Ultimate Jerk Center in Discovery Bay to be a solid example of the style and definitely worth a visit.

At the Ultimate Jerk Center, you will get the usual options of jerk pork and jerk chicken. At least occasionally, they serve up more exotic items, such as jerk rabbit. Whichever you choose, you can’t really make a bad choice. You also have the usual sides – rice and peas, festival (a type of bread), breadfruit, etc. If someone in your party isn’t a fan of jerk, you can always get some fish and bammy (another type of bread), or go for the curried goat.

Looking for a place to stay in Jamaica? Read our review of Turtle Beach Towers in Ocho Rios.

Ultimate Jerk Center and Rest Area.
Aside from good food, The Ultimate Jerk Center is a good place to pull off the highway, stretch your legs and enjoy a little sea breeze.

Ultimate Jerk, Ultimate Location

While there are other jerk centres along the north coast, some of which may prove better in the jerk department, if you’re vacationing in the area, it’s hard to beat this place for location. Discovery Bay is right on the well worn path from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios and beyond. The Ultimate Jerk Center is on the beach side of the highway, so you can enjoy a nice, sea breeze, while dining in the open air facility.

Almost directly across the street is the Green Grotto Cave, a popular attraction that is open for tours. Right behind the restaurant is the grounds of the Ultimate Sports Club, which is essentially a cricket field. If you’re lucky, there will be a game underway, offering the opportunity to watch a game that is rarely seen by North Americans, despite being quite popular throughout much of the world. Columbus Park is nearby, as well, marking the original landing of Christopher Columbus. It is from this event that Discovery Bay takes its name.

The Ultimate Sports Club
The Ultimate Sports Club, behind the Jerk Center, is home to local cricket matches.

Making Your Own Ultimate Jerk

If you have a grill, or smoker, at home and would like to try your hand at authentic Jamaican jerk, I have written some step-by-step instructions for making your own authentic Jamaican jerk pork at home. I grew up in Jamaica and have been eating jerk pork for over 40 years. I’ve been making it myself at home for more than 20.

You can make authentic Jamaican jerk pork at home (or chicken, or anything else, for that matter). Don’t let others fool you, though. If you’re not smoking the meat, it’s not authentic jerk. Find out how to bring the taste of Jamaica home with my Jamaican jerk pork instructions.

Learn to Make Authentic Jamaican Jerk Pork