Barbecue, Jamaica-Style

Modern jerk originated in the 1930s along Boston Beach, east of Port Antonio. Here the first wayside stands sprang up on the side of the road, offering fiery jerk served in a casual atmosphere. Today jerk stands are everywhere on the island, but many aficionados still return to Boston Beach for the "real thing," which is sold by the pound.

The practice of jerking meat was first recorded in 1698 by a French priest, who wrote of a jerk pit made with four forked sticks with crosspieces covered with a grill made of sticks. On the grill was placed a whole pig, stuffed with lime juice, salt, pimento, and spices that helped preserve the meat in the hot climate.

Today jerk is still cooked in a pit that contains a fire made from pimento wood. The meat, which is primarily pork but can also be chicken, goat, or fish, is marinated with jerk sauce. Cooks have their own favorite recipes, but most include allspice (pimento berries), cloves, garlic, onion, ginger, cinnamon, thyme, and peppers. Commercial jerk sauces are also available. Once the jerk is done, it's served with side dishes such as breadfruit, rice and peas, and a fried sweet bread called festival. Jerk chicken is usually served with a white, hard-dough bread, ketchup, and hot, peppery sauce.

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