One of the first dishes any visitor to the island wants to try is jerk chicken. Almost every hotel and restaurant that serves traditional Jamaican food on the island has at least one jerk item on the menu, from chicken and pork to lobster, fish and shrimp. In supermarkets both in Jamaica and in other countries at least half an aisle is dedicated to different brands of jerk sauce. The trick then is to find which one? What is ‘authentic jerk seasoning’?
Traced back to the original native tribes who lived on the island before the colonists arrived, jerk is linked to what is more traditionally known as jerky, and heavily linked to the methodology of cooking, not just the spices used. A good jerk marinade sauce however can give the impression of meat cooked over strips of the pimento wood (considered the traditional way of cooking the meat).
There are some bottled jerk sauces with brand names that are established as specialists, while others are one product in a line of food products. While all have the main ingredients of pimento and scotchbonnet peppers, like an Italian grandmother and her marinara sauce, everyone who makes jerk food has their own ‘secret sauce’. There are even full food festivals and competitions dedicated to the style of cooking, from Boston Bay to Montego Bay and visitors and locals turn out in droves.
These festivals are a great way to get a truly authentic sauce as many of these are only on sale at that time. You can also stop off at one of the best streetfood jerk spots like Boston Bay and ask one of the vendors there for a bottle of their own sauce, better make it two if you’ll be leaving the island, these aren’t items you can get via mail order.
The supermarket gives some great options and has the benefit of being very convenient, with brands like Walkerswood specializing in the marinade and is at a comfortable price point for most people but other specialty brands can be spotted in high end supermarkets and coffee shops.
When outside of Jamaica, many brands are also available but its best to stick with tried and true brands like Grace and Eve which the diaspora swear by.
If you really want an authentic jerk sauce to have the perfect Jamaican meal at home, why not try your hand at making your own? With a few trials you may soon find yourself saying “I’ll never tell” when your dinner guests ask what’s your secret for your amazingly authentic Jamaican jerk sauce.