The Evolution of Jamaican Jerk

The Evolution of Jamaican Jerk

In the early 17th century when the Spanish abandoned that part of Hispaniola known today as Haiti, the empty lands including the nearby island known as Tortuga, was now only occupied by abandoned pigs, horses, cows, even dogs which attracted bands of French adventurers and eventually marooned sailors, runaway slaves, colonial deserters and other misfits.


Finding feral animals to hunt and kill they learnt from the indigenous Taino Indians how to cook them.  They dug a shallow pit and drove a stake into the ground on each corner three feet above the ground on to which they erected a grill from branches of hardwood.  This was known as a boucan on which strips of salted meat were slow-cooked over a fire of aromatic wood like pimento, stoked with fat, bones and entrails from the slaughtered animal.  The benefit of this, particularly the smoking of the meat, preserved it for days. 


These men were known as “boucaniers” from the word boucan on which they cooked and cured their catch.  This method, with a few variations, is the foundation of Jamaican “jerk” as we know it today.