On the island, jerk meats are cooked with wood from the allspice tree, native to the Carribean, and parts of Mexico and South America.
Cooking on wood
The pork and chicken are cooked over slats of wood, covered on top with metal sheeting. Chicken takes around an hour, pork around three hours.
Everything but the head
Their pork comes in halves weighing around forty pounds each, tails and trotters included. The only part that wasn't splayed out on the wood was the head.
Cooking in oil cans
To cook the fish and some individual chicken wings and drumsticks, old oil cans are converted for use in grilling.
Cooking in oil cans
In the oil cans the heat source is hot and fast. Meat and fish are cooked directly over the coals on the grate, not indirectly on the edges of the grate.
Topside, the skin crisps up nicely while the meat inside remains tender.
This chicken may look wet now, but in under an hour the skin will be crispy. When I asked one of the grill guys what went into the marinade, he wouldn't even give me a hint. I wheedled out him: allspice, ginger, brown sugar, and scotch bonnet peppers, but there are other spices in the rub, to be certain. Black peppercorn, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, vinegar, and limes are common ingredients for the rub.
The dark chicken meat was one of my favorites. Juicy meat with skin so crispy and thin it reminded me of Peking duck.
Even the lean pork was reasonably tender and juicy, though not as much as what came next....
Succulent ribs bursting with pork juice and fat.
A bonus, non-jerk item: Fish gently cooked in foil packets along with okra, tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions.
The fish was some of the most tender I've ever tasted. The meat, when it flaked, had a silky, slippery quality to it. Even wrapped in foil, the flesh picked up some of the smoke from the wood.
What better to accompany a meat extravaganza than something heavy and fried? Festival, the deep-fried crueller-like bread that's served with a lot of main courses on the island, is made with cornmeal dough that's sweet and grainy inside. The surface is fried so that it's thick and crunchy. (Think, hushpuppy, rather than beignet.)
Sweet potatoes came in thick slabs, perfectly roasted with a very dry, starchy "crumb." What's worse than a wet tuber, after all?
And, let's not forget the spicy sauce that I doused, dipped, and sipped with everything. Again, the sauce is made with scotch bonnet peppers, many of which have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville units (Jalapeño peppers have a measly 2,500 to 8,000 units, by comparison). If you can tolerate the heat, you'll notice that the sauce actually had a lot vegetal sweetness to it as well.