Jamaican jerk spice
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meats (traditionally pork, but now including chicken, fish, beef, sausage and even tofu) are dry-rubbed with a fiery spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (Jamaican Pimento) and Scotch bonnet peppers (among the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale). Other ingredients include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, which is mixed together to form a marinade which is rubbed onto pork, chicken, or fish.
The Spanish word charqui (dried meat) gave the name to both jerk and jerky. Jamaican "jerk" ties well into its Spanish/Caribbean roots, since of all the modern barbecueing processes, in its purest form it corresponds the closest to historical descriptions of the Caribs' method. The Caribs would construct a grid of green sticks some distance above a smoldering green pimento wood (that is, the wood of the allspice tree) fire in a shallow pit, place meat on the grid and cover it with pimento leaves to impart further flavour while trapping the smoke for maximum effect. Originally the jerk meat was cut into strips and dried in the sun for use at a later date. A small fire was lit under the meat so that the smoke would prevent flies from laying their eggs on the raw meat.The "Native Americans" also use this method and also call it jerk meat, as was shown in an episode of Ray Mears the survivalist's programme on the BBC. (See also jerky.)
A grill over an open fire suffices in the modern rendition. The widely available pre-made seasoning mixes give a passable jerk flavour to meat baked in a kitchen oven.
Modern day "Jerkers"
Jerking has evolved over time from pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container of choice. In about the 1960s, Jamaican entrepreneurs sought to recreate the smoked pit flavor, and relatively quickly came up with a solution. The solution was to cut oil barrels lengthwise and attach hinges, drilling several ventilation holes for the smoke. These barrels are often heated by layers of charcoal, which some say lends itself to making the burnt smokey taste.
Street-side "jerk stands" are most frequently found in Jamaica and nearby Cayman Islands. Jerked meat, usually chicken or pork, can be purchased along with Hard Dough or Jamaican fried dumpling served as a side. The starches in the breads lend themselves to counteracting the powerful pepper of the jerk. Recipes for Jamaican jerk spice vary, and it is often debated around jerk stands about which chef's secret recipe of spices and herbs makes the best Jerk seasoning.
Jerk cooking has followed the Jamaican diaspora all over the world, and authentic Jerk can now be found at restaurants anywhere a significant population of Jamaicans exists, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States.