Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica although is roots can be traced back to Africa. The modern day Jamaican jerk involves meat – usually chicken or pork – that is wet or dry rubbed with a very hot spice mixture. Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean migration to the U.S. and all over the world. Forms of jerk spice and flavors can be found anywhere there are large populations of people from the Caribbean such as New York City and the American South although it can be found pretty much anywhere. I’m starting to see jerk spiced chicken and pork popping up more and more in Southern and soul food restaurants and cookbooks.
There are literally hundreds of variations of Jamaican jerk recipes out there, but there are a few ingredients that every jerk recipe should have: a lot of allspice, scallions, scotch bonnet (habañero) chilies, thyme, and garlic. Allspice is the dried berries of the Pimenta tree which is native to the Caribbean region. Jerk in Jamaica is grilled over the pimenta wood coals which adds unbelievable flavor. The wood chips are available (here), but they’re a little spendy. I used a combo of apple and oak wood chips in the smoke box which I think worked out pretty well.
Things to note when you go to make this:
~ Do not use less allspice than is in the recipe. Yes, I know it seems like a lot and it is – it’s about one of the small-size McCormick spice bottles. If you don’t care for the flavor of allspice, this recipe might not be for you)
~ Don’t wuss out on the chilies. Chilies are not just heat, they also add flavor. If you cannot tolerate the heat, remove the seeds and papery membranes and that will eliminate most of the heat.
I used spare ribs for this recipe becauce I prefer the flavor and succulence that they bring. You can certainly use baby back ribs and I have included the cook time in the recipe. For ease of marinating and maneuverability on the grill, I cut the racks in half. Remember to remove the membrane from the backside of the ribs by taking a sharp knife to lift the corner and then pull down and off using a paper towel for better grip.
For grilling with charcoal, Use hardwood charcoal and bank the coals to one side. Every hour, check on the temperature and add another piece or two of lump hardwood. For briquettes, again bank the coals to one side and add a handful of soaked wood chips when starting to cook; every hour add 10 more briquettes and another handful of soaked wood chips.
- For the marinade:
- 20 scallions, roughly chopped
- 8 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
- 3 to 5 scotch bonnet or habañero chilies, chopped
- 1½ inch knob of ginger, grated
- ¼ cup ground allspice
- 2 Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup neutral oil
- 3 racks St. Louis style spareribs, membrane removed and racks cut in half
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Smoke box
- Some type of fruit wood or maple wood chips, soaked in water and drained (DO NOT use mesquite)
- Place all of the ingredients through the brown sugar in a food processor and pulse until you have a somewhat chunky paste. Add the remaining marinade ingredients and blitz to combine. Measure out 1 cup of the marinade and reserve for later.
- Place half racks in a shallow baking pan or ziptop bags. Pour the remaining marinade over the spareribs, make sure everything get coated, and then cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but better if overnight. About an hour before cooking, remove from fridge and let sit at room temperature to take the chill off. Season with salt and pepper. To the reserved marinade, add ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup water to use as a mop sauce.
- Set up grill for indirect cooking with medium-low heat (temperature around 300°F). Make sure you have enough gas. Place drip pan under the grates where the ribs will sit and place grates back on the grill. [make sure you have enough gas. Add a small handful of dry wood chips to the smoke box. When they begin to smoke, add some drained soaked chips on top. Every hour, add another handful of drained chips to the smoke box.
- Place the ribs bone-side down over drip pan; if short on space, shingle the ribs on top of each other. Close grill and cook 3½ to 4 hours for spare ribs (2 ½ to 3½ hours for baby back ribs); or until the meat has shrunk back from the bones and the ribs are fall apart tender. Every 30 minutes or so, liberally mop the ribs with sauce and rotate around the grill to ensure even cooking.
- About 15 minutes before ribs are done, turn the heat up to medium. Place the ribs meat-side down over the fire and cook for a couple minutes to crisp them up and render any remaining fat. Generously brush with sauce. Return the ribs meat-side up to the indirect side of the grill and brush on more sauce. Cover grill and cook an additional 10 minutes. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes. Brush with more and cut into individual bones for serving. Serve hot or at room temperature with any extra sauce on the side.
Cheers and Happy Grilling!