Posted on October 5, 2021

Why is it Called Jerk Chicken?

Have you ever had jerk chicken? It’s not just regular chicken, but rather a unique spicy grilled meat. If not, come to Kevin’s Restaurant to rectify that! What distinguishes this chicken from regular grilled chicken is how it’s coated in spices and slow-cooked to perfection.

Traditionally, it’s slow-cooked over a fire or a grill composed of green pimento wood heated by burning coals. It’s the burning smoke that is the key to its flavor. We put a twist on our own by serving it with pineapple carrot slaw, rice, and a seasonal vegetable.

Whether or not you’ve had this style of chicken before, you might be wondering what makes jerk chicken so ‘mean’? Turns out, it’s not just some random name. There’s a rich and eventful history behind the dish that is now considered a token of Jamaican culture.

But first, what is jerk chicken? What is jerk seasoning? Let’s find out!

What is Jerk Chicken?

If you’ve ever looked at our restaurant menu and wondered what this dish is, you’re not alone. The legendary meal has intrigued restaurant-goers for years.

‘Jerk’ is a culinary term for a style of cooking in which the main ingredient – usually a protein – is coated in spices and slow-cooked over a fire or grill. It is known for its strong marinade and warm, smoky, welcoming flavors.

Jerk chicken is usually served with rice, beans, plantains, sweet potatoes, or small cornbread fritters, depending on what’s available.

The History of Jerk Chicken

The history of jerk chicken is rather interesting. To figure out where its name came from, we must know where the recipe came from. This white meat dish actually has its origins with the Taino people. They were the inhabitants of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and other nearby countries when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean Islands. They may have been the ones who developed this “jerk method” of cooking meat, but they were not the ones who thought to use it with chicken.

The Africans who came to live in the Caribbean whom the Taino taught the “jerk method” to, were the first to try the method on chicken. It is believed by some to have been first attempted in what is now modern-day Jamaica, but it was a common dish throughout the Caribbean.

Many of the Africans would integrate into indigenous tribes, combining Jamaica’s longstanding preservation methods with their West African cooking techniques, such as pit cooking meat over hot stones. They would marinade their daily catch in a unique blend of herbs to create delicious meals. That’s how jerk chicken came to be.

Where Does the Name Come From?

The name Jerk Chicken comes from both the people who developed the method and the people who colonized the Caribbean. The word “jerk” comes from the Spanish word “charqui,” as Spain had come to colonize the Caribbean Islands. It makes sense that the Taino and Africans who lived in the Caribbean would use this Spanish word that means “dried strips of meat.” 

This word also accurately describes the dish’s appearance. This means that its name comes from a similar place as modern-day jerky, which is also dried strips of meat.

What is Jerk Seasoning?

Authentic jerk chicken seasoning is not your average grocery-store blend. The historical recipe calls for bird peppers, pimento, and pepper elder – all ingredients that grew in Jamaica’s fertile landscape.

However, modern variants of the iconic seasoning may include allspice, thyme, nutmeg, onions, Scotch bonnet peppers, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, parsley, and even a little brown sugar.

Jerk chicken seasoning is renowned for its depth of flavor and slightly spicy taste that elevates the dish to new heights. The fragrant spice blend goes with any kind of protein, and is sure to transport you straight to the tropics.

Although jerk chicken is the most recognizable jerk dish, the spices utilized can be used with other meats, fish, and even vegetables. It is an extremely versatile seasoning that has won over foodies all across the globe.

How is Jerk Chicken Cooked?

You can’t have jerk chicken without a jerk chicken grill. This style of chicken is cooked over an open grill or smoker. A traditional jerk chicken grill is made from green pimento wood and burning coals. This cooking technique gives the chicken its unique smoked flavor.

Visit Kevin’s Restaurant for Chicken!

There are many reasons to love jerk chicken. Whether it be the flavor that comes from its cooking method, or the many different ways you can marinate it, it is quite a unique dish with a tangy, spicy kick.

But it’s is more than just a tasty delicacy. The history of this meal further adds a distinct dimension to the dish. Today, jerk chicken stands on its own as an iconic piece of Taino-Jamaican culture.

But to truly understand what jerk chicken is and why it is so popular, you will need to try it for yourself. Kevin’s Restaurant proudly serves our own version, so contact us or make a reservation online. We look forward to serving you and your loved ones.