What Is Jerk Seasoning? How to Make the Authentic Recipe at Home

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What is jerk seasoning? It's a classic Jamaican spice blend that you can use to make chicken, pork—or your very next dish. Here's how to make the authentic recipe.

Jerk seasoning is not your average seasoning blend. Think of a spicy marinade with a depth of flavor like you’ve never tasted before—and that’s almost what jerk seasoning is like!

What Is Jerk Seasoning?

This seasoning blend is a fusion of everyday herbs and spices, like allspice, thyme and nutmeg, plus onions and Scotch bonnet peppers—even a little brown sugar. The seasoning delivers the lively flavor behind world-renowned jerk chicken. You can buy jerk seasoning in a store as a powder or marinade, but with a good recipe, it’s easy to make your own jerk seasoning at home.

To truly understand jerk seasoning, there’s one thing you should know: the term “jerk” describes both the process of cooking as well as the seasoning blend itself.

History of Jerk Seasoning in Jamaica

The well-loved spice blend has been around for more than a century. It is said that both the jerk process and seasoning were designed by the Maroons (people who had escaped slavery) who learned how to cook meat without the release of smoke and preserve meat with specific herbs and spices.

The Maroons would hunt and prepare wild boar by heavily coating the meat with the marinade to preserve it. Then, when it was time to cook, they dug holes, added firewood and placed the meat on top, then covered it all so no smoke would escape. This was done to avoid alerting the slave owners to their location.

The modern jerk cooking process is quite similar. Today, it includes smoking well-marinated meat over the greenwood of a pimento tree covered by big sheets of metal. But authentic jerk food spots in Jamaica will jerk the meat in a large “jerk pit” much like the Maroons did.

How to Make Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

To make this traditional Jamaican food, you’ll need the classic ingredients, but you can use a little creativity, too. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, avoid the notoriously hot Scotch bonnet peppers. Skipping the peppers will reduce the heat, but the other flavors will remain for you to enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 Scotch bonnet peppers
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 green onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons allspice
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon fresh gingerroot, diced

You can also add your own personal touch with ingredients from this list of spices and seasonings, or include common additions:

  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Cumin
  • Parsley

Directions

Once you’ve gathered all your ingredients, add them to a blender. Blend until completely combined. It’s as simple as that!

Barbecued Jerk ChickenChiyacat/Getty Images

Jerk Seasoning Tips

How to Store Jamaican Jerk Seasoning

Once you’ve made a batch of jerk seasoning, you can store it two ways.

  • In a sealed mason jar, freshly made jerk seasoning can last up to two weeks in the fridge.
  • For best results, use an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to three months.

How to Use Jerk Seasoning

Historically, jerk seasoning marinade has been used as a rub for chicken and pork, but you can use it on any tender meat of your choice. Restaurants in Kingston have also experimented with jerk chicken pasta. Make your own jerk chicken pasta by converting one of these creamy chicken pasta recipes. Or use it to amp up a pot of chicken soup!

Try These Recipes with Jerk Seasoning

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Candi Rookwood-Clarke
Candi Rookwood-Clarke is a lifestyle blogger and content marketer based in Kingston, Jamaica specializing in food, personal finance and beauty. Her work has appeared on Taste of Home, DaMajority and DancehallMag. Candi has a knack for developing familiar communication with her audience. When she's not working on content, she shares her Jamaican lifestyle and culture on her blog, Simply Candi Nicole.