Industrial espionage? I don’t normally buy recipes: I count on the good will of pit masters around the world to share their knowledge with their barbecue brethren. But even after an hour-long interview, Mickey Burke, owner of the popular Mickey’s Jerk Center in Boston Beach, wasn’t talking. So when his half-brother, Mark Whyte, pulled me into a room and offered to share the recipe for a … er … financial gesture of appreciation, let’s say he had my attention. As the details came into focus, I realized what was missing from my previous jerk seasoning recipes—or more precisely, what they had in overabundance: white sugar, brown sugar, and rum. Mickey’s jerk seasoning is ornery stuff without the least gentility of sweeteners. It’s a salty, hot (just shy of unbearable) mixture of Scotch bonnet chiles and dry seasonings, with just the right aromatic touch of pimento (allspice), ginger, and thyme. What’s remarkable is the ability of this jerk seasoning to utterly transform commonplace pork without overpowering it. This recipe makes about a quart of jerk seasoning—more than you’ll need for one pork shoulder—but the excess keeps almost indefinitely.
This isn’t the first jerk recipe I’ve published, so what makes it different from all the others? Well, besides a new jerk seasoning, this version features a distinctively Jamaican and, for me at least, interesting new technique: boning the pork and making a series of cuts accordionlike that maximize the surface area of the meat exposed to the spice, smoke, and fire. By way of accompaniments, you might serve festivals (Jamaican hushpuppies) or chunks of breadfruit roasted in the embers.
Place the Scotch bonnets, bell pepper, scallions, onion, shallots, garlic, ginger, thyme, basil, ground allspice, cinnamon, and black pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and puree to a smooth paste, running the machine in bursts. Work in the salt, oil, and soy sauce. Add enough water (about ¼ cup) to obtain a thick but pourable paste. Taste for seasoning, adding more allspice and/or soy sauce, as necessary; the mixture should be very salty and very flavorful. You should have about 2¼ cups—perhaps a little more than you need, but any excess keeps well in the refrigerator. Store it in a glass jar and place a piece of plastic wrap between the top of the jar and the lid, so the pepper fumes and salt don’t corrode the lid.
Cut through one side of the pork shoulder to the bone. Cut around the bone and keep cutting to within an inch of the other side of the shoulder. Do not cut all the way through. Open the pork shoulder like a book. Cut under the bone and remove it. Pound the pork with a meat mallet or rolling pin until it is about 1½ inches thick. Holding the knife parallel to the short edge of the pork rectangle, make a series of parallel cuts ½ inch deep and 2 inches apart from one edge to the other. Turn the pork over and make parallel cuts on the other side, working so that the cuts on the second side are midway between the cuts on the first side. These “accordion” cuts are a signature of Jamaican jerk masters and help the marinade and smoke flavors penetrate the meat.
Spread half of the jerk marinade in the bottom of a nonreactive roasting pan or aluminum foil pan. Place the butterflied pork on top. Spread the remaining jerk paste over it. Let the pork marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 to 4 hours.
Mix the wood chips and allspice berries and soak them in water for 1 hour. Drain just before using.
Drain the pork, scraping off the excess jerk seasoning; it’s OK to leave a little on.
To grill: Technically Jamaicans grill jerk pork using the direct method, but the low heat and corrugated tin cover they use produces an effect similar to indirect grilling. And, indirect grilling requires less attention than direct grilling here. Take your choice.
If you are grilling using the indirect method, set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat it to medium. When ready to cook, if you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips and allspice berries to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate (see here). If you are using a charcoal grill, toss the wood chips and allspice berries on the coals. Arrange the butterflied pork, fat side up, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat and cover the grill.
If you are grilling using the direct method, set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to medium-low. When ready to cook, if you are using a charcoal grill, toss half of the wood chips and allspice berries on the coals. If you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips and allspice berries to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate (see here). Arrange the butterflied pork, fat side up, on the hot grate and cover the grill. Toss the remaining wood chips and allspice berries on the coals when you turn the pork; keep the grill covered.
Grill the pork until it is darkly browned and very tender, 40 to 60 minutes using the indirect method; about 20 minutes per side using the direct method. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it through the side of the pork. When done the internal temperature should be about 190° to 195°F.
To serve, transfer the jerk pork to a cutting board and let it rest, loosely covered with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes. Using a cleaver, whack the pork into bite-size pieces. Traditionally, jerk pork is served on waxed paper to be eaten with your fingers.