ADVANCE PREPARATION: 6 to 12 hours for marinating the meat
Jamaica’s contribution to the world of barbecue is jerk pork roasted over what may be the most incredibly fragrant fuel in the world, smoldering allspice wood. What makes jerk pork “jerk” is the seasoning, a fragrant, fiery paste of Scotch bonnet chiles, allspice berries, escallions (the Caribbean version of chives), fresh thyme, and perhaps a dozen other flavorings. Tradition calls for the meat to be “jooked,” that is poked with a pointed stick, to allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat. Jooking, in fact, may be how jerk got its name.
In Jamaica jerk would be made with an entire pig; I make it with a fresh shoulder ham that I butterfly and bone before marinating and grilling. Shoulder ham is a fatty cut, with plenty of skin to protect the meat from the fire. As the fat melts, it bastes and crisps the meat, giving the jerk its flavorful crust.
Setting Up the Grill
To set up a charcoal grill for direct grilling, first light the charcoal in a chimney starter.
Using a garden hoe or other long-handled implement, rake the burning coals into an even layer.
To see if the grill is preheated to medium, use the test.
Preparing the Seasoning
Here are some of the defining flavors of jerk seasoning (clockwise from the top): Scotch bonnet chiles, cinnamon, fresh thyme, allspice berries, and nutmeg. For the freshest taste of spice, grate the latter on a nutmeg or cheese grater.
Whole Scotch bonnet chiles are too hot to handle for most people. Hold the chiles with a fork and seed with a spoon to keep the virulent juices off your fingers.
First, purée the solid ingredients for the jerk seasoning in a food processor.
Add the liquid ingredients with the processor running to make a thick paste.
Preparing the Meat
To butterfly a shoulder ham, make a cut in the side of the ham to the bone, holding the knife parallel to the cutting board.
Cut first on one side of the bone, then on the other, using the tip of a sharp knife.
Cut under the bone and then lift it out and discard it.
Cut through the thick part of the ham almost to the edge. Unfold it to obtain a broad, flat slab of meat.
Make a series of small holes (½inch deep and wide) in the meat and the skin side, with 2 inches between holes. Jamaicans call this “jooking” the pork and it allows the seasoning to penetrate the meat.
Pour the jerk seasoning over the pork, forcing it into the holes with your fingertips. I have asbestos fingers, so I’m using my bare hands. If you have sensitive skin, wear rubber gloves.
On the Grill
Grill the jerk pork until dark brown and very tender, 15 to 20 minutes per side. The internal temperature should be about 190°F.