The Real Jamaican Jerk Pork

Jamaican Jerk Pork Tenderloin

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.

Jamaican Jerk Pork Recipe


The Real Jamaican Jerk Pork

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 2 to 4 hours for marinating the pork shoulder
  • Yield: 10 to 12 servings
  • Equipment: 1-1/2 cups oak or apple wood chips; 1/2 cup whole allspice berries


  • 1 pound Scotch bonnet chiles, stemmed and cut in half (1/2 pound seeded Scotch bonnets for the tender of tongue)
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 1 bunch scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and cut in half into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 giant thyme leaves (Spanish thyme), or 1 additional teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice, or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or more to taste
  • 1 Boston butt (bone-in pork shoulder roast; 6 to 7 pounds with ample fat)

Recipe Steps

Step 1: 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 process to a smooth paste, running the machine in bursts.

Work in the salt, oil, and soy sauce. Add enough water (about 1/4 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 2-1/4 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.

Step 2: 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 1-1/2 inches thick. Holding the knife parallel to the short edge of the pork rectangle, make a series of parallel cuts 1/2 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.

Step 3: Spread half 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.

Step 4: Mix the wood chips and allspice berries and soak them in water for 1 hour. Drain just before using.

Step 5: Drain the pork, scraping off the excess jerk seasoning; it’s OK to leave a little on.

Step 6: 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. If you are using a gas grill, when ready to cook, add the wood chips and allspice berries to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate. On a charcoal grill, toss the wood chips and allspice berries on the coal. 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. On a charcoal grill, add half the wood chips and allspice berries, and add the rest when you turn the pork. For a gas grill, use the same method as the indirect method.

Step 7: 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 degrees F.

Step 8: 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.

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