Our mission almost got scrubbed before it got started. The cooking method at the Pork Pit involves grilling the chicken and pork over lit charcoals with a layer of wood on top to provide a heavy dose of smoke. It turns out that this is the most critical component of making authentic jerk - and the part that is impossible to replicate in the US. The key ingredient for jerk is pimento, or allspice as we refer to it stateside. The pimento tree - the tree from which our allspice berries come from - is indigenous to the Caribbean, but does not grow in the US. Allspice berries are loaded up in the marinade, while pimento wood is used to add a smoky layer of flavor onto the meat.
Buying pimento wood online turned out to be prohibitively expensive. We knew we could just use another fruit wood for smoking (e.g. apple or cherry), but it would not be the real deal. Just as we were ready to admit defeat, our buddy CLB came to the rescue. He had just read an article in Cook's Illustrated outlining a workaround for this exact problem.
The workaround that the always ingenious Cook's Illustrated team came up with was so obvious that I was ashamed that I hadn't thought of it - create a packet of whatever wood chips you have around and add a ton of dried whole allspice berries to them, along with some dried rosemary and thyme. The smoke from the allspice berries and herbs would closely resemble the smoke generated from the pimento wood.
Although we have all heard of jerk chicken, my buddy P kept telling me that the jerk pork was on another level due to the bark that developed on the pork from smoking. The next piece of the puzzle was figuring out what cut of pork to use. Given the presence of bark in the finished product, I knew it had to be something that could cook for a longer period of time. Most online recipes called for loin, but I figured loin was too lean and would dry out with the longer cooking time. I ended up settling on the pork shoulder (boston butt to be exact) due to its higher fat content. The pork at the Pork Pit is cooked in big chunks and then chopped with a cleaver into smaller pieces. I cut the shoulder into about 1 1/2" thick slabs and prepared the marinade.
I more or less followed the Cook's Illustrated recipe (multiplying it by 4 for 2 chickens and about 3 LBs of pork). I also erred on the spicy side by tossing in about 8 habaneros.
I let the meat sit in the marinade for a couple hours before grilling. When it came to firing up the grill, I faced the problem of limited grill space. I have a 22.5" charcoal grill and a kettle electric smoker. I decided to smoke the chicken parts in the smoker for about 2.5 hours and grill the pork over indirect heat on the charcoal grill.
(Let's have a come to Jesus moment about chicken. I *hate* cooking chicken breast, it is impossible to cook appropriately due to the lack of fat in it and it dries out the second it stays on the grill too long. The first time I smoked chicken, I was shocked at how juicy it was - breasts included. Smoking the chicken in a hot smoker provides a much larger margin for error and turns out juicy chicken breasts easily. Although jerk chicken isn't technically smoked, I figured smoking it over a relatively high heat (~250 degrees or so) for about 2.5 hours and then finishing the chicken over a hot grill to crisp up the skin would be a solid alternative. I was right - this is now my preferred method for cooking chicken.)
It wasn't an all-meat affair though. P&B dialed it up with some sides - fried plantains and rice & peas.
And of course there was plenty of ginger beer and Red Stripe to go around.
The Jamaican cookout didn't end there though. Already the savior of the entire operation by tipping us off to the Cook's Illustrated article, CLB played mixologist and developed a menu of Jamaican-inspired cocktails for the crowd. No, literally, a menu:
Stay tuned for a further breakdown of CLB's creations.