Jamaican jerk — smoked, dried meat — is some of spiciest, most flavorful food on the planet. Any serious jerk lover will want to try more than one jerk stand, possibly even follow the jerk trail from location to location. These seven jerk pits are rated among Jamaica’s best. Most are open from 11 am to 10 or 11 pm.
Before you go: Knowing how this uniquely Jamaican flavor was created may help you appreciate it even more—here’s a link to Jamaica’s Jerk History.
The small coastal community of Boston on Jamaica’s northeast shore is credited with developing jerk. Located near a longtime Maroon stronghold in Portland Parish, it is halfway between Port Antonio and Long Bay, far from any of the major tourist areas. It says a lot about the addictive nature of jerk that on weekends tourists and Kingston natives will spend hours driving winding roads just to buy jerk at the beach on Boston Bay or from one of the numerous barbecue stalls on the surrounding roads. An added incentive for a Boston Bay outing is the surfing, some of Jamaica’s best.
Most area jerk stalls are merely makeshift and roofless, fired by pimento logs topped with a piece of corrugated roofing metal, typically manned by a single cook. As at most jerk stands around the island, meat is sold by the quarter, half, or full pound. Options include chicken, pork, goat, and fish.
Whether the jerk served at Boston Bay is the best in Jamaica naturally is debated but most Jamaicans agree it is probably the hottest. Once a year, Portland Parish holds a Jerk Festival featuring live music, sideshows and scores of jerk food stalls. It takes place in Boston Bay or Port Antonio. $
A 5-minute drive south of the commercial heart of Ocho Rios, the canopied, open-air Ocho Rios Jerk Center is much larger and fancier than most traditional jerk shacks. It even has table service and a bar in the middle. Usually very busy at lunch, especially when cruise ships are in town. Choose between mild and hot jerk pork, chicken, fish and conch. Oldies tunes sometimes play in the background. $
Like its Montego Bay location, Scotchies Too is a no frills restaurant with racks and racks of chicken and pork cooking slowly under corrugated metal panels. This kitchen is in front for all to see–and smell. Outside seating is available in several huts with handmade stools. $
Located not in downtown Montego Bay but on the road toward the Rose Hall Great House. Open for lunch and dinner, Scotchies has a huge pimento wood grill that allows the meat to cook slowly in jerk sauce so the sauce itself tastes smoky. For those who like their jerk spicy hot, use the scotch bonnet pepper hot sauce. Go slow and sample the meat before pouring on the sauce. Side dishes include festival corn bread fritters, rice and peas and sweet potatoes. The meat is served as finger food so be prepared to use plenty of napkins. The place is so popular it has branches in Ocho Rios (Scotchies Too) and Kingston. $
Across from Walter Fletcher Beach in downtown Mobay, the Pork Pit serves some of the town’s best jerk. The bright yellow building with picnic tables around it is easy to spot. The smoke smell drifting through the street ensures a busy lunch crowd. Go inside to order and receive your food in a Styrofoam container. Sausage, fish and shrimp and sweet potato are available in addition to chicken and pork. $
3 Dives Jerk Centre, sitting atop the area’s famous limestone cliffs, is the only ”Best” Negril restaurant named by Vogue magazine, an unlikely source for such high praise. The meat is marinated for 24 hours and served with a special “granny sauce,” a barbecue recipe passed down from the chef’s grandmother. Lines can be long but most feel the wait is worth it for special options like grilled lobster in season and the side dishes of callaloo, a green leafy vegetable sautéed in scallions and sprinkled with scotch bonnet peppers. Enjoy the canopied open air seating. Usually a bonfire every night. $
On the Morass side of Norman Manley Blvd., Ossie’s Jerk Center is a small traditional jerk shack with outside tables under a roofed patio. Popular with locals and tourists who stay and eat or come for carry-out. An unusual pricing system, one price for locals and another for tourists. In either case, it is inexpensive. $
Traveling around Jamaica, look for more worthy stops on the jerk trail. Jerk pits not mentioned here but highlighted elsewhere are found under Green Grotto Caves near Discovery Bay and on the Fern Gully road from Ocho Rios that leads to the village of Walkerswood, from where most of Jamaica’s jerk sauces are exported.