Servings: 4 Prep: 1 hr Cook: 6 hrs Total: 18 hrs
No, these aren’t mean spirited ribs. They’re based on a method and spice blend from Jamaica. It’s called Jerking!
Most people have likely heard of Jerk Chicken. The central elements surrounding jerking are smoke, allspice, and Jamaican bird peppers (close relative to cayenne). While Jerk Chicken is likely the most popular iteration of these flavors, most of the Jerk history is rooted in wild boar.
I’ve always known the history of jerking and jerked foods. It’s a huge history, spanning thousands of years. What follows is a far-too-brief, wildly-distilled overview of that long, rich, and ugly history.
Our story begins with people known as the Ciboney (Guanahatabey) who inhabited Jamaica about 7,000 years ago. They had originally come from Central and South America.
Several thousand years later, the Arawaks (also from Central and South America) voyaged to Jamaica, where they largely enslaved their own cave dwelling, stone carving ancestors. This group of Caribbean Arawaks became known as Taínos. They named this land Xaymaca meaning “land of food and water”.
In 1492, Christophorus Columbus arrived in Jamaica. About 15 years later more Spanish arrived, bringing with them African slaves. The Spanish set out to enslave the generous Taínos while also infecting them with smallpox. Over the following 20 years, roughly 3,000,000 (more than 90%) of the Taino population perished. Columbus was noted to have said, “They will give all that they do possess for anything that is given to them, exchanging things even for bits of broken crockery. They were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces… They do not carry arms or know them… They should be good servants.”
It went on like this for another 150 years. When the remaining, underfunded Spanish settlers got caught up in a war between Spain and England, they abandoned the island, releasing their African slaves who sought freedom in the mountains. This group of people became known as Maroons (from the Spanish word cimarrones [mountaineers]).
The Maroons and the remaining Tainos met, hid, and melded in the mountains, while the British (and sometimes the French) arrived and continued their enslaving while establishing sugar plantations. Many slaves would escape and join the Maroons in the mountains.
Jerking meat is the result of Maroon and Taino cooking techniques, melded with the Tainos’ knowledge of local ingredients. Historically, tough cuts of hunted, wild boar would be seasoned with allspice and bird peppers. This would be wrapped in pepper elder leaves and buried in a smokeless, underground pit lined with red, hot coals. This would lend smoky flavors to the meat, all while preventing the smoke from escaping into the sky, revealing their location. It was a way to enjoy an incredible meal, all while hiding… and staying free.
Such an ugly history, but the result is undeniably delicious. Exotic, spicy, a tad on the tart side, and just short of overpowering, in the best possible way.
I used pork spare ribs. Because I love to brine my meats, feeling the added seasoning and moisture is worth the extra 12 hours of chillin’, I opted to give these ribs a very simple brine. This was followed by dry rubbing these ribs, then smoking them for several hours. Then, I wrapped them with some moist ingredients and roasted, followed by a bit of grilling.
This recipe isn’t authentic, but it does employee a lot of the same techniques, as well as flavors approximating the originals. And, at the end of the day, it’s not a terribly hard or complex recipe, but it does require a lot of waiting time.
Worth every minute!
Jerk Inspired Pork Spare RibsPrint Pin Rate
- 4 cups water
- 3 Tbsp table salt
- 2 slabs pork spare ribs about 5 lbs. per slab
- 1 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme
- 2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup olive oil lard, or coconut oil
- 1 small onion diced
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 3 limes
- 4 stalks green onions sliced
- salt to taste
- Place 2 cups (480mL) of water in a small saucepan and bring to a quick boil. Once boiling, whisk the 3 Tbsp (45ml) of salt into the water. Continue whisking until it dissolves. Remove from the heat, add 2 cups of cold or ice water to the hot salted water, then place in the refrigerator to chill.
- Wash the ribs and pat them dry.
- Peel the membrane from the boney side of the slabs. This can be tricky to start, but once a corner has been loosened, the rest typically rips right off. This membrane is a slightly shiny, thick paper-like layer covering the ribs. Slide a small butter knife (a sharp knife may cut through the membrane) into one corner of the ribs, just between the meat and membrane. Jiggle, push, and shove the knife between the meat and membrane, sliding it from side to side, until roughly 1-inch (2.5cm) of membrane has been dislodged enough to grab on to. With a towel, tightly pinch the flap. With deliberate, consistent force, peel the membrane off the inside of the slab. It "should" come off in one nice tear. If it doesn't, continue the prying and pulling process, until the entire membrane has been removed. Discard the membrane, cut the slab in half (creating to half-racks), then set the slabs aside. Repeat for the second slab.
- Place the ribs into a large sealable or vacuum pack bag and place in the refrigerator.
- Once the brine has chilled, add the brine to the bag. Remove as much air as possible, then seal the bag. Place the bag back in the refrigerator and allow it to sit for about 12 hours. Flip the bag over 2 or 3 times, to ensure even brining, during this 12-hour period.
- The next day, set up a smoker (or turn on your oven) and stabilize the temperature at a range between 225° and 250°F (107° to 121°C).
- Once the brining period is over, remove the ribs from the bag, discarding the brine. Wash the brine off the ribs, then pat them dry. Set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the thyme, allspice, cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix the ingredients together.
- Rub half of the spice mixture evenly over the 2 split racks. If you opted to skip the brining process, season the ribs with some salt, as well. Set the remaining half of the spice mixture aside.
- Place the ribs in the smoker, with the meaty side facing up. If using an oven, place the ribs on a baking tray, with the meaty side up. In both cases, allow the ribs to cook for 3 full hours.
- Place the olive oil in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Once the oil begins to ripple, add the onions and garlic, with a bit of salt. Cook until the onions start to soften, then begin to lightly darken in color, about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Juice the 3 limes, discarding the seeds and peals. Add the lime juice to the onion mixture, as well as the remaining half of the spice blend. Stir this mixture together. Before it has a chance to settle, split this mixture in half, reserving half in the refrigerator.
- Once the 3 hours are up, remove the ribs from the smoker or oven. Brush the remaining half of the spiced onion mixture on the outside of the ribs. Then, place each bundle of ribs in the center of a large piece of parchment paper, with the meaty side facing down. Even pour the remaining bit of spiced onion mixture over the ribs. Tightly wrap the parchment bundles together, then wrap in foil, so the bundles stay together. (The acid in the lime will eat through the foil, if there’s direct contact. The paper helps prevent this chemical reaction)
- Place the rib bundles back into the smoker or oven and allow to cook for a further 2 1/2 hours. At this point, check the ribs. The meat should have noticeably receded from the bones, exposing roughly 1/2-inch (1cm) of clean bone ends. Attempt to peel a bit of meat from one of the bones. If it comes off easily, remove from the oven, still wrapped in its bundle, and set somewhere warm for about 20 to 30 more minutes. If the meat is still a bit on the tough side, allow the ribs to continue to cook, testing the meat about every 30 minutes, until the meat comes from the bone, is soft, and shreds easily. Allow the meat to rest.
- This step is optional, but it’s nice to add a bit of char to the outside of the ribs. Turn the heat up on the grill.
- While waiting for the grill to heat up, take the reserved spicy onion mixture from the refrigerator and stir in the fresh green onions. Set aside.
- Just before serving, grill the ribs. The idea is to warm them through and add some smoky char to the outside. Don’t burn and don’t overcook. Just a minute or two, on either side.
- Serve the racks whole, or slice between each rib, divide, pile them up on a series of plates, and serve with a small side of spiced onion drizzle. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
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