Chances are you are familiar with jerk chicken, Jamaica’s second most popular export. (The first? We’ll give you a hint: “Let’s get together and feeeeeeeel all right.”) What’s so special about the jerk on the island? Only everything. Visit Jamaica and you’ll hear that you shouldn’t miss this or that, but really, you shouldn’t miss these jerk shacks!
Dor’s Fish Pot, Oracabessa
The roadside shack Dor’s Fish Pot has been a part of the Oracabessa fishing community for more than 25 years. The local fishermen will point you straight to Dor’s, and most likely recommend the conch chowder. As Doris or her daughter Lisa grills snapper at the outdoor stone-fire stove, you can hang out at the bar listening to the sounds of the thumping waves below.
Signature Dish: Conch Chowder
Despite the warm temperatures, Jamaicans typically begin each meal with a small serving of soup. The conch chowder here is hearty— filled with vegetables, potatoes, corn and carrots, and served in a simple white foam cup. The chowder is meant to be sipped like a warm cup of tea: There’s no need for a spoon. For the main course ask what seafood is freshest, be it jerk red snapper or lobster.
Scotchies, Montego Bay
If you came to Jamaica in search of the best jerk chicken in town, a stop here is absolutely necessary. As you drive up, the smell of jerk lures you in. Though this spot can get slammed, especially around lunch time, it’s worth standing in line for the jerk chicken or pork. Just about every jerk shack in Jamaica has a pimento wood grill, but none are quite like this setup. The grill is huge—we’re talking it-takes-two-people-to-open-the-grill kind of huge. When the staff lifts the lid you can imagine the ooohs and ahhhs of the patiently impatient, waiting for their chance to savor their first bite.
Remember to order a red stripe, then head to the outdoor seating area where long tables are strewn with jerk chicken (duh!), pork, grilled chicken and pork sausage, plus peas, rice…practically the entire menu.
Signature dish: Anything with jerk sauce
Any cook in Jamaica will tell you that everyone makes their jerk sauce a little differently, so no two jerk sauces will taste exactly the same. At Scotchies the meat simmers slowly in jerk sauce over pimento tree wood, so the sauce itself tastes smoky. The jerk chicken is the most popular dish, but the jerk pork and rum ribs are also super tasty. Spice fiends can add scotch bonnet pepper hot sauce to their already-hot dish.
Proper manners might call for knives and forks, but not at Scotchies. Go for it with your bare hands. Trust us: No one will notice because everyone is covered in sauce. If there’s anything you’ll need here, it’s more napkins. All of the usual sides are here—rice and peas, sweet potatoes—but we particularly like the corn bread fritters called “festival.” Use the roasted breadfruit to soak up any trace of jerk sauce you might have left (unlikely).
Three Dives Jerk Centre, Negril
Three Dives Jerk Centre sits on the cliffs of Negril, shaded by lush trees. Once customers order from the chalkboard menu, they take their rum punch to one of the yellow benches and wait. It might take awhile for the food to come, but no one seems to notice. At night a reggae band serenades the crowd as they feast on the shack’s famously spicy chopped jerk chicken or savory brown chicken or curry goat stew. Locals mingle with the lucky tourists who found the place, and everyone seems to know that Three Dives isn’t a place to stop by for a quick bite; a meal here is to be enjoyed with friends, old or new.
Signature dish: Half a Jerk Chicken with Rice and Vegetables
The chicken at Three Dives is marinated in jerk sauce for twenty-four hours, and cooked over a slow fire. The succulent and tender chicken is served with a heaping side of rice and peas, and callaloo, a staple dish in Jamaica similar to leafy green spinach— only better. The callaloo is sprinkled with scotch bonnet peppers and sautéed in scallions. The jerk chicken is served with a “granny sauce”— a spicy homemade barbecue sauce. Owner Llyodie Myrie uses his grandmother’s recipe, but he refuses to say what’s in it, claiming it’s top secret. We did ask Myrie to name three ingredients he couldn’t live without. “Onions, thyme, scallions and garlic,” he says quickly, explaining that he couldn’t pick just three—and certainly wasn’t going to leave out the garlic.