I snubbed breakfast and arrived absolutely ravenous and half an hour an hour early for the Jerk Cook Out. I wanted to get the measure of the place, formulate a plan of attack and talk to some of the cooks. As the meat hit the grill and the smoke started twisting above the trees though, I got impatient and began repeatedly texting and calling my friends until one of them turned up; some pleasantries were exchanged (“how are you?” “yes yes fine whatever so let’s go to this place first then this then this…”) and we were off.
Tasty Jerk have won the competition two years running. I asked them if they fancied their chances but the answer came that they were just in it for kicks; if you win twice in a row then you have to take a year off. We got stuck right into some of their jerk pork belly. The fat was like eating the pork scratchings of my dreams. I like a touch more cloves in the mix but the allspice was prominent enough and I wonder if they put berries in the coals to infuse the smoke. As styles go it was more dry rub than sticky glaze but there was skill in the cooking and confidence in the spice.
There are different styles of jerk; there’s the all-in-one marinade and then the dry rub and glaze. I want to experiment with the latter. Some places seemed to be serving the meat with a sweeter sauce on the side. Last year’s runners up Jerk Lan took this approach, with disappointing results. Their sign urged us to ASK FOR SPECIAL SAUCE and so of course we did, which was a shame because it ruined the meat. I was thinking hot pepper paste with a donkey kick but instead we got saccharine gloop which seemed to be a mixture of the worst sweet and sour sauce of my life, sugar syrup and water. We could only judge the meat by licking the crusted remnants of chicken skin from the corners of our mouths, which, incidentally, were good and garlicky.
Over a swift pint of Meantime Pale Ale at The Florence it was time to re-group and digest before riding back on the second wind. My friend enjoyed our third portion better, although I can’t say I thought much of it. The real surprise came in the form of a spit roasted lamb, again from Tasty Jerk. Shards of crunchy skin and fat with a proper heat elevated to an out of body experience by the accompanying chilli sauce.
The lurid artificial hue of a drink is directly proportional to its level of efficacy in quenching the fire in your mouth. Everyone should know this. A couple of Slush Puppies the colour of 1980’s neon leg warmers brought us back from the endorphin super highway. Thought you’d turned your back on the SP at ten years of age? Think again.
The problem with an event getting bigger of course, is that quality becomes diluted. Our pork and lamb were great, although I did know of them and make a beeline. A later impulsive purchase of curry goat was watery and timidly spiced but there were so many places to choose from, it was hard to know where to start over-indulging. When considering this conundrum, it seemed that my only chink of light would come in the form of my judging the competition, so that I could visit each and every stall. I would systematically work the field, savouring each nugget of pork, fish and chicken like it was my last before slipping peacefully into a jerk coma.
And then I’d wake up.
The annual Jerk Cook Out Festival takes place in Brockwell Park (formerly Horniman Museum) in August. Dates vary so keep an eye out. This year’s event ran from 12-6pm.