Whether cooked in the traditional steel drum or ingeniously translated to the oven, here’s where to find the city’s best jerk chicken, pork, or lamb
A report by Riaz Phillips for Eater London.
While saltfish and ackee is the national dish of Jamaica, it’s easy to think otherwise, given the popularity of jerk meat — especially jerk chicken — across Jamaica and its diaspora in the U.K. and North America. Classically cooked in outdoor pits and steel barrel drums, many feel that the oven-cooked jerk meats increasingly common to London restaurants simply aren’t the real deal. Across the city, however, a few enterprising individuals have endeavoured to innovate ways of cooking up jerk. Arguments about where to get the best jerk chicken almost mirror the ferocity of football supporters in any given part of London: proud residents will, without doubt, say that their local is the best. Here’s a handpicked selection from all corners of the capital, to help out with an unbiased choice.
1. JB’s Soul Food
London SE15 5EB, UK
Whilst relatively new compared to some other Caribbean spots in Peckham, this restaurant flies the colours of the Jamaican flag high for all too see. Owner Bill can sometimes be seen to the side of the shop, cooking up jerk chicken in a steel drum he made himself. On the weekend, his jerk pork makes a special appearance, with many lamenting that the shop doesn’t sell it every day. For Caribbean food novices, the shop’s mini meals that range from £2.50 — £3.50 are a fine starting point.
2. People’s Choice Caribbean
London E5 0LH, UK
Just off Hackney’s Chatsworth road, expect to see proprietor Lenny drifting in and out of his shop, tending to his jerk drum sitting out front throughout the early hours of the day. His slow process of jerking hefty pieces of meat has proved an instant favourite in the area.
3. Tasty Jerk
London SE25 6RQ, UK
Come a Crystal Palace home football game, hundreds of fans — both home and away — pass through Tasty Jerk for an alternative to bang average stadium grub. With the shop lined with jerk drums, it almost seems to have created a Ford-esque conveyor belt, built to whip out as much perfect jerk as humanly possible come Saturday or Sunday.
4. Pepper & Spice Restaurant London
London N1 4AU, UK
One of the few places on this list that doesn’t use a steel drum or pit replica of some sort, but still gets it spot on. Few places also manage to get the entire multitude of Caribbean offerings, but that’s why Peppers & Spice has existed for over two decades. Head chef Tex has perfected his oven technique for jerking meat, wet-seasoning choice cuts before roasting in large ovens.
Also at: 541 High Road, London N17 6SD
5. Drums & Flats Ltd
London SE15 4ST, UK
Hopping around different spaces for a few years, Drums and Flats — named after the chicken wing parts — has become a hot tip across south London. It’s now settled into a permanent space, in Peckham’s new Levels hub. The duo behind it spent years perfecting their recipes, one of which includes their fried jerk chicken, coated in homemade seasoning and beautifully decorated with scallions.
6. George’s First Jerk Catering @ Surrey Street Market
Croydon CR0 1RG, UK
Everyday is like a lottery at George’s First Jerk Catering, located on Croydon’s Surrey Street market. He doesn’t do jerk chicken everyday, but on the days he does, Croydon’s locals and visitors count themselves fortunate, with workers pouring out of offices to form a rowdy queue for his wares. There’s no kitchen backing the stall, so as Glen likes so tout, “once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
7. Mamas Jerk
London SE8 4NS, UK
Mama’s Jerk opened in 2009, celebrating the legacy of owner Adrian’s great grandmother Mama Charlotte, and her secret jerk barbecue sauce recipe. Located in several spots across London, Mama’s Jerk continues to innovate with its sweet and tangy sauce, dousing novel fish cakes, veggie bean cake wraps, and a fresh salad chicken wrap that takes the rainbow as inspiration.
Also at: Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road SW9 8PQ
8. Ossie’s Jerk Chicken
London SE17 1RL, UK
For anyone craving jerk in the wee hours of the day, when most others are tucked away in bed, Ossie’s still cranks out the goods. The £3 ‘chicken and chips’ is a favourite for worldly youngsters seeking an alternative to the scores of chicken shops lining the local high street.
9. Blessed West Indian Takeaway
London SW9 8RZ, UK
For local reggae legend King Atarney, music and food go hand in hand. Swooning reggae tunes — including some of his own — usually provide the sounds inside Blessed. Often cooking alongside his son on their wide furnace, turning chicken and taming flames with a water squirter, all of Atarney’s meals should be accompanied by his son’s all-purpose jerk seasoning sauce, also known as ‘Lightning Blessed!’ The title alone lets would-be eaters know what they are in for.
10. Smokey Jerkey
London SE14 5BA, UK
Unlike most Caribbean takeouts that attempt to sell the entire catalogue of island favourites, Smokey Jerkey is a real rarity: it has focussed on selling nothing but jerk lamb, chicken and pork for the last decade. Cooked on owner Louie’s self-designed furnace that burns on hickory wood, there’s a smoked profile not found on most jerk on the capital. Be careful of the seeming tomato ketchup on the counter: it’s actually a house scorpion pepper sauce. Not for the faint-hearted.