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Jamaican Hot: Out of the Pot and Into the Pit

Here's your chance to experiment with a Jamaican Jerk recipe on a young goat, build a fire pit, and enjoy some new flavors.

Pit cooking has been around for thousands of years. In many ways, it was a simple task: dig a pit, heat rocks, throw the leaf-wrapped meat in, cover with dirt, and leave for several hours.

That is probably how slaves who escaped from Africa did it when they arrived in Jamaica. They hid in the mountains and hunted wild boar. Jamaican Jerk was born in the process of preserving the meat. They used spices brought from Africa for seasoning and smoked their catch over smoking pimento wood. Reports state that they would jerk the meat from one side of the pit to the other to further the process.

From that point, locals further refined jerk cooking and, today, jerk pork or chicken is one of Jamaica's best-known treats.

You will find hundreds of variations for jerk seasonings: dry and wet rubs, marinades, and pastes. So, feel free to experiment with your own mix on any type of meat you prefer.

In this article, we are going to make a jerk marinade, build a small above-ground fire pit and jerk da' goat, mon!

First, find a goat. You really want a cabrito, which is a baby goat, or kid, or whatever you want to call it, and preferably milk-fed. Older goat meat is tough and you really should never try to grill it. Soften it up in a delicious Jamaican curry and it's good to go. Go back to our Caribbean section for that recipe.

If you have a local Mercado, or Hispanic market, check there first. It will carry goat, but probably not cabrito - worth a try, anyway.

Next, check with goat farmers, an easy thing to do if you live in a smaller town in the South. They should be able to steer you in the right direction, not only for the baby goat, but for a meat processor or butcher who will kindly cut up the meat for you - not for free, mind you.

Don't give up if you can't find goat. Pork and chicken will do nicely - and you don't really have to build a fire pit to use this recipe.

Your goat is home and ready to marinate. Do not use much salt on a goat - that will dry out the meat - you want to retain as much moisture as possible. You will need enough marinade to cover the goat and leave overnight. Hope you have enough room in the fridge! If you don't have room, just cut up the goat in smaller pieces and cook it in the oven. No fun, there.

Next, the marinade. We'll start with a dry jerk rub and then add a few things.

2 Tablespoons dried thyme
2 Tablespoons paprika
3 Tablespoons allspice
2 teaspoons red pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

To this, we add 2 teaspoons ground dried chile de arbol. That's because we don't have access to dried habaneros, which as you know are really, really hot.

Now, this isn't going to be nearly enough, but you can add to it as needed. Or, for smaller cuts of meat, just halve it. Whatever.

To make this a wet rub, add to the above ingredients:
1 cup onion, minced
½ cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup cooking oil
4 Tablespoons soy sauce (reduced sodium)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons dark rum
6 fresh jalapenos, diced (this replaces the chile de arbol mentioned above)

Mix it all together and puree in a food processor. Add more rum -- especially rum -- or vinegar and just a touch of soy if necessary.

Rub the paste on your goat. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil - probably double wrapping is best - leaks are not pretty. Leave overnight.

You can wait until the next morning to build the pit, especially if you think the neighbors might complain to the homeowners association. If you have a bit of space, just leave the pit up and give the local hog breeder a call - get some ideas for your next party.

You'll need some cement blocks. They need to be three blocks high and the width should be long enough to hold a fire on each end before you enclose the entire thing. You'll need some type of metal screening, and a reflective piece of tin to fit across the top of the pit.

Build your sides first. At least five concrete blocks long and three high; that's thirty blocks. You'll still need enough blocks to close in the ends, so this may not be a temporary pit, after all -- even if you promised.

Lay the first row of the two sides; make them about three feet apart. Position the metal screen across the tops of these blocks, but about a foot inside either end. The screen is where you put the meat. The space on each end is where you build your fires. Add the next two rows.

You'll need at least 40 pounds of charcoal. Twenty pounds on each end and probably more as you cook. Once you get the charcoal lit, close in the ends with more concrete blocks. Cover the top with the tin and wait for the heat to build. Once the coals have turned whitish, remove the tin and add the goat, minus the aluminum foil. The concrete blocks will also be warm so take care.

Cover and cook for about 4-5 hours, but do not overcook. You can over-drink, but you should never overcook. Check the coals occasionally use the meat thermometer (religiously), especially in the shoulder or thickest parts. You want an internal temperature of between 160 degrees and 170 degrees. You also want the meat to pull away from the bone.

Now, you and your guests are ready to enjoy a new taste experience. No doubt, you'll be the talk of the neighborhood for awhile.

Oops, did you remember to throw some vegetables on? Have you run out of beer?

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