While much of the unique flavor of the jerk style of cooking has to do with the type of wood used to smoke the meat, a lot of has to do with the seasoning. Jerk seasoning’s flavor is as complex as it is pungent. While it has a distinctive flavor, it can be replaced if you cannot find a prepackaged blend or are out of it. If you need a jerk seasoning substitute, consider the options below.
Your best bet: Make your own jerk seasoning
As with many spice blends, the easiest way to replace it is simply to make your own. Like most spice blends from outside of the US, traditional jerk seasoning is usually made by the cook. Making your own blend may be more necessary with jerk seasoning due to the fact that its ingredients do not show up together in many other spice blends.
While making your own might be difficult to do with blends that include exotic or hard-to-find ingredients, that is not the case with jerk seasoning as all the herbs and spices will most likely be available in your local grocery store. Jerk seasoning relies heavily on the flavor of allspice and heat from the scotch bonnet pepper, so you will want to do your best to get these two. Try to get whole allspice and grind the seeds yourself. This will ensure that you get the most pungent flavor possible from them. Get fresh scotch bonnet chilies as well, though you can use just about any hot chili to provide the heat. Next on your priority list should be thyme, garlic, and green onions. Note that a traditional jerk seasoning blend can also contain ginger and other spices.
Making your own blend allows you to adjust the ingredients to your preferred flavor profile and create exactly the amount that you need for your dish. See this tasty homemade jerk seasoning recipe from PepperScale.
A decent second choice: Ras el hanout
Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that comes from a very different part of the world than Jamaica’s jerk seasoning; however, it does have some similar flavor notes and is flexible. Ras el hanout translates to king of the shop, signifying that the blend is supposed to offer the best of a spice shop’s inventory. In other words, it can consist of almost anything that a spice merchant might have for sale. You may be able to select a blend that includes allspice and that also has a source of heat.
Use ras el hanout as a 1:1 substitute for jerk seasoning.
In a pinch: Rogan josh seasoning
Rogan josh is a curry dish made in the Kashmiri part of Northern India and has its own spice blend. The blend’s list of ingredients includes ginger and cloves. Cloves are a good substitute for the allspice in jerk seasoning and so help to make this blend a decent substitute for jerk seasoning. While a traditional rogan josh recipe will have lamb as the protein, rogan josh spices also pair well with other meats including chicken and pork.
Use rogan josh seasoning as a 1: 1 substitute for jerk seasoning.
Baharat is another spice blend from the Middle East. Like the blends above, it also includes allspice along with a variety of other flavor notes that should complement any dish that requires jerk seasoning. Note that you will want to stick to a Middle Eastern baharat blend, as opposed to a North African blend that may have a much different flavor profile.