^
Keep New Times Free
4

Miami's Jamaica King Jerk Opens Permanent Spot in North Dade

King Jerk's Oratio "Jay" Garrell.
King Jerk's Oratio "Jay" Garrell.
Photo by Stian Roenning

Food truck owner Oratio Garrell scrimped and saved for six years to get together enough money to open a brick-and-mortar spot to serve his smoky jerk chicken and pork.

When his eatery King Jerk finally opened at 14821 W. Dixie Hwy., the centerpiece was a $5,000 hybrid grill/smoker that was hardly used before thieves snatched it out of the parking lot surrounding Garrell's new bright-red restaurant.

"They iced me," Garrell says. Crooks in balaclavas came with a ladder and could be seen on security cameras climbing up to cover the lenses in black spray paint to cover their tracks before making off with the grill.

"I hadn't even had a chance to start practicing with the smoker yet," he says.

But Garrell, who simply goes by Jay, is used to hardship. He began cooking at the age of 11 with his cousin Ayende James at a roadside jerk spot in Montego Bay's St. James neighborhood. "It was either get into trouble or find something productive to do," he says.

That first summer, he was responsible for cleaning and cutting up hundreds of birds. But before his cousin would trust him with the family jerk recipe, Garrell had to prove himself with another Jamaican classic: brown stew chicken. The ubiquitous island dish features chicken parts seared and finished in a pungent brew of hot sauce, ketchup, and scallions seasoned with garlic and thyme.

"It took me a few weeks, but I nailed it," Garrell says.

Not long after that, he persuaded his cousin to fork over the secret jerk formula. Garrell then spent years perfecting it. He toyed with ingredients and proportions while holding down odd jobs in Jamaica and then in Flushing, Queens, when he moved there at the age of 19. A brutal commute to a warehouse job and long hours proved to be good training. Because he had time to cook only on weekends, he had to learn how to quickly prepare hefty batches of jerk chicken. The four years he spent there gave him his best trick: marinating the birds in his family's jerk recipe for days at a time.

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

In 2008, he moved to Miami. The warmer weather is easier on the scar that zigzags across his skull. It's a souvenir from a New York mugging, he says. Three years later, he had saved the $1,700 needed to finance a food truck and finally begin cooking again.

When he opened in 2012, it quickly became clear Garrell's hybrid technique of standard grilling and slow barbecue was a success. The hour cook time results in meat that's juicy and with a flavor reminiscent of the smoke ring found in the best barbecue. The skin takes on a slight crisp but is still thick with the seasoning, which isn't too spicy and doubles as a kind of dipping sauce.

Don't worry, though. Garrell's jerk chicken is still available at his mobile truck near Opa-locka and at his new spot. His replacement grill and smoker should be ready in late August, when he'll begin dishing out ribs and brisket on sandwiches and by the pound.

King Jerk
14821 W. Dixie Hwy., Miami; 305-300-9682.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.