Jerk Chicken

On my previous trip to Jamaica with my friend, Joseph, we stayed in Negril at the Villa Mora Cottages. Unwittingly, we found out later that we had what many locals and travelers alike deem the best jerk chicken on the whole island, perhaps, and it was literally just outside our front door.

We noticed a guy cooking up chicken from his grill, stationed at the entrance to the driveway of our rented accommodations right off of Norman Manley Blvd, but we paid him no mind initially; a setup like this was a common sight, ubiquitous along many of the highly-traveled roads and popular destinations in Jamaica.

Our first brush with our neighborhood chicken purveyor of the jerk variety was the normal business transaction. We asked how much, he told us, we paid. 1/4 chicken is $400 JMD, about $4.50 USD, and it comes wrapped in foil with your choice of sauces to douse on it (BBQ or hot sauce) and 2 slices of plain, white bread.

We thanked him, and started to leave. However, he had several of his buddies sitting at a table near his grill, and we got distracted into conversation. His name is Marshall Campbell, and he has built a small following. He seems to always have a buddy or two at an adjacent picnic table to keep him company as he serves customer after hungry customer.

His chicken is superb; it is well-cooked, but not overdone so as to be dry. It is moist, and the spices and sauce, he says, are his secret recipes. In any more bureaucratic environment, Mr. Marshall “Step Aside” Campbell might have immediately gotten shut down by the government or health inspectors, as his grill is nothing more than a repurposed oil drum that has been cut in half and had hinges and a crude grate inserted within.

That night, as Joseph and I were relazing and drinking on the beach, we got into a friendly banter with a local named Rohan. About an hour in, all of a sudden there was a big, hulking man that yelled out in a booming voice, “STEP ASIDE, blah, blah, blah.” (The blah part is some Jamaican Patois that we couldn’t understand.) Joseph and I thought we were being arrested for smoking on the beach, but then Rohan talked to the guy, whose name was Amin. He told us that Mr. Step Aside (that’s when we learned his name) wants more beer. We looked at each other and broke out laughing. Earlier that evening, we had passed and bought some more jerk chicken, and he saw that we had a bucket full of beer on ice that we were taking to the beach. He asked for one, took two, and we smiled and shrugged it off. But now he had sent his associates to pick up more free beer from us? Unbelievable.

So how did Mr. Campbell get his name, Step Aside? We asked Amin and Rohan, and they referred us to a famous reggae song by Beres Hammond, the Jamaican singer, called, um, “Step Aside.” It went:

Step aside now, another man wants to take over.
Cause you don’t know what you got,
So now it’s time to lose her,
Step aside now, let me show you how to treat a woman,
She needs a tender touch,
She needs loving, oh, oh, so much.

Basically, one day, a man came up to Mr. Campbell and said that he was taking Mr. Campbell’s woman away from him. Simple as that; the locals in town began calling him “Step Aside,” since he seemed to be who the song was referring to.

Anyway, if you go anywhere near Negril, make sure to try Mr. Step Aside’s popular jerk chicken. It’ll be worth the effort, and you most likely will come back for seconds.

Step Aside Chicken
Norman Manley Blvd.
(Around Roots Bamboo Bar, The Jungle Club, or Villa Mora)
Negril, Jamaica, 876-840-7122.