Pimento wood comes from the allspice tree, which is prominent throughout Jamaica but found only in limited supply elsewhere. Jamaican cooks cut the wood into chips and spread dampened pieces over the charcoal in a grill. The chips are an important ingredient in Jamaican jerk chick, providing a unique smoke flavour with no exact substitute. Because the wood supply is so limited, it is difficult to find pimento wood chips outside the Caribbean and home cooks often substitute with other chips.
Necessity of Substitution
Pimento wood is in short supply in North America. Most of the world's allspice trees grow in Jamaica, though a few other Caribbean countries have modest plots. According to researchers at the University of the West Indies, attempts to cultivate allspice trees on other continents failed due to low productivity. As a result, most home cooks in North America must contend with substitutions. Though cooks can purchase imported pimento wood once in a while for a high price, most choose to substitute with other woods for convenience and fruguality.
Affordable Fruit Wood Chips
Woods from fruit trees provide the best substitutions for pimento wood, infusing the meat with a bit of the smoky, sharp flavour of pimento wood. Apple wood chips are the most affordable, popular and readily available, though you may experiment with any fruit wood chips to see which you prefer. Pear wood chips and peach wood chips also yield good results, yielding a more subtle flavour with less pungency.
Pecan Wood Chips
Pecan wood chips are more expensive than other fruit tree wood chips since, like pimento wood, they constitute a limited, regional good. Pecan trees grow mainly in the southern region of the United States, making them about twice as expensive as other fruit wood chips. They provide a passable substitute, though, with a bit of the nutty flavour that cheaper fruit wood chips lack. You can mix wood chips from different fruit trees if you like the pecan chip flavour but want to make it last.
Strongly Flavored Wood Chips
Do not use strongly flavoured wood chips like hickory, oak or mesquite unless you love their flavour and do not care whether or not your jerk chicken retains any authentic flavour. These wood chips dramatically distort the flavours of Jamaican jerk chicken and overtake other seasonings. Avoid mixing even a few of these with milder chips. If you have only these wood chips available, do not use any. Your dish will taste better with pure charcoal smoking than with any of these added.