Jamaican beef patties are as unique and important in Jamaican cuisine as jerk spicing is. All Caribbean islands have a version of meat pies, but none of them are similar to the way Jamaicans make theirs. Patties are usually not made at home but are rather a popular and cheap street food in Jamaica. Our patties are made from a layered and flaky crust filled with a moist and spicy ground meat center. Lately folks have been making variations of these by adding cheese, bacon, chicken, lobster, callaloo, curry goat and even fresh veggies like lettuce and tomato to make these little wonders like sandwiches. The most famous places to get a patty in Jamaica are Tastees Patties, Mother’s Patties, Devon House and Juicy Beef Patties. The next time you are visiting Jamaica, don’t leave the island without trying one of our authentic patties from one (or all) of those locations.
To make Jamaican beef patties at home took some practice. PLEASE read all of the notes below.
Patties are typically cheap to make or buy. There are some reinforcements in the Jamaican Beef Patties recipe that will help a cheaper cut of beef to do the job. You also don’t need to choose ground beef with too much fat. You can stand to go leaner for this recipe and get a less oily filling. The recipe calls for a step that will keep the meat moist so you won’t miss the fat from say an 80/20 blend. Patty filling also does not need a ton of meat. This recipe calls for 1 pound of ground beef and yields 8 large patties.
The best part of eating a patty for me as a kid was finding scallion in it. I knew finding scallions meant someone took the time to carefully season the filling. Patties are best if the filling is really flavorful. The best fillings are oniony in profile and have a hint of spice and big flavor from scotch bonnets. Using a real scotch bonnet pepper is going to make a big difference because it isn’t just heat like its cousin habanero. If you cannot find scotch bonnet peppers, I suggest using dried scotch bonnet powder or a true scotch bonnet sauce like the one Spur Tree Spices makes. The brand carries the most true to life yellow scotch bonnet sauce with lots of flavor. My filling is also seasoned with fresh thyme leaves (which I prefer to dried thyme), fresh garlic, all purpose seasoning, paprika, onion and garlic powder and a small amount of food browning. All of the spices are rough-chopped together in a blender (not completely smooth) and used to flavor the meat.
Bread and water paste:
If you make homemade Jamaican Beef patties without a bread and water paste, the meat will be dry and crumbly after the patties are baked. It may even fall out once you open the patty. To give patties the moist and held together meat filling we are accustomed to, you will need to make a paste of blended bread and water. You can use Italian bread, hard dough bread or any dense bread for this step. Simply soak the bread in a bit of water for about 1-2 minutes and then blend into a paste. The paste shouldn’t be too runny. If it is, adjust it by adding a few more pieces of bread. The paste should be added to the meat filling and gently cooked for about 3 minutes. Overcooking the meat with the paste could also lead to a drier filling. You will need to time and watch it so it is the correct consistency. You will know it’s right when the filling looks just like it would in an actual patty.
Have you ever put hot filling onto a cold dough? If you’ve never done it, now isn’t the time to try. The patty filling should cool completely before adding it to the crust. Make the filling first before making the crust so it will have more than enough time to cool down. You can cover it and place it in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
You will need 4 cups of flour plus extra for rolling out the dough and flouring the pan. You can use any brand of all-purpose flour for these patties. I have never used counter flour to make this so I am not sure about the consistency you will get with regular counter flour.
Hydrating dough can be very tricky since every brand of flour will need varying amounts of liquid to properly hydrate. I play a safe game of using less liquid to bring the dough together and adding more as needed to assist me in the process. Everything in the patty crust needs to be very cold so you will need to use 1 cup ice water to bring this dough together and try to make this in the coolest part of your kitchen.
It’s common to hear people say you can’t eat a patty and not make a mess of your clothes. Patty crust is incredibly flaky. That’s made possible by the kind of fat that is in the crust. Patties are not made with butter or shortening. They are made with beef suet which is beef fat found around the organs of the cow. That may freak you out but it’s used widely in the United Kingdom to make dumplings, puddings and meat pies and it is likely where colonial Jamaican cooking adapted it from. Meat pies are also traditional in parts of Western Africa, but this method of using suet instead of other fats was more than likely a British import.
Beef suet can be easily found at a local butcher shop. They may not always have it, but you can order it and they will bring it in for you. It is very cheap going for $1 a pound. The suet should be cut into pea sized pieces and frozen. You will only need a cup and a half of cut up suet for this recipe. As you roll the dough you will see the suet pieces flatten. This is what will create the flakes in the layers of the crust.
Butter or not?
It isn’t at all necessary to add butter to your crust but it could add a bit of flavor to the crust. The max amount that you can press into the flour before adding the suet is 4 tablespoons cold/frozen butter.
Patties were not always the yellowish/orange color we are used to today. The earliest patties simply had a colorless dough. Over the years, people have found ways to add flavor to the crust via coloring powders and turmeric. I found that turmeric wasn’t enough to get the signature color so I used it but also added a yellow coloring powder made by Badilla that I think was more than coloring and had the smallest hint of cumin. Badilla also uses annatto in their powder which is a seed used to naturally color food in the Caribbean and Latin America.
A tiny bit of vinegar in the dough stops the gluten from rapidly developing in the crust, yielding a less tough and more tender crust. It also adds a nice flavor to the crust. If you are totally against vinegar, you can add 1 tablespoon lemon juice to get the same effect from the acidity of the lemon juice.
Once you roll a piece of the crust once, you will need to fold it several times to get the signature layers that are typical in patties. Once you fold, you will roll the dough flat again before filling with the meat mixture. Do NOT skip folding the dough.
Egg or Milk Wash:
You will need an egg wash for sealing the patties. This works better than just using a fork to seal them. Some recipes call for an egg and water wash or a milk and water wash for the tops of the patties. I did not egg wash the tops of the patties. Instead, I dusted them with a bit of flour. After testing this recipe a few times, I realized that as the suet is baked, if there isn’t enough flour around it, it will distort the surface of the dough. Instead of wetting the dough with a wash, I decided that flour would absorb the suet as it renders and would do less damage to the surface of the patties.
Flouring the pan and patties:
As beef suet cooks, it will render some fat. Whatever you do, do not add any fat to your baking pan. Flour your pan so the suet will have a place to go. The flour will not affect the patties or the bake but not adding it could mean your patties will sit in grease and while it won’t hurt, it won’t be as pleasant to handle or to eat.
Cook your patties at 375 degrees fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes.
Wrap your Jamaican Beef Patties in parchment paper and a store in a ziplock back in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Thaw and toast before eating. Add cheese or any toppings you love in the center of your patties while toasting.
- Large skillet
- 2 flat baking sheets
- Cookie scoop or large spoon
- Large mixing bowl
- Small mixing bowl
- Large cutting board or clean surface for rolling dough
- Rolling Pin
- Dinner fork
Cut beef suet into pea sized pieces and keep in the freezer overnight. Remove from the freezer at step #9.
- 1lb ground beef
- 4 scallions, trimmed and halved
- ½ a medium yellow onion
- 2 tbsps fresh thyme leaves, about 15 sprigs
- 1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (or 1 tbsp scotch bonnet hot sauce)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp all-purpose seasoning
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp food browning
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tsps cooking oil
- 4 slices hard dough bread (blend with ¼-½ cup water)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsps salt
- 1/8th tsp baking powder
- 2 tsps turmeric powder
- 2 tbsps white sugar
- 1 egg
- 3 tsps Badilla yellow coloring powder
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 cup ice water
- 1 ½ cups frozen beef suet
- Egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsps water
- To a blender cup, add scallions, onions, thyme, garlic, scotch bonnet (or scotch bonnet sauce), all purpose seasoning, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, sugar, food browning and ¼ cup water. Blend to rough chop and combine. It is not necessary to make this mixture completely smooth.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of cooking oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Once the oil begins to glisten, add the seasoning blend to the pan and cook for about 1 minute, constantly stirring to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
- Add ground beef to the skillet and break it apart with a wooden or heavy spoon. Gently toss and fold ground beef into seasonings until the meat and seasonings are fully incorporated. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the meat to cook through until it is no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes.
- As the meat cooks gently on low heat, place bread and water into a blender or food processor bowl. Allow the bread to sit in the water for about a minute and then blend into a paste. The paste should not be runny. If it is, add a bit more bread until the paste is thickened.
- Spoon bread and water paste into the meat and cook gently on medium-low heat for about 2-3 minutes. The consistency of the filling should look similar to what it would look like in a patty. This consistency will change once the filling cools but once the patty bakes, it will reconstitute to the original look and feel of patty filling. If the meat looks dry, it is okay to add a few tablespoons of water to get the correct consistency.
- Remove ground beef mixture from the skillet and place in a bowl and set aside to cool. The mixture should be completely cooled before adding it to the crust.
- In a large mixing bowl add flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and turmeric. Whisk ingredients together to fully combine. Set flour mixture aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, add ice water, egg, yellow coloring powder and vinegar. Break the egg yolk with a fork or whisk and whisk the ingredients until the powder fully dissolves.
- Remove beef suet from the freezer and add to the flour. Use both hands to toss the suet in the flour. Make a well in the center and add all of the liquid mixture. Use a heavy spoon to bring the dough together into a shaggy dough.
- Dump the dough onto a cutting board or clean surface and use both hands to bring the dough together. If the dough feels dry, sprinkle it with a bit of cold water and continue to squeeze it together into a ball. The dough should be moist and not too sticky. Wrap in cling film and set aside for 5 minutes. The suet will remain in whole pieces during this process. They will later flatten into the dough as you roll it out.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Liberally flour the baking trays and set aside. Make the egg wash by whisking the egg and water together and set aside.
- After the dough has rested, pinch a golf ball sized piece of dough and lightly dust it with flour. Remember to also dust the rolling pin. Roll the dough as flat as you can get it with the rolling pin. Use your hands to fold the dough onto itself horizontally into a semi-cylindrical shape. Fold the dough again onto itself vertically, until it looks like a small puck. Reference the video.
- Roll the dough flat again into about a ¼ inch thick round. It is okay if the dough is not fully rounded. You will cut the edges later. You will see that the fat has completely flattened in the dough. If some of the pieces fall out, that is okay.
- Scoop the cooled filling into the center of the dough. Egg wash the rims of the dough with your fingers or a small pastry brush. Fold the dough over and press gently to push the air out and to seal. Press the edges of the patty into the desired shape with a dinner fork. Use a knife to trim away the excess dough and to shape the patty into its traditional half moon shape. Repeat these steps until all the patties are made. You can make the patties any size you want.
- Make a small incision in the dough closest to the edges of the patties so it isn't visible. The incision will help to release the air from the patties as they bake and prevent them from opening up in the oven.
- Place each patty on the floured baking trays and dust the tops lightly with flour. Bake patties for 20-25 minutes until golden and firm. Serve hot with bread or enjoy them without.