The Store-Bought Seasonings Chefs Rely on All Grilling Season

published Jun 5, 2023
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spices on ikea shelves on wall next to kitchen cabinet
Credit: Sarah Crowley

One of my favorite things about summer is the overwhelming ease of it all. There are no bulky winter coats (or hats, gloves, or scarfs) to wrestle with. Festivals and outdoor events are in full swing. School’s out, which, for my teacher friends is a welcomed — and much deserved — respite. And with minimal planning and a pinch or twelve of seasoning you can turn the season’s bounty into a surprisingly impressive feast. 

“Spice blends are a good way to pack flavor into dishes — especially when you are short on time,” says Leah Cohen, chef, restaurant owner, judge on Great American Recipe and former Top Chef contestant. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? With so many seasoning and spice blends on shelves, I wanted to know which ones the pros are stocking in their own pantries. To get the inside-the-home scoop, I asked eight chefs from all around the country to share their favorites.

These are the store-bought blends these chefs reach for on the regular now that sunny days and patio nights are on the horizon. Take a look and then consider copying this list for your next shopping trip.

Credit: McCormick/Walmart

1. McCormick Vegetable Seasoning

If I had to pick one overall, I’m gonna have to go with the McCormick veggie seasoning. It’s simple. You can add to it. You can apply it to anything: meats, poultry, vegetables, stocks … it’s all-around season. If I’m doing a marinade or dry rub for steaks I add a little sugar to sweeten it up, but not turn it too sweet. On seafood, I add just a little Cajun seasoning to give it a little spice, a little hotness, a little Cajun flavor. And vegetables, [like] spinach, corn salsa, pico de gallo, tomatoes for bruschetta, or a vegetable medley — just a little salt. I don’t think people use it enough.” —Frank Judkins, head chef at Sea Salt Lounge

Buy: McCormick Perfect Pinch Vegetable Seasoning, $4.54 for 2.75 ounces at Walmart 

Credit: McCormick/Walmart

2. Steak Seasoning

“My favorite season is a steak seasoning. There’s Montreal steak season, there’s Kansas City steak season, there’s all different kinds of steak seasonings … any kind of steak seasoning, I can turn into something magical. Sometimes I’ll grind it  (when it’s ground super fine all the volatile oils come out). Sometimes I’ll get more of one of the ingredients that are in there, like caraway seed, or cumin, or coriander, and grind up more, but the base is the steak seasoning.” —Matthew Raiford, chefarmer, cookbook author and owner of Strong Roots 9

“It adds a different flavor dimension that adds some richness and vitality to a vegetable that you wouldn’t necessarily get from just salt and pepper. Okra. Tomatoes. Braised celery. I don’t think there’s anything that it doesn’t work with. We do roasted radishes that we have seasoned with steak [seasoning] that just are phenomenal.” —Tia Raithford, chef and owner of Strong Roots 9

Buy: McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning, $2.49 for 3.4 ounces at Target

Credit: Burlap & Barrel

3. Za’atar

“I always keep a za’atar blend on hand. I prefer a mix that is herb-heavy rather than sumac- or sesame-forward. There are so many different brands and blends, that I have a hard time passing up a new one! Traditionally a blend of dried hyssop (a relative of oregano and thyme), toasted sesame seeds, and lemony sumac, it hits all the right notes — nutty, savory, and tart. I like to sprinkle it on eggs while they’re frying, or make a paste with olive oil and slather it all over a roasted chicken or oven-fresh pita.” —Victoria Shore, executive chef at Thompson Savannah

Fun fact: Both Matthew and Tia Raiford name-dropped za’atar, which they often batch-make at home. They too use it in za’atar roasted chicken, as well as okra, fermented foods, and a “super herbaceous” za’atar-infused olive oil.

Buy: Burlap & Barrel Za’atar, $9.99 for 1.6 ounces at Burlap & Barrel

Credit: Kingsford/Walmart

4. Kingsford Cajun Style All-Purpose Seasoning

“This seasoning is by far the most versatile flavor driver I use for grilling! It’s a smoky, spicy blend with a base of garlic powder and onion powder that adds a savory depth and a kick to any meal. I like to add it to burger patties, use it as a marinade for fish and vegetables, or mix it with melted butter and drizzle it over grilled corn. It also makes an appearance outside of grilling season in my scrambled eggs and can turn a plain pot of rice into dirty rice in seconds.”  —Kat Marris, chef and recipe developer at Green Chef

Buy: Kingsford Cajun Style All-Purpose Seasoning, $2.98 for 5 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Cajun Two Step

5. Cajun Two Step Seasoning

“Anytime I’m in need of a great seasoning blend I use Cajun Two Step. This New Orleans-style spice mix is the perfect harmony of smoked paprika, cayenne, chilis, garlic, onion powder, salt, and pepper. There is no better way to elevate your steaks, fish, chicken, or grilled veggies than a bit of Cajun Two Step. I’ve used this blend to amp up a simple steak/cut of fish or as my spice rub for any briskets, ribs, or beef ribs done on the smoker.” —Taylor Weldon, culinary director at P.J. Clarke’s

Buy: Cajun Two Step Seasoning, $4.76 for 8 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Spicewalla

6. Berbere

“I absolutely love berbere spice blend. I first discovered it on a trip to Morocco. The Berber people of the south Moroccan desert use it to make a delicious meat-stuffed bread colloquially known as Berber Pizza. The Berber spice has a wonderfully warm flavor profile due to the presence of cinnamon, ginger, and clove. It also has a spice called fenugreek that has a unique nutty flavor with hints of maple syrup. And it has a wide variety of uses: meat, lentil-based stews, sautéed vegetables, to name a few.” —Matthew Sivulich, head baker at Ole & Steen

Buy: Berbere, $7.30 for 3.4 ounces at Spicewalla 

Credit: Target

7. Everything Bagel Seasoning

One of my top choices of blended seasonings available in most supermarkets is Everything bagel seasoning, which is composed of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried garlic, salt, and dried onion. I love to use this blend on seafood and for dry rubs on all my meats before grilling. I reside on the East Coast, so grilled striped bass is a favorite of mine. I poached the bass in vegetable stock with fava beans, snap peas, and asparagus pearls before straining all and then pan-searing the vegetables with lemon/white wine/butter. I finish the bass on the grill — skin-down — and I top with a thin cream cheese and gochujang smear and everything bagel seasoning.” —Brian Pancir, corporate culinary director at Thompson Hospitality Group

Buy: Good & Gather Everything Seasoning, $2.19 for 2.5 ounces at Target

Credit: Trader Joe's

8. Trader Joe’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Coffee & Garlic

“I love going to Trader Joe’s and finding all of their fun seasonings. During different times of the year they offer very unique blends like the BBQ rub seasoning. I love to use it on a variety of things, but especially for fresh-cut fried potatoes and in steak marinades. It is a great blend to use in steak marinades for meat that will go on the grill in the summer. I also always make sure I have the Mushroom Multipurpose Umami Seasoning on hand because it is great as a pasta seasoning, steak dry rub, and everything in between.” —Stephen Parker, executive chef at Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Coffee & Garlic

Credit: McCormick/Amazon

9. McCormick Umami Seasoning with Mushrooms and Onion

I love using the mushroom powder on ribs and steak. McCormick’s seasoning adds an intense umami flavor while also adding a hint of onion and garlic. (I always try to add ingredients that are packed with umami into whatever dish I’m cooking.) The spice mix also has some salt in there as well, so I don’t need to add as much as I normally would. It’s a perfect rub for these proteins — especially when grilling — and a great way to add tons of flavor in a dry form. —Leah Cohen, chef, restaurant owner, judge on Great American Recipe and former Top Chef contestant.

Buy: McCormick Umami Seasoning with Mushrooms and Onion, $4.33 for 4.59 ounces at Amazon

Did your favorite seasoning blend make the list? Tell us about it in the comments.