Homemade Old Bay Seasoning

published Jul 29, 2022
Old Bay Seasoning Recipe

This Old Bay Seasoning copycat recipe provides the bold, fragrant punch of the original blend while allowing you to use the fresh spices and herbs you already have at home.

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Credit: Kristina Vanni

The bright blue and yellow label of Old Bay Seasoning always jumps out at me amidst the sea of other packaged spice blends. For many people, summer conjures images of flaky pies filled with summer’s freshest fruits, and frozen boozy beverages like strawberry daiquiris — but when I think of summer, I always think of seafood boils.

There’s nothing more quintessentially summer than a big ol’ pot of seafood, like crab legs or shrimp, mixed with andouille sausage, corn, and plenty of those little red potatoes spread all over a table covered in newspaper. I feel confident in saying that the most important component of any seafood boil is an adequate amount of Old Bay Seasoning, which I consider to be seafood’s best friend.

According to the label, Old Bay Seasoning is a mixture of celery salt, spices (including red pepper and black pepper), and paprika. This incredibly vague description leaves a lot left to the imagination, but given how iconic it is, it’s easy to understand why they do their best to keep the exact recipe a secret. As with every recipe, I began the process for developing this Old Bay copycat by doing some research, and I discovered that our beloved seafood seasoning blend has quite the history behind it.

The History of Old Bay

Old Bay Seasoning was invented by Gustav Brunn, a German Jewish spice merchant. Prior to setting sail to Baltimore with his wife and children to escape Nazi Germany in 1938, Brunn had been arrested and taken to a concentration camp until his wife was somehow able to facilitate his release. Upon arriving in Baltimore, Brunn found work at McCormick Spice Company, but he was fired after just three days on the job because he didn’t speak English.

Brunn decided to go into business for himself across the street from Baltimore’s Wholesale Fish Market. After noticing the popularity of crabs in Maryland, he decided to develop a seasoning specifically for the local crustaceans. Eventually Brunn found a wholesaler at the fish market to sell it and the rest was history. Old Bay was family-owned until Brunn sold the company to Smith Corona Machines in 1985 (and, funnily enough, McCormick & Company, Inc. eventually acquired the brand and the secret recipe).

After learning about Gustav Brunn and how Old Bay Seasoning came to life, I was extra determined to try and nail this copycat recipe. Many, many iterations later, I arrived at what feels like an incredibly close sister of Old Bay Seasoning. This copycat is the perfect way to capture the flavor of Old Bay while also putting to good use the fresh spices you have at home.

Credit: Kristina Vanni

What’s Old Bay Seasoning Made Of?

As I mentioned, the exact recipe for Old Bay Seasoning is under lock and key, but according to McCormick, the seasoning “perfectly blends 18 quality spices and herbs.” When you smell and taste Old Bay, it’s clear that cayenne pepper, paprika, and celery salt are three of the most prevalent of the “spices and herbs” that are mentioned. I used both smoked and hot paprika in the mixture to add a bit of depth, but feel free to just use one if you don’t have both.

The tanginess of mustard powder is another component that stood out to me in the original, and the notes of warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, and cloves. I also detect a little of the earthiness of white pepper, as well as the slightly floral taste of black pepper. I tweaked (and tweaked and tweaked) the ratios of these various spices until I was happy with how it looked and tasted in comparison to the original.

My recipe doesn’t include 18 different spices and herbs, but I think it comes very close to the real thing, and to be honest, I prefer mine because fresh spices and herbs really boost the flavor.

Credit: Kristina Vanni

Cajun Seasoning Versus Old Bay Seasoning

Some people consider the two to be interchangeable, and while I do think that they have similarities, I find that Cajun seasoning usually has more heat. And because there’s no official recipe for Cajun seasoning, it tastes differently depending on who it’s made by.

Old Bay Seasoning Recipe

This Old Bay Seasoning copycat recipe provides the bold, fragrant punch of the original blend while allowing you to use the fresh spices and herbs you already have at home.

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon

    celery salt (see Recipe Notes)

  • 1 tablespoon

    hot paprika

  • 1 tablespoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    mustard powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground bay leaves (see Recipe Notes)

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground cloves

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Place 1 tablespoon celery salt, 1 tablespoon hot paprika, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, 1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaves, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Use to season meat, fish, vegetables, or beans. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 year.

Recipe Notes

Recipe Notes

Celery salt: 2 teaspoons kosher salt plus 1 teaspoon celery seeds can be substituted for the celery salt

Bay leaves: If you are unable to find ground bay leaves, you can grind whole leaves using a mortar and pestle.