What Is Old Bay Seasoning? Your Guide to Cooking with the Popular Spice Blend

From crab cakes to a clam bake, there’s one key ingredient that always brings summer flavor to a party, and that’s Old Bay seasoning. This spice blend originated in Baltimore, Maryland, more than 75 years ago and is made with a combination of celery salt, red and black pepper, and paprika. What you may not know is that that it’s as delicious on seafood, poultry, and meat as it is on shellfish. Below, we explain exactly what Old Bay seasoning is, how to use it, and how you can make it yourself.

a close up of a sign: Roland Bello

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Roland Bello

a close up of a sign: It has a serious cult following.

© Roland Bello
It has a serious cult following.

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What Is Old Bay Seasoning?

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Old Bay seasoning is especially popular in the mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the United States, but it’s used all across the country for adding spicy, citrusy flavor to seafood dishes. According to Baltimore Sun, the spice blend is named after the Old Bay Line, a local steamship line that traveled from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia in the early 20th century. Old Bay seasoning was invented by a man named Gustav Brunn, a German-Jewish immigrant who wanted to create the perfect crab seasoning for Marylanders. He offered a sample to a seafood wholesaler and business increased from there. The spice blend has become a staple for dishes such as crab cakes, lobster rolls, shrimp, and even deviled eggs.

A DIY Substitute for Old Bay Seasoning

If you’re out of Old Bay seasoning, try making a batch. Simply combine celery salt, paprika, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard powder, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground allspice, ground cloves, and ground ginger.

How to Use Old Bay Seasoning in Your Cooking

You can sprinkle Old Bay seasoning on fish, poultry, deviled eggs, or corn on the cob. Try Old Bay seasoning in our classic Instant Pot Shrimp Boil; the seasoning is added to the multi-cooker with onion, garlic, celery, bay leaves, and garlic, which creates an aromatic stock for the seafood to cook in. It also adds flavor to our Shrimp-Cocktail Burgers in the shrimp mixture and the cold salad base for our Easy Lobster Rolls. Old Bay seasoning also adds a bit of spice to Fried Chicken Sandwiches and fiery Nashville-Style Hot Chicken Sandwich.

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