I personally taste-tested a variety of jerk seasoning substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for jerk seasoning is making your own blend from scratch or using a ready-made jerk marinade. The next best option is to use a different pre-made spice blend like cajun seasoning, creole seasoning, ras el hanout (a Morrocan spice), or even rogan josh seasoning.
I grilled several batches of chicken breasts to put different jerk seasoning substitutes to the test.
Jerk seasoning is a Jamaican spice blend that boasts a medley of spicy, smoky, sweet, and citrusy notes. It’s traditionally used as a rub for proteins, but you can also sprinkle it in soups and stews for more flavor. It’s also great mixed into mayonnaise for a flavorful, punchy dipping sauce.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Jerk Marinade||A ‘quick’ version of the dry rub||10/10|
|Homemade Jerk Seasoning||Surprisingly easy to make||9/10|
|Cajun or Creole Seasoning||Spicy and flavorful||7/10|
|Baharat or Ras el Hanout||Less spicy alternatives||7/10|
|Berbere Seasoning||Spicy with a subtle sweetness||7/10|
|Tandoori Masala||Warm and savory||7/10|
|Rogan Josh Seasoning||Earthy flavors||7/10|
Can’t find jerk seasoning in your local grocery store? Don’t worry, you can use a bottle of jerk marinade instead. Brands like Great Value and Lawry’s sell this marinade, making it a convenient option. And most importantly, it’s made with the same spices as jerk seasoning, but with added ingredients like oil, lime juice, and soy sauce to transform it into a wet mixture.
Whether a marinade or a dry rub is better for grilled meats is a hotly debated topic, but both methods are effective. You can use marinades straight from the jar so they’re considered ‘quicker’ than dry rubs, which usually require the meat to rest for at least a few hours.
Marinades can also help tenderize tough cuts of meat like beef, but you won’t get that signature crust a dry rub gives you.
How to Substitute: Slather the marinade over your protein and leave tougher cuts of meat to soak for a few hours.
Homemade Jerk Seasoning
If you want to stick with spice rubs, making your own jerk seasoning is the way to go. You can get incredibly close to traditional jerk seasoning, and it’s really easy to make. Most of the spices you need are easy to find and you probably have some of them in your cupboard already.
- 1 tbsp onion powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, parsley
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper, paprika (smoked or regular), salt
- 1 tsp allspice, ground black pepper, dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, ginger
Mix everything together in a bowl and store in an airtight container.
Another thing I love about making jerk seasoning from scratch is the freedom to customize it. If you want more spice, add more cayenne pepper. Got no cumin and want to leave it out? No problem!
Psst… Allspice is a very important ingredient in jerk seasoning, so if you can, get whole allspice berries and ground them yourself to get the most potent flavor.
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with the homemade version.
Cajun or Creole Seasoning
Cajun and creole seasonings both come from the culinary melting pot of Louisiana. They’re not exact replicas of jerk seasoning, but they echo the spicy, complex flavor profile and work great with grilled meats.
I found the biggest thing they were missing was the warmer notes, which you could easily fix by adding a pinch of brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice to the mix.
I prefer cajun because it has more heat than creole seasoning. But if you have sensitive taste buds, creole’s herbaceous notes and mellow spice will be perfect for you.
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with cajun or creole seasoning.
Baharat and Ras el Hanout
If you’re looking for a less spicy alternative to jerk seasoning, the Middle Eastern spices baharat and ras el hanout are good options and both have a deep, rich flavor.
Ras el hanout translates to “top shelf,” which is supposed to indicate that this spice blend is made up of the best ingredients available. It can include over 30 different spices, and there are lots of different versions. Most aren’t spicy, but you will find some spicy blends.
The spices used to make baharat will also differ depending on where the blend was made, but it typically includes nutmeg, black pepper, cardamom, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, and cumin. If you want to add some heat to it, a touch of cayenne pepper or chili flakes will work.
Pro tip: Ras el hanout seasoning is can be very strong, so don’t use too much!
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with baharat or with 1/2 the amount of ras el hanout seasoning.
Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend you can use in place of jerk seasoning. It shares a lot of the same ingredients with warming spices like cinnamon and allspice, spicy additions like cayenne pepper, and even some sweetness from fenugreek.
The one thing it lacks is the earthy notes typically provided by herbs, so consider adding some dried thyme if you have it on hand.
But even without the dried thyme, I thought this was an excellent substitute that tasted amazing with my chicken. The only reason it’s not higher up is because it isn’t the easiest thing to find.
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with berbere seasoning.
Tandoori Masala, a staple in Indian cuisine, can replace jerk seasoning in a pinch.
Like jerk seasoning, it’s typically used as a spice rub or for marinating proteins. And with ingredients like ginger, cumin, garlic powder, mace, fenugreek, and nutmeg, you’ll get a familiar warm flavor. It normally uses Kashmiri chili powder for heat, which isn’t a very spicy chili. So like with the previous substitutes, you can add some extra spice if you want.
Psst… Modern-day tandoori masala blends often contain red food coloring to give the food the distinctive ‘tandoori’ color, but if you make it yourself the color will be much duller.
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with tandoori masala.
Rogan Josh Seasoning
Rogan Josh seasoning, originating from the Kashmir region of India, is a fragrant blend of spices commonly used to flavor lamb dishes, but you can use it with any protein (or vegetables). It’s also great for adding to soups and stews.
I found my Rogan Josh chicken more earthy compared to the spicy and smoky jerk seasoning, but it was just as exciting.
How to Substitute: Replace jerk seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with Rogan Josh seasoning.
Substitutes To Avoid
Some websites recommend using cumin or allspice on their own as a substitute for jerk seasoning, but this didn’t work out in my tests.
Using just one spice to season my chicken resulted in an overwhelming flavor that lacked depth. If you don’t have all the spices you need to make your own jerk, that’s okay, but try to mix at least 4 or 5 different things together to make sure you get some variation in the flavor notes.
Best Jerk Seasoning Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp allspice
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp dried parsley
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix everything until incorporated. Store in an airtight jar and keep in a cool, dark place.