I personally taste-tested various lemon pepper seasoning substitutes to find the best one for every 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 lemon pepper seasoning is to mix lemon zest with freshly cracked black pepper. You can also make a lemon pepper sauce with a butter base or use a mixture of sumac and black pepper. And if you want to switch things up, try lemon thyme.
I whipped up a batch of crispy chicken wings to test out different lemon pepper seasoning substitutes (I always bake my wings because it’s much easier).
Lemon pepper seasoning is pretty much what it says on the tin! It’s a blend of bright, citrusy goodness with a lightly spicy kick from the pepper. This seasoning blend is popularly used for chicken wings, but you can also use it with other proteins or even sprinkle it over snacks.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Lemon Juice and Zest + Freshly Cracked Black Pepper||1 tbsp of lemon pepper seasoning = 1 tsp lemon zest + ½ tbsp fresh cracked black pepper.||10/10|
|Lemon Pepper Sauce||Replace seasoning with sauce||9/10|
|Homemade Lemon Pepper Seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Orange/Lime Pepper||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Sumac + Black Pepper||1 tbsp lemon pepper seasoning = ½ tbsp sumac + ½ tbsp black pepper||8/10|
|Lemon Thyme||1 tbsp lemon pepper seasoning = ½ tbsp lemon thyme||7/10|
|Lemon Curry Powder||1 tbsp lemon pepper seasoning = ½ tbsp lemon curry powder||7/10|
Lemon zest and freshly cracked black pepper
Fresh lemon zest coupled with freshly cracked black pepper is a simple and no-brainer alternative to lemon pepper seasoning. And you might already have the ingredients to hand, saving you an emergency trip to the grocery store.
The zest has a really vivid lemon flavor, so you’ll get a fresher, zingier taste (that I really enjoyed). You can also mix in some of the juice if you want to wet the mixture but don’t use too much because it can be quite tart.
Pro-tip: Use a microplane to zest your lemons and make sure to avoid the pith. If you don’t have lemons, you can use limes. And if you don’t have black pepper you can use a small amount of red pepper flakes instead to add heat.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 tbsp of lemon pepper seasoning with 2 tbsp lemon juice + 1 tsp lemon zest + ½ tbsp fresh cracked black pepper.
Lemon Pepper Sauce
Next up, we have a luscious lemon pepper sauce, with the recipe courtesy of Julie Blanner. It’s made from lemon juice and zest, mixed with butter, garlic, and black pepper. The butter mellows out the lemon flavor a bit, so it was more delicate than the lemon zest and black pepper mixture.
This sauce coated my chicken wings perfectly, although it affected their crispiness slightly. They were still delicious, though. And the best part? You can also use this sauce for pasta dishes and as an accompaniment for other proteins like fish and scallops.
How to Substitute: Replace lemon pepper seasoning with lemon pepper sauce.
Homemade Lemon Pepper Seasoning
In the mood for a DIY project? You can try your hand at making your own Lemon Pepper Seasoning. This is very similar to the first substitute on the list, but you have to dry the lemon zest so it will last in storage.
You need to peel the lemon, avoiding as much of the pith as possible, and then dry the peel in the oven on its lowest setting for around two hours. Once the peel is completely dry, you can blitz it in a blender with peppercorns. The recipe used 5 large lemons and 1/4 cup of peppercorns. You can also add other ingredients like salt, garlic powder, or onion powder.
Aim to use the spice blend within 6 months, because after that it will begin to lose its potency.
How to Substitute: Replace lemon pepper seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with the homemade version.
We’ve all heard about lemon pepper before, but did you know the spice company Badia offers intriguing variations like orange and lime pepper?
These twists on the classic lemon pepper bring the same citrus notes but with their own unique charms. The orange pepper variety was slightly sweeter and the lime pepper variety was more sour.
The great thing about these spices is that they’re ready-made and in powder form, so I could sprinkle them straight over my chicken wings.
How to Substitute: Replace lemon pepper seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with orange pepper seasoning or lime pepper seasoning.
Sumac + Black Pepper
If you like cooking Middle Eastern food, you might have a jar of sumac in your cupboard. It’s made from sumac berries and has a tart and citrusy taste very similar to lemon juice, but with added earthy notes.
Mix it with a bit of black pepper and you have a solid lemon pepper substitute.
Here’s a fun fact about this wonderful spice: it’s often used as a natural dye thanks to its vibrant red color.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 tbsp of lemon pepper seasoning with ½ tbsp sumac + ½ tbsp black pepper.
We’re getting a bit creative here, but if you’re looking for something lemony to season your chicken with you can try lemon thyme – which tastes like thyme with a distinct lemony aftertaste.
I combined chopped lemon thyme (fresh is better but dried is okay too) with olive oil and a pinch of salt, before tossing my wings in the mixture. Then I grilled the chicken wings to set the sauce.
Remember, the key to using fresh herbs like lemon thyme is to ensure they’re finely chopped so they distribute their flavor evenly. If you’re using dried lemon thyme, you won’t need to use as much because they have a more concentrated flavor.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 tbsp of lemon pepper seasoning with half the amount of lemon thyme.
Lemon Curry Powder
Last but not least, lemon curry powder is another decent alternative you can try if you don’t mind a flavor change. You still get that bright, refreshing kick of lemon, but instead of a lightly spicy twist, you get the warmth and earthy goodness of curry spices.
I could definitely tell the difference when I used this for my chicken wings, but I didn’t mind because they were still delicious.
Psst… this isn’t a common ingredient, so you might need to buy it online if you like the sound of it.
How to Substitute: Replace lemon pepper seasoning with 1/2 the amount of lemon curry powder.
Substitute To Avoid
Shichimi Togarashi was one of the suggestions I came across while I researching. But most people I know like lemon pepper seasoning for its mildness. So, swapping it with Shichimi Togarashi, which is much spicier, might not be the best idea.
That said, Shichimi togarashi is delicious if you don’t mind spicy, and it does have a citrusy note thanks to the orange peel in the ingredients list.
Best Lemon Pepper Seasoning Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 5 large lemons
- ¼ cup peppercorns
- 2 tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Using a pairing knife or vegetable peeler, remove the outer yellow part of the lemon peel. Avoid the white parts.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread the strips of lemon in one layer. Place the lemon peels inside the oven to dry out. This should take about 2 to 3 hours.
- Once completely dry, combine the lemon peels and peppercorns into a spice grinder and blitz until you have a coarse powder. Mix in the salt and transfer everything into an airtight jar. Keep your homemade blend in a cool, dark place for best results.