I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of old bay 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 seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
The best substitute for Old Bay seasoning is to make your own homemade version. The main spices you need are celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and paprika. Cajun or Creole seasoning are also good options, but slightly spicier. Or you can try J.O seasoning.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made some delicious crab cakes to test out my Old Bay seasoning substitutes.
Old Bay seasoning is a staple in American cuisine. It originated from Maryland and is known for its warm and savory flavor.
It’s often paried with seafood dishes, but its complex flavor can work to lift pretty much any dish!
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade Old Bay seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|J.O. seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Cajun/Creole seasoning||Use half the amount then add more to taste||9/10|
|Celery salt and paprika||Mix equal parts of celery salt and sweet paprika||8/10|
|Crab boil (powdered version)||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Seasoned salt||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Chinese 5 Spice||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, add paprika and chili flakes to adjust to taste||7/10|
|Pickling spice||Will only work for liquid dishes||7/10|
Common uses for Old Bay seasoning and the best substitutes
Here are some common ways to use Old Bay seasoning and the best substitutes for those situations:
- As a spice rub: Try using Cajun seasoning for more of a spicy kick, or a simple seasoned salt. A homemade Old Bay seasoning is obviously a great choice too!
- As a seasoning powder: Try using J.O. seasoning, seasoned salt, or a mix of celery salt and paprika. Avoid Chinese 5 spice for this application – I found it’s much nicer blended in with other flavors.
- In stews, soups, and boils: Try homemade Old Bay seasoning, crab boil, or picking spices. You’ll need to make a ‘tea bag’ for the pickling spice because it’s not ground.
Homemade Old Bay seasoning
Creating your own Old Bay seasoning is actually pretty easy and you can get remarkably close to the real deal with copycat recipes like this one.
The original recipe (which is a closely guarded secret) uses 18 different spices.
But there are only 4 core ingredients: celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and paprika.
Together these form the backbone of the flavor profile, offering a base of warm spice, saltiness, and a hint of sweetness.
Other spices you can add in include allspice, ginger, mace, mustard, nutmeg, bay leaf, and cardamom.
Psst… don’t worry if you’re missing a few spices from the recipe – you won’t be able to tell!
How to substitute: Use your homemade Old Bay seasoning mix in the same quantity as required by the recipe.
J.O. Seasoning is another spice mix hailing from Baltimore, Maryland. It’s not as popular as Old Bay, but it’s just as tasty (some people even prefer it).
It’s got similar base ingredients to Old Bay, and has the same balance between warming spices and a gentle heat. I love it on seafood, but it also works well for veggies, fried, and even eggs.
If you can’t find J.O. Seasoning locally, don’t worry! It’s available for shipping anywhere in the world, making it a convenient substitute wherever you may be.
How to substitute: Use J.O. Seasoning in an equal quantity to Old Bay seasoning in your recipe.
Cajun / creole seasoning
Cajun and creole seasoning are both really decent substitutes for Old Bay seasoning (and vice versa, you can use Old Bay instead of Cajun seasoning)
They’re similar to Old Bay in the fact they’re both spice mixes that will quickly flavor your dishes.
But they have a more robust flavor and a punchier spice (thanks to cayenne pepper) compared to Old Bay’s warming heat.
If you like food with a kick, you’ll love this switch!
One brand to try is Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning. It’s a crowd favorite, and there’s also a salt-free version (this is the one I used in my crab cakes).
Psst… wondering what the difference is between Cajun and Creole seasoning? Cajun seasoning is simpler and spicier, while Creole seasoning is more herbaceous.
How to substitute: Start by using half as much Cajun or Creole seasoning as Old Bay. Then add more to taste.
Celery salt and paprika
If you don’t want to empty your spice cupboard to make your own old bay seasoning try this simplified version.
A mix of celery salt and paprika is the most straightforward substitute for Old Bay seasoning.
These two ingredients are the key players in Old Bay, and lay the groundwork for its distinctive taste.
Mixing them half and half gets you most of the way to Old Bay, but you will miss out on the depth and complexity the full blend provides.
You can also add a pinch of black pepper and red chili flakes, if you have them.
Pro tip: If you’re looking to reduce the sodium content, swap celery salt with ground celery seeds.
How to substitute: Mix 1/4 tsp celery salt and 1/4 tsp sweet paprika for every 1 tsp of Old Bay.
Crab Boil is yet another blend of herbs and spices that’s got a similar flavor profile to Old Bay seasoning.
Its purpose is parallel to Old Bay – adding a flavor punch to seafood dishes.
The exact blend can vary, but popular ingredients include paprika, cayenne pepper, lemon concentrate, and celery salt. You’ll recognise some of them from the Old Bay seasoning ingredients list!
I used Zatarain’s Crab Boil for my test and it was delicious (but be aware it contains MSG, which I know is a controversial ingredient).
How to substitute: Use powdered Crab Boil in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning.
Seasoned salt is a versatile substitute that will go with pretty much anything. This makes it a useful staple to have in your kitchen.
A reputable brand like Lawry’s delivers a blend of complex flavors, featuring paprika, celery, turmeric, garlic, and salt.
But seasoned salt is also really easy to make at home.
You can follow a recipe, but the beauty of this substitute is how easy it is to customize.
Taste your salt as you’re making it and add more of whatever your favorite spices are (I like adding loads of garlic powder).
How to substitute: Use seasoned salt in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning in your recipe.
Chinese 5 Spice
We’re moving away from the flavor of Old Bay seasoning now, but Chinese 5 spice is still a decent substitute if you want something that can quickly give you lots of flavor.
The blend of five spices – star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds – offers a combination of depth and warmth akin to Old Bay.
The cinnamon and star anise add sweetness (and liquorice notes), while the fennel and cloves bring cooler notes.
And to bring your 5-spice closer to the taste of Old Bay, try adding a pinch of paprika and chili flakes
Psst… this spice blend works exceptionally well with pork.
How to substitute: Use Chinese 5 Spice in a 1:1 ratio, but add paprika and chili flakes to adjust the flavor closer to Old Bay seasoning.
If you happen to have some pickling spice in your cupboard, it can work as a last minute stand in for Old Bay seasoning in some situations.
Pickling spice typically includes things like mustard seeds, coriander seeds, dill seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves.
But the catch is it’s not a powder, so will only work in soups, stews, or boils where you can infuse the liquid with flavor by making a ‘tea bag’. I couldn’t use it in my crab cakes.
Put the pickling spice in a cotton cloth and secure it with a rubber band. Place this in your simmering dish and then make sure to remove it before serving.
How to substitute: Make a spice bag and then use this to infuse your dishes with the spices flavors.
Avoid using salt and pepper
When I was researching I saw people suggesting that salt and pepper alone can make a good substitute for Old Bay seasoning
I have to respectfully disagree!
Salt alone won’t add anywhere near as much flavor and you could end up inadvertently making your dish way too salty.
8 BEST Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp celery salt
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1.8 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch dry mustard
- 1 pinch nutmeg small pinch!
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1 pinch cardamom
- 1 pinch allspice
- 1 pinch cloves
- 1 pinch ginger
- mix all the ingredients in a bowl
- store in an airtight jar for a couple of months