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What Spices Go with What Meat?

What Spices Go With What Meat

Food is supposed to be enjoyed, not just consumed for fuel! A perfectly seasoned meal can become the star of the evening, or maybe even provide leftovers for most of the week. This level of food greatness isn't easy to achieve, especially not for home cooks who are just starting out! Meat can seem like one of the hardest things to get right, but with these flavor suggestions you will quickly discover that no matter your level of experience in the kitchen, you too can have some incredibly flavorful meat.

Flavor preference is subjective, so the questions and answers discussed below are suggestions only and are meant to be a starting point. Experimenting in the kitchen is key to learning what you love, and something that you already think tastes great with your preferred choice in meat may not even be on one of these lists at all! If it works for you that’s all that really matters. As a note: salt is not present in any of the categories below, as salt can be used on all kinds of meats pretty much the same way. Salt simply breaks down the proteins of the meat, helping the juices escape and increasing moisture all throughout. There is a perfect time to salt everything. Yes we know that some people have diet restrictions and can't add salt that not what this article is about. This guide will focus solely on the flavors of herbs and spices on beef, pork, chicken, lamb, seafood, and turkey.

What Spices Go with Beef?

When you are cooking with beef, you want herbs and spices that can stand up for themselves. They will have a pronounced flavor on their own, and they will be able to compliment the strong flavor of beef without becoming overwhelmed by it. According to the University of Illinois, beef consumption declined from 97 pounds per capita in 1999 to 83 pounds in 20201. Beef can come in many different forms and cuts. Ground beef, steak, or chuck roast all have robust flavors, but slightly different flavor profiles and amounts of fat, so what you like with one style of beef you might not like with another. Consider what foods you will be serving with the beef, as well as the type, and try to apply herbs and spices from there.

  • Spices like onion and garlic, which are pungent alone, are some of the first that come to mind when thinking of seasoning beef. They are savory and strong, but also easy to come by!

  • Black Pepper is another strong contender, with its slightly hot bite and the pungent aroma. It is not so easily drowned out by the flavor of the beef.

  • Cayenne is a spicy partner for beef. It is hot but not too hot, so it works with the strong flavor of the meat instead of pushing against it and drowning it out with mouth searing heat, like some other chile powders may. But don't use a crazy hot chile powder on your steak or you'll likely regret it. Tread very lightly if you decide to experiment with chile powders.

  • Basil is a good herb to pair with beef because it is peppery, sort of sweet, and slightly minty. This is an interesting flavor combination to add to savory meats, as it surprises the mouth. A nice savory flavor can be easily shaken up by a minty coolness in a refreshing sort of way, making a hearty dish feel brighter and maybe even less indulgent.

  • Sage, the oft pushed aside herb, is fragrant and warm, adding a little bit of herbal flair to even the simplest of beef-based dishes.

  • Thyme is a frequently used beef herb because it has a unique ability of rounding out the flavor of the meat with its lemony notes.

  • Yellow Mustard Powder is the pungent, sharp flavor your grilled burger needs. Combine some in your ground beef before grilling for especially deep flavor.

  • Green or Red Bell Pepper are fantastic with beef. Dried, they are excellent in marinades as they can rehydrate and their flavor seeps into the surrounding liquid. This is great for a long marinade.

  • A unique, unexpected spice to use on beef would be Black Onyx Cocoa Powder. It's bitter, fruity, and floral, all-powerful flavors that taste surprisingly well matched with beef. Use this dark cocoa powder only though, as a light cocoa powder would be a little sweeter and would give a lesser punch to the beef. If you choose to use this spice we recommend only using it in very small amounts so as not to overpower the dish.

  • For Mediterranean inspired beef dishes, Oregano is the herb of choice. It is earthy and strong, standing up with beef easily. Just be sure to add it to the beef dish last, as oregano loses flavor quickly once exposed to heat.

  • Best Spices for Veal

    What about veal? Veal is also beef, isn't it? Technically, yes, but veal comes from young cows and typically has a more delicate flavor than ground beef or steak. The herbs and spices that are compatible with veal tend to align with beef, though you can also use some lighter spices and herbs as well.

  • For example, Parsley may be too delicate for beef but tastes lovely with veal.

  • Marjoram is an herb that is rather minty tasting and matches up with veal nicely.

  • Lemon Peel has bright, citrusy flavor and adds to a good veal marinade or spice rub.

  • White Pepper is perhaps more suitable for veal than it would be for beef as it still tastes peppery but has less of a bite to it than Black Pepper does.

  • These herbs and spices are only some of those we would recommend with beef and veal. They can be easily blended for a combination of flavors. If you don’t want to work that hard and mixing and matching the perfect spices you can just use preblended seasonings that are best suited for beef.

    What Spices Go with Pork?

    Pork is an interesting meat. It's not overpoweringly flavorful like beef, but it's not exactly a blank slate like chicken. It is somewhat sweet, but overall, a savory food. Pork can sometimes be used as a replacement for beef, in certain recipes. While there is some overlap in what spices are compatible with both pork and beef, there are other herbs and spices that pair better with pork than they do with beef.

  • Juniper Berries are sweet, tart, and sharp with a hint of pine and play well with the sweetness of pork. A cherry and juniper jam tastes excellent with pork chops or hams.

  • Cinnamon and pork are a good match because the cinnamon is sweet with hints of smokiness. It's a good flavor combination, especially if you are cooking a pork dish that incorporates apples as well. The three flavors marry quite nicely.

  • Allspice is that spice that's reminiscent of the holidays. Most people will probably raise an eyebrow at a suggestion of allspice on pork, but it's truly delicious on a pork roast. Much like cinnamon, allspice compliments the inherent sweetness of pork.

  • Caraway is a spice that's mildly anisey, so it adds that licorice flavor to what it touches. This is very compatible with pork-based dishes.

  • Ginger is good with pork because of its mildly sweet heat. It is peppery and zingy, which tastes great with a sweeter cut of pork.

  • Garlic is fabulous on pork, especially pork chops. It is savory and helps improve that full-bodied flavor of chewy pork chops.
  • Mustard is sharp and pungent, a perfect ingredient for a pork marinade or rub.

  • Sage and pork are a great pair. The flavor of sage is earthy and warm, which contrasts with the sweeter, gentler flavor of pork. This herb would work well with a pork and potatoes-based meal.

  • When you in a hurry or a bit newer to cooking it is often just easier to reach for a seasoning perfectly blended for pork.

    What Spices Go with Chicken?

    Chicken is the ultimate blank slate of meat. Mild in flavor, there are many different spice and herb combinations that you can use on chicken and find great success. Since there are so many different flavor options, you can go from savory options to brighter, sweeter options in a heartbeat and still have something amazing to eat. This is one type of meat that you could season to go well with what the rest of your meal is, so you don't simply season for the chicken itself.

  • Garlic, the universal spice, tastes just as good with chicken as it does with pork and beef.

  • If you want something smoky but mild for your chicken, smoked paprika is the way to go. It will add not only good flavor, but vibrant color to your otherwise plain white chicken.

  • Lemon Peel, Lime Peel, and Orange Peel all add a citrusy brilliance to chicken. They are vibrant flavors that work well in marinades and dry rubs for chicken. You might even want to make an orange marinade with orange peel and orange juice.

  • As far as herbs go, Sage is always a good one for chicken, and it is one of the most important ingredients in Poultry Seasoning. The flavor is astringent, spicy, and mildly bitter.

  • Rosemary and chicken are an iconic couple. They've been everywhere from fancy restaurants to your grandma’s dinner table. Rosemary is cooling, woody, and somewhat balsamic, acting as the star in this classic pair.

  • Dill Weed gives a bit of a grassiness to chicken, but the flavor also reminds some people of pickles. Try it on chicken for sandwiches, especially.

  • Savory works well on chicken because it has a very multi-dimensional flavor, tasting simultaneously like mint, thyme, and marjoram. This herb is perfect for cooks looking to try a versatile flavor profile on a plain piece of chicken.

  • The sweet warmth of Cinnamon on chicken might feel like too foreign an idea for you but put just a little bit on baked chicken for a guaranteed delight. The sweetness is a welcome flavor, especially when combined with other spices like cumin for warmth.

  • Mace is a perfect spice to add to chicken that you are planning to eat with barbecue sauce. This spice is savory and overpowering when used in excess. Just a small amount will greatly improve the flavor of both your chicken and the barbecue sauce you're dipping into.

  • Mysteriously, adding a Bay Leaf to a chicken marinade brings together the flavors in a way that one can't really describe. It's like when you make rice with bay leaves. Something about it is better, though you don't really know how to put your finger on it. Either way, using bay leaves in chicken marinade is like having real life magical powers.

  • Tarragon is sweet yet bitter with cooling notes, making it well-suited for chicken, as chicken has such a neutral flavor it can play well with just about any herb.


  • According to Statista, in 2020, the most consumed type of meat in the United States was broiler chicken, at about 96.4 pounds per capita2. So, it’s only natural that one of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received over the years is "what are the best seasonings for chicken?"

    What Spices Go with Lamb?

    Tender lamb, whether carved into chops, legs, or in ground form, comes from young sheep that are about one year old or younger. If the sheep is less than three months old, the meat is called "spring lamb." Mutton, from a sheep that's three years old or older, is a popular meat in India, and as such a lot of Indian spices are well suited to this meat.

    Because it is a rather aggressive flavor, lamb pairs very well with earthy spices and herbs.

    • Garlic is savory and an all-around delicious, easily recognizable flavor.

    • Turmeric is earthy, vibrant and adds a warm flavor element to lamb. Use in small amounts as it can easily overpower the flavor of lamb.

    • Coriander is citrusy, nutty, and warm. It pairs well with rich meats because of the contrast it gives.

    • Earthy, nutty, and spicy, Cumin and lamb work well together because cumin's earthiness is a terrific foil against the gamey flavor of lamb. Cumin is especially well-suited for lamb-based curries.

    • For an herb with a bit of a spiciness and a hint of lemony flavor, Thyme is your strongest contender. It is perfect for use in rubs.

    • Dill Weed is a refreshing herb. Added to lamb dishes, it gives a bit of brightness to the otherwise heavy, strong tasting meat.

    • Mint acts similarly to dill in the way that it gives lamb brightness. The menthol flavor of mint also adds a chilling effect, which is a great contrast to rich and grassy lamb.

    • For a woody, balsamic taste that's got a natural pine flavor to it, add Rosemary to this meat. Rosemary is a very "outdoorsy" type spice, so it lends to the natural, fresh taste of the lamb.


    • Herbs and spices that work well with lamb also work well with mutton. Simply use a slightly heavier hand for mutton, as the older meat can put up quite a fight against outside flavors from herbs or spices. For spring lamb, the most delicate of all the sheep meats, use only those herbs and spices that will not easily overpower the dish, as the flavor of the meat may potentially be completely drowned out by the herbs and spices.

      The flavor of lamb is stronger if it is grass-fed lamb than in lamb raised on a diet of grain. Our in-house chef likes these hearty seasoning blends best for lamb.

      What Spices Go with Seafood?

      “Seafood" covers a wide range of fish and shellfish which each having their own flavor profile and flesh texture. According to the National Fisheries Institute, shrimp was the most consumed type of seafood per capita by Americans in 2018 at 4.6 lbs. followed by Salmon at 2.55 lbs., canned Tuna at 2.1 lbs and Tilapia at 1.11 lbs3. Seafood tends to be fairly delicate in flavor so lighter spices and herbs tend to work best .

    • Shrimp does particularly well with the tart, puckery tang of Dried Lemon Zest and also surprisingly with the heat of milder Chile Peppers like Hatch New Mexico and Nora Chiles.

    • For a bright, fruity flavor on your fish, try lemongrass. It pairs well with shellfish especially, but any seafood that has a little sweetness to it goes well with lemongrass. This is something you may find you like to use in Thai or Vietnamese inspired dishes, as lemongrass is a common ingredient in both of these cuisines.

    • Sage is often thought of as a poultry only herb, but the earthy flavor goes well with fish like trout, flounder, and swordfish.
    • For salty fish like cod, Anise is an unexpected but satisfying pairing. Don't knock it until you try it! The licorice flavor is nice on this white fish that doesn't have a strong taste either way.

    • Halibut is often thought of as difficult to season because it’s quite a sweet fish, but pair it with Cinnamon for a hint of smoky flavor that is sure to surprise and please you.

    • Tarragon is an interesting herb with some real dimensions to it. Try it with lobster, crab, prawns, and crawfish. If you have a recipe that uses crab for example that calls for oregano, replace that with tarragon for a fresh twist and a flavor that you may not have expected.

    • Basil is perfect for fish like mahi-mahi or sole, or fish with firm flesh.

    • Mint works nicely with any sturdy fish that can hold up to a marinade with some acid in it. Fish like arctic char and orange roughy are great with mint!

    • Freshwater fish like catfish or bass taste excellent with Mediterranean Oregano. This herb is strong, with hints of sweetness and anise in it.

    • Salmon is the most commonly eaten fish in America, and while we are fond of just a dash of Black Pepper on it, it also tastes incredible with the warm, nutty, and slightly citrusy flavor of Coriander.

    • Thyme, Paprika, and Black Pepper pair nicely with Tilapia.


    • We have quite a selection of Seafood Seasonings from the exotic like Paella to the can’t do without such as Wild for Salmon.

      What Spices Go with Turkey?

      While most people imagine an entire bird when talking about turkey, these spices and seasonings also work well with turkey burgers or ground turkey meatballs. It doesn't necessarily have to be Thanksgiving for you to have flavorful turkey meat.

    • Cumin is earthy, nutty, and spicy, with a bit of warmth to boot. On turkey meat, this translates as a surprise for the mouth. Turkey is a savory meat, so you aren't really expecting that spicy warmth to taste as good as it does.

    • What could be more classic than Black Pepper on a turkey sandwich? The bite of the pepper adds a little bit of spunk to dry turkey leftovers. Melt some Swiss cheese over the meat and ground pepper for some more sharp flavor and a little bit.

    • For a bit of a spicy bite, try Red Pepper Flakes. These go well with turkey that is being paired with a cheesy side, perhaps au gratin potatoes. Use this spice sparingly.

    • Sage is a little more traditional an herb for turkey, giving that classic Thanksgiving vibe with its earthy flavor.
    • Somewhat balsamic and slightly woodsy, Rosemary is another traditional holiday spice that adds great flavor to turkey meat. It is a more subdued flavor.

    • The last in the trifecta of holiday spices is Thyme, and if you have the time, absolutely experiment with adding this piney, smoky herb.

    • Smoked Sweet Paprika is smoky and is an accompaniment that works well for turkey because it brings some smoky depth and dimension to the meat.

    • For a turkey dish with an Asian inspired flair, try some Star Anise. This slightly sweet, somewhat anisey spice is great with the white, mild tasting meat especially.


    • Sure, many Americans grew up with familiar Turkey Seasonings like Poultry Seasoning and most are probably familiar with a Turkey Brine but we can learn a thing or two from the past as well. One of the most popular types of meats used by the Aztecs in their moles was turkey.

      The wonderful thing about learning about what goes well with each type of meat is developing your own flavors and spice blends to use in rubs and marinades. These herbs and spices can be combined to fit everyone's unique tastes individually. As with everything you cook, taste it as you go! Decide for yourself when you are the most satisfied with what you have created and make food from there. To reiterate, the suggestions made here are only a matter of opinion, so if you think something sounds good and it’s not listed here, give it a try anyway and then let us know what you think!


      Hungry for More Information

      The Ultimate Guide to Chicken Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings
      The Best Fruit and Vegetable Seasonings
      Flavor Characteristics of Spices
      What is the Shelf Life of Spices and Herbs


    References

    1 Jiao, H. (2021, May 12). An Overview of Meat Consumption in the United States . Farmdoc Daily. Retrieved December 19, 2021.

    2 Statista. (2021, March 3). U.S. per capita meat consumption 2020 and 2030, by type. Retrieved December 9, 2021.

    2 Top 10 List for Seafood Consumption. (2019). About Seafood. Retrieved December 10, 2021.

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