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The Best Chicken Seasonings, Spices and Pairings
Since our inception, one of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received has been "what is the best way to season chicken?" This question typically comes from someone who is trying to eat healthier, and chicken has become the protein of choice for many of their meals. We know from firsthand experience that when you are eating a lot of chicken it can get awfully boring. We're here to help you slay that taste bud fatigue. 

 

What Are the Best Spices for Chicken

From our experience, these are the best spices to use no matter how you like your chicken cooked. They work with chicken that is baked, grilled, roasted, slow cooked, smoked or prepared in a wok. This list is ideal for an experienced, adventurous home cook who loves to experiment with creating their own unique flavor combinations. If you’re a bit less experienced, but just as eager and willing to discover what flavors you like best, then you could try several of these in tandem. If you haven’t cooked with some of these spices before (no matter what you experience level is) then we recommend using a smaller amount of that spice to see if you like the resulting flavor profile without overpowering a dish. As Penny likes to say (among a plethora of other things she’s our inhouse recipe expert), you can’t be afraid of the occasional epic kitchen fail. Enjoy the process of experimenting! That’s how your grandma got so good at cooking. Remember watching her tossing spices into the pan and wondering how she always knew exactly what would taste perfect? We want to help you reach that level, too. 

Here are what we considered to be the absolute best spices to create the greatest sense of euphoria when paired with chicken:


This next group of spices, while not quite as prevalent as those on our most preferred list, still have a lot to offer:


Healthy Seasonings for Chicken

If you are usually pressed for time when it comes to weeknight dinner prep (and let's face it, who isn't?), or have a phobia about being able to build intricate layers of flavor by utilizing individual spices, then you're probably more comfortable with using handcrafted blends. Below you’ll find a list of our 10 favorite chicken seasonings that will make your taste buds shout "halleluiah" before you even take the first bite! That’s because scientists have found that somewhere between 75 and 95% of what we commonly think of as taste comes from the sense of smell. So, your nose will be giving your taste buds a heads up. I’m sure that your taste buds will thank your nose later.

Here you'll find global seasonings from across the US, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. You'll find savory blends, sweet blends, some with a dash of heat and even some wonderful salt free variations. Some of these seasonings may appear to be quite simple with as few as 4 ingredients while others are a bit more complex with up to 18 perfectly hand blended spices.

Every one of these healthy seasonings has been thoroughly tested on chicken either on our grill, in the oven, the smoker, the slow cooker, cast iron skillets, one pot pans, pressure cookers, instant pots and even in woks. Many have even been tested in several of these. All these blends are loaded with spicy flavor (but that doesn’t mean burn your face off hot) that will make it virtually impossible to get bored with your chicken. These are perfect for those that love to experiment with ethnic or out-of-the-ordinary flavors but may still be a bit new to mastering how to cook by feeling the force like your grandma did so effortlessly. Since thorough information is essential in making any kind of flavor choice in cooking, we have compiled not only a list of favorites, but a description of each to help you wade through your options. We understand that using seasoning blends you are unfamiliar with may be a little overwhelming, and we want to help you make the best, most informed choice. 

  • 18 Spice Chicken Rub
    This blend has a bit of sweetness to it from the demerara sugar and cinnamon. When grilling chicken, the demerara sugar helps form a nice crust to keep the juices in. While there are a variety of chiles used (ancho, pasilla, de arbol and cayenne) in this blend, it only has a very, very mild kick. Finally, you'll pick up some very gentle hints of licorice from the fennel with some subtle fruitiness provided by the ancho (yes some chiles can provide some fruity notes) and cloves.
  • Maharajah Curry Powder (salt free)
    The flavor is earthy, slightly floral, sweet and spicy with citrusy undertones. This is not considered a hot curry powder and is ideal for adding magnificent color and unmatched flavor to chicken curries. The brilliant reddish hue is from the most exclusive of all spices, saffron. 
  • Berbere
    This African seasoning is one of my go to chicken seasonings and is always part of my regular rotation of blends (exceptional on roasted or grilled chicken breasts). Our customers tell us that this is a wonderfully complex seasoning. This is very, very spicy (but not in a hot way) and the aroma is mesmerizing and if grilling in your backyard you are sure to have neighbors asking "WHAT are you cooking?" It’s that good. If roasting your chicken in the oven, you'll only be driving your family (or the dog) nuts as the house will be filled with an overwhelmingly delightful scent. The flavor is earthy and peppery with a subtle citrusy and sweet background. The soothing bouquet will draw you in though you won't quite be able to put your finger on what it is.  The secret ingredient which pushes this blend over the top is fenugreek which provides a subtle pungent spiciness with hints of butterscotch and sweet nuts.
  • Adobo Lime Rub
    Earthy flavor with garlic and anise like undertones. This is also a very aromatic spice blend. Once the chicken is cooked we love to give a squeeze or two of fresh lime which really brings the flavor of this seasoning to life. A favorite for south of the border chicken tacos with a twist. We have had great success with cooking in a cast iron skillet with this blend.
  • Shawarma (salt free)
    A Middle Eastern seasoning that is warm with a savory sweetness and a mild subdued heat. Perfect when served on flat bread with an easy to make yogurt sauce. The yogurt sauce is a mixture of yogurt, tahini, lemon juice and some dried dill weed, which can be whipped up quickly. 
  • Herbs de Provence (salt free)
    Not a surprise to have this one on the list of best chicken seasonings as it is a perfect blend of some of the best dried herbs to use with chicken. The flavor is herby and savory with peppery, anise and minty notes, hints of bitterness and a floral aroma.
  • Las Cruces Seasoning (salt free)
    Bold flavor with noticeable garlic notes, peppery undertones and a hint of savory sweetness. While it has a dash of heat that hits the back of your throat this is certainly not one that most would consider a "hot" seasoning blend, though heat tolerance is certainly a subjective thing. With a coarser grind this provides a delightful crust on grilled or roasted chicken.
  • Jerk Seasoning (salt free)
    With a taste of the Caribbean, this blend is savory while packing a bit of heat and sweetness with a noticeable earthiness that includes some citrusy undertones. This blend is loaded with more heat than any other on this list. 
  • Tabil (salt free)
    This is the second African seasoning on our list and while it only sports four ingredients don’t let its simplicity fool you. You'll first notice the biting, warm earthiness of the caraway, followed by the roasted garlic flavor, then you’ll pick up some mild heat in the back of your throat, and to finish it off will be the undertones of a gentle spicy nuttiness provided by the coriander.

Any combination of these herbs, spices, or seasonings can be used to make a delicious dry rub for your favorite cut of chicken. This video explains what a dry rub is and how you can use it in your own kitchen to lock in delicious flavor! 

We have a video that talks a little bit more about dry rubs and how to use them in your own cooking. Any questions you may have about dry rubs should have been answered there! Check out our video below. Any combination of these herbs, spices, or seasonings can be used to make a delicious dry rub for your favorite cut of chicken. This video explains what a dry rub is and how you can use it in your own kitchen to lock in delicious flavor.



A Word About Salt

Because of the nature of chicken, especially chicken breasts, they tend to do very well when dry brined with salt and spices. If you’re not on a sodium restriction diet, you should learn how to use salt to get the most flavor out of your bird. If you are on a sodium restriction based diet, we recommend that you gravitate towards the salt-free seasonings listed above. I love to experiment in the kitchen to work out numerous different ways to prepare chicken. This has included using salt in a dry brine, wet brine or marinade. Before I go any further I want to be sure to say a word about the type of salt you should use for brining - go with a top quality kosher salt. Why? The flakes are bigger and with their increased surface area tend to stick to the chicken better making it less likely to fall off. I love to use a good dry brine by using some kosher salt coupled with a season blend. Seasoning 8-10 hours before cooking provides optimal flavor and juiciness that is hard to beat. 

You can certainly go the wet brine route by combining equal parts sugar and kosher salt and letting it sit for 8-12 hours. Just be sure to rinse the chicken off and pat it dry before adding the seasoning and then cooking. 


Make Room for Some Fat

Depending on how you cook and serve your chicken you should plan on adding some fat along the way as it tends to take the flavor of your finished dish to a whole different level. Your choice of fat (typically an oil) will depend on if you’re using it as part of the cooking process or adding it to a finished dish. I’m more likely to add more fat to a dish with breasts much more so than if I’m cooking chicken thighs (which tend to naturally have more fat). The list of oils or fats that pair best with chicken include: 

  • Coconut Oil
    This is often the oil of choice in numerous Caribbean, Indian, Thai or West African dishes. If you want the coconutty flavor go with unrefined coconut oil, but if you want less coconut flavor opt for refined version.


  • Ghee (clarified butter)
    Ghee or clarified butter is more often found in Indian or Iranian inspired dishes.


  • Olive Oil
    We like to use olive oil as more of a finishing oil. Great in chicken salads or adding to a dish (especially with rice or vegetables) to enhance mouthfeel and flavor.


  • Peanut Oil
    Peanut oil is best when used in frying as it has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. This is the type of oil preferred by the restaurant chains Five Guys, Chick-Fil-A and many Chinese establishments.


  • Sesame Oil
    Sesame oil is one of the signature oils in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Horn of Africa cuisine.


Drop Some Acid

To get the most flavorful chicken you should also be aware of the importance of acids. These have their place in everything from enhancing baking, legumes, soups and vegetables to being used in citrus, yogurt or buttermilk marinades for chicken. Like olive oil the citrus juices can be added to a finished dish before serving to improve mouthfeel, intensifying flavor or to lighten a dish. Some of our favorites acids are:

  • Grapefruit
    Primarily found as an ingredient in glazes, marinades or sauces for chicken. 


  • Lemon
    Is popular in authentic dishes from Latin America (especially Argentina, Brazil and the Caribbean) to the Mediterranean (France, Greece, Italy and Spain). 

  •   
  • Lime
    Tends to be most popular in Chile, Indian, Mexican, North African, Persian, Thai and Vietnamese chicken dishes. 

  •  
  • Vinegar 
    Is used in chicken braises, brines, marinades, salads and stocks. 


  • Yogurt
    Ideal for dipping sauces, dressings and especially marinades.


What Goes Well with Chicken

Now if you're still with us then you not only want to know how to best add flavor to your chicken, but you probably are also more than a little curious as to what pairs well with it. Some of the best individual pairings are:

  • Carrots

  • Cheese

  • Cream

  • Honey

  • Leeks

  • Molasses

  • Mushrooms

  • Olives

  • Onions

  • Potatoes (sweet or red)

  • Rice

  • Sausage (in particular andouille)

  • Shallots

  • Stocks (chicken)

  • Tomatoes (both fresh and paste)


The beauty is that you can surely find something on this list that you already enjoy, but if you are like many of us sometimes you want some more inspiration. Something that will be out of your ordinary wheel house. Here are some of the best chef approved combinations that we know of: 

  • Chicken, authentic andouille sausage, and red beans & rice

  • Chicken, basil and cinnamon

  • Chicken, chanterelle mushrooms and rosemary

  • Chicken, cloves, rosemary and yogurt

  • Chicken, coconut, galangal and shitake mushrooms

  • Chicken, coriander, cumin and garlic

  • Chicken, cream, grapefruit and pink peppercorns

  • Chicken, cumin, garlic and lemon

  • Chicken, herbs de provence, mushrooms and spring onions

  • Chicken, mustard and thyme


Take any of the above combinations and do a search online and you’ll come cross thousands of recipe ideas. If you’re looking for some chicken recipe inspiration, then you're sure to find something that catches your eye.  

We hope this extensive list can bring more than a little excitement to the sometimes boring, ordinary routine of preparing chicken while also shoving your taste buds out of their comfort zone. There are so many different cooking styles and flavor combinations when it comes to cooking chicken that you should now be armed with enough ideas to never experience tasteless, bland chicken ever again! 


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