One Spice Mix to Rule Them All

October 13, 2017

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Most people think that being a butcher means I cut raw meat all day. But the truth is, a solid 50% of my job is telling people how to cook the meat we're selling them. Sometimes this means writing detailed instructions on butcher paper, or giving them a lesson in the reverse sear, and sometimes, when the customer is extra frazzled, it means seasoning their meat for them. For these occasions, I always like to keep a quart container of kosher salt and black pepper (for things like aged steaks and burger patties), and another container of a very simple seasoning mix that works for everything from pork ribs to chicken thighs.

Buy spices in bulk and season everything in sight, that's our motto Photo by Julia Gartland

It’s always good to season your meat a couple of hours in advance; giving the meat time to absorb the salt and spices will give you juicier, more tender meat every time (and will give you time to focus on other things, whether that's cooking up sides or watching the game). And having a go-to rub at the ready is a great way to take the stress out of advanced seasoning. Buy your salt and dry spices in bulk! It takes a long time for them to go bad, and you’ll always have the ingredients you need on hand to make a quick seasoning mix.

What kind of seasoning mix, you ask? A master spice mix, a seasoning for all seasons. I call this mix Universal Seasoning because it's so versatile. Here's the basic recipe:

  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Seriously, that's it. The brilliance behind this simple combination of spices is that it works on everything: season a whole chicken with this mixture and and a handful of salt before roasting, or use it as the base for oven-baked Buffalo wings. Use it as a dry rub for pork shoulder before braising, or baby back ribs before baking. It works with lamb, it works with shrimp, it works with roasted vegetables (particularly starchy root vegetables), it works with there anything it can't do? No. That's why it's called "Universal."

This Universal Seasoning is also highly adaptable, and lends itself to many different flavor additions. I call for paprika, but the type of paprika you use is up to you—sweet, smoky, or spicy, they all work well with the granulated garlic. Cumin and Mexican oregano are good additions for a Southwestern flavor; rosemary, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes give it an Italian bent; mix in some garam masala for an Indian-inspired spice rub; or mustard powder, celery seeds, and bay leaves for a Cajun taste; or...well, I think you get the point: this Universal Seasoning is perfect as-is, but can also shape-shift for whatever flavor you want to achieve.

A quick note about why you should be buying kosher salt to season your meat: Kosher salt’s larger granules are ideal for drawing moisture out of meat, which is an integral part of the koshering process. It also means that it more efficiently creates a kind of quick dry-brine when you season your meat with it in advance—it draws the moisture out from inside and then, after about 45 minutes to an hour, it sucks it back in! This keeps your meat moist throughout the cooking process without added liquid, and seasons the muscle throughout. The larger granules also mean that you’re less likely to over-season your meat than you are with super fine iodized table salt—table salt has roughly two times the potency of kosher salt simply due to the size of its crystals!

For the Universal Seasoning I like to keep the salt and the spice mixture separate because it’s important to have more control over how much salt you put into a recipe. A good salt-to-Universal Seasoning ratio is 2 parts spice mix to 1 part salt, so if you use 1/4 cup of the spice mix whisk that together with 1/8 cup of kosher salt. Now get seasoning!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mitchell Robinson
    Mitchell Robinson
  • Cara Nicoletti
    Cara Nicoletti
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog,, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.


Mitchell R. October 17, 2017
2 things...

I wouldn’t recommend buying spices, other than salt, in bulk, as they do go bad faster than we think.

And while it’s smart to season big hunks of meat in advance, it’s a terrible idea for ground meat, like burgers, where it turns the meat into a sausage like mush if applied too far in advance of cooking.
Author Comment
Cara N. October 17, 2017
Hi Mitchell,
You're absolutely right, seasoning in advance is only good for whole muscles, I don't suggest it for ground meats at all. This got lost in edits and I'll make sure we make it clearer, especially since this is a recipe for a burger. Thank you!
As far as shelf life on spices goes, paprika and garlic powder will last 2-3 years and whole black peppercorns 4-5 years so if you're using those things frequently I don't think it's a bad idea to buy them in larger quantities. Dried herbs last a much shorter amount of time and definitely shouldn't be bought in bulk