Friday, January 6, 2017

Chesapeake Bay Seasoning For Seafood

     For Marylanders there is nothing like seafood, especially crabs, that much we can all agree on.  What we can't agree on is what seafood seasoning is the best to use with those steamed crabs... or crab cakes, fish, tuna salad, french fries, potato chips, ice cream... you get my drift, we put seafood seasoning on everything. Ask anyone what their favorite seasoning is and I hope you've got time on your hands for the answer.  Of course Old Bay is the overwhelming favorite but you'll also hear J.O. and Wye River mentioned along with a few like me who make their own.

     Old Bay started off as the brainchild of a German immigrant who barely escaped the Nazis and brought over one thing... His beloved spice grinder.  He invented a spicy and salty blend  that was sold to local bars for use with steamed crabs.  Back then, crabs were so cheap that bars gave them away for free when you bought drinks.  Of course they wanted to keep the mix salty and spicy so customers would be thirsty and buy more drinks.  Eventually this spice blend was renamed Old Bay in honor of the Old Bay Shipping Line and was sold to customers around Maryland looking for a great way to spice their seafood.

     Over time the manufacture of Old Bay coalesced into the Baltimore Spice Co and an intense rivalry developed between them and McCormick's Spice Co.  McCormick had their own Chesapeake Bay Style Seafood Seasoning but they just couldn't sell it in the face of massive market share for Old Bay.  Many offers were made over the years for Baltimore Spice Co to sell to McCormick's but a deal wasn't finally hashed out until 1990 and then the real controversy began.  Many people feel McCormick's simply labeled their own product with the Old Bay designation because the flavor became radically different.  Less heat on the back of the tongue and more sweetness from sweet aromatic spices.  This did little to dampen people's enthusiasm for Old Bay and even now Old Bay will win 98% of the time when people are asked what spice they use for crabs and seafood.

     My recipe tries to stay true to the original, it's closer to J.O. or Wye River Red seasoning in it's flavor profile.  I'm going to give 2 different measurements, one for a small batch and one for a large batch that you'll need to steam crabs.

Chesapeake Bay Seafood Seasoning

1T / 3C salt
1 1/2tsp / 1 1/2C black pepper
1tsp / 1C celery seed (bruised)
1tsp / 1C paprika
1/2tsp / 3T mustard powder
1/2tsp / 3T onion powder
1/4tsp / 1T garlic powder
1/4tsp / 1T cayenne pepper

Mix all the spices together until well blended.  Allow to sit at least overnight for flavor to meld together before using.  Keep in a tightly sealed container for up to 6 months.


  1. Awesome, so glad to find your page and recipe! I heard about
    the original seasoning and your recipe looks great, can't wait to
    try it on some chips! Thanks!

  2. Glad I found your site! Can't wait to try this recipe!

  3. The original recipe I believe had MACE in it. This recipe looks similar but I remember bits of mace and possibly cinnamon in the original. When McCormick bought it out, everyone agreed they slapped the Old Bay label on THEIR version and sold it to the Maryland public as the real thing but EVERYONE here knew by taste it wasn't and still to this day, NO one things it is. McCormick had a brand they kept quiet that they labeled "Chesapeake Bay Style" Seafood Seasoning, hands down, IT WAS THE ORIGINAL OLD BAY RECIPE! They discontinued it after a very short time. You can't find it anymore. One guy had half a can on Ebay a few years ago and wanted like $30 for it. It had that after burn on the back of your tongue that the original Old Bay had. I'm guessing original Old Bay uses extra spices that are costly and McCormick is being cheap and put out their cheaper seasoning to sell as the original, buying OLD BAY out to use the name only. We see it all too often. A company like Minolta buys out QMS printers right after I buy a $1,200 printer in 2000. Then when I need support, they tell me, "Sorry, we don't support QMS, you'll have to buy a Minolta." A lot of company's buy out their competition and then absorb the company to get rid of them. That is what McCormick did to Old Bay. Baltimore Spice refused to sell for thirty of my years in Maryland, and when they did, we all said what they were going to do, and they did. They changed it. And Marylanders have always had a very angry feeling towards McCormick ever since. This is WHY I use Lawry's season salt and pick other brands of seasoning since becoming an adult years ago. I try to buy as little of McCormick as I can. I still buy Jo Spice to avoid Fake Old Bay and I doctor it with my own ingredients. McCormick did an evil thing to Marylanders. Old Bay was OUR seasoning. It was from OUR state, from a Maryland Resident. It was OUR seafood we are known for. What they did to us was inexcusable. To destroy a Maryland tradition in the name of profit when the could have simply bought it and kept it and brought it to the world on a world level, everyone in the world would have loved it. Instead, the ended it. For that, just like I'll never buy Exxon gas for the Valdez and how they handled the people of Prince William Sound and the wildlife worried about their image over the poor natural wildlife and people's livelyhoods, I will never forgive McCormick for what they did to Old Bay. It was our tradition they messed with, one I knew and cherished for 30 years and now its gone to big executive decisions.

    I wish I could find that german immigrant that invented it. I'd love for him to tell me the recipe. I'd release it to the Maryland public so that everyone here could make it for themselves and enjoy it for free. Then, McCormick wouldn't earn a dollar for their fake seasoning. He's gotta be somewhere and I'll bet he's still alive and still has it somewhere. Before he dies, he should release it to do a service to the people of Maryland to keep it right here where it started and where it once was and where it truly belongs.

  4. Thanks for history lesson and the recipe. Appreciation from a life long Marylander.

  5. "This is WHY I use Lawry's season salt..."
    Sean, Mccormick bought Lawrys back in 2008.

    Mccormick also owns French's and Franks Redhot.


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