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 the whole week, depending on how long it takes you to stop fantasizing about leftovers. 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 cooking meat, you too can have some incredibly flavorful meat.
Flavor preference is subjective, so the questions and answers discussed below are suggestions only. Experimenting in the kitchen is key to learning what you love, and something that you already think tastes great with beef may not even be on this list at all! 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, but some people have diet restrictions and can’t add salt. This guide will focus solely on the flavors of herbs and spices on meat, eggs, and cheese. Click here to jump to our Quick Reference Guide!
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 strong flavor on their own, and they will be able to compliment the strong flavor of beef without becoming overwhelmed by it. Beef can come in many different forms and cuts. Ground beef, steak, or chuck roast all have strong flavors, but slightly different flavor profiles, 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. Don’t use Ghost Chile Powder on a steak or you’ll regret spending the money on the steak when you could have just dumped ghost chile powder in your mouth and gotten the same amount of steak flavor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These herbs and spices are only some of those we would recommend with beef and veal. They can be easily blended together for a combination of flavors. When looking for a simple spice blend for veal, Lemon Pepper is a solid option because of the mix of lemony and pepper flavors combining. You could either purchase our blend or create your own with some help from our Lemon Peel and Black Pepper.
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 beed, there are other herbs and spices that pair with pork better than they would 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 yet lightly smoky. 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 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.
What Spices Go with Chicken?
Chicken is the blank slate of land animal meat. Mild in flavor, you can pretty much throw anything on chicken and it will taste good. 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 for your, 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, Cilantro is always a good one for chicken. Refreshing, anisey, and with hints of pine, this herb is perfect for adding flavor to light, roasted chicken dinners.
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 some 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.
What Spices Go with Venison?
Venison is a gamey meat. Herbs tend to go better with venison than spices, because they bring out the nuances of the flavors of the meat and tend to mask or mellow the gamey qualities of the meat. Spices are used too, but usually in combination with an herb.
Savory is used in venison dishes with a lot of herbs because it helps blend the flavors of other herbs together so nicely. It works well in marinades for the venison. When used as the only herb, it is best added 30 minutes before the cooing is done, and then again at 5 minutes before the venison has finished cooking for more dimension.
Juniper Berries make venison taste slightly acidic and citrusy. Plenty of venison recipes call for juniper berries for this exact reason. The acidity is a welcome flavor that very much tames the meat.
Sage is a stronger herb that tends to take on a more robust flavor when paired with venison. Use only a small amount when working with sage and venison.
Bay Leaves don’t really add much flavor to venison, instead acting to quiet or mute the flavor of the meat. This is an herb to use if you are dealing with a particularly flavorful cut of venison.
Green Peppercorns have a milder pepper flavor than black pepper but give a full-bodied taste to venison. Regular black pepper, especially fresh, can create too much overwhelming sensation for the palette when used on venison. Green Pepper is more suitable for such a strong-tasting meat.
What Spices Go with Mutton?
Mutton is the more mature meat from a sheep that is three years old or older. Lamb, the more popular sheep meat in America, 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 is a popular meat in India, and as such a lot of Indian spices are well suited to this meat.
Mutton can be a rather succulent, rich tasting meat. It pairs very well with herbs because of their crisp, refreshing flavors.
Garlic is savory and an all around delicious, easily recognizable flavor.
Turmeric is earthy, vibrant and adds a warm flavor element to mutton.
Coriander is citrusy, nutty, and warm. It pairs well with rich meats because of the contrast it gives.
Earthy, nutty, and spicy, Cumin and mutton work because they are both so strong in flavor. Cumin is especially well-suited for mutton-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 rubs and marinades made especially for mutton.
Dill Weed is a refreshing herb. Added to mutton 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 mutton a brightness. Uniquely, mint also adds a chilling effect. This is interesting with mutton because this meat is often described as warming and heavily flavored. The chill provides a good juxtaposition of flavors.
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 mutton.
Herbs and spices that work well with mutton also work well with lamb. Simply use a lighter hand, as this younger meat can be overwhelmed by too much of a very flavorful herb or spice. 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.
What Spices Go with Fish/Seafood?
“Fish” covers a wide range of a variety of types of animals that we enjoy eating. Depending on the fish, herbs and spices can give them a lot of flavor! There are very few things that you can add to fish that won’t help the flavor improve.
For a bright, fruity flavor on your fish, try Lemongrass. It pairs well with shellfish especially, but any fish that has a little sweetness to it goes really well with lemongrass. This is something you may find you like to use in Asian or Asian inspired dishes, as lemongrass is a common ingredient across a variety of Asian 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 a weird 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 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 artic 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 a 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.
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 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.
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.
La Vera Smoked Sweet Paprika is smoky and tastes strongly of chiles. It is an accompaniment that works well for turkey because it brings some 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.
What Spices Go with Goose?
Goose is a more gamey and fatty meat, so it has a flavor that’s tougher to compliment. Still, you will find that even the gamiest of meats will taste better with herbs and spices. Goose is also often thought of as a holiday meat, so you may find that a lot of this list covers those classic, well-known “holiday” flavors.
Orange Peel is excellent for goose, as it is light, bright, and tones down the heaviness of the fattiness of the meat.
Lemon Peel is a common spice used in goose making, for much of the same reasons as orange peel.
Holiday goose? Looking for a flavor to match that mood or even just that mindset? Sage is warm and earthy, making it a wonderful herb for poultry of all kinds.
The balsamic quality of Rosemary shines when paired with goose. This is a cooling herb that is bright and beautiful with gamey, working to lighten up a sometimes very intensely flavored goose meat.
The flavor of Clove is a little bitter, slightly hot, rich, and perfect for the strong flavors of goose meat. It tames some of the gamey flavor, while adding some real dimension to the overall taste.
Expensive but absolutely worth the incredible zingy flavor it adds to goose meat, Fennel Pollen is perfectly suited for roasted goose recipes. That strong, sweet, slightly licorice-like flavor is perfect for goose that has been prepared with a citrus marinade or made with citrus in the baking pan.
Save the grease that cooks off the bird for making scrambled eggs with the next morning. Thank us later.
Okay, but what about duck meat? Well, it is often said that these two types of meat taste very similar, only that goose is a little fattier. You can use all the above-mentioned herbs and spices on duck meat too! Keep in mind that with both these birds, the taste of wild versus domesticated may be quite different, depending on several unknowable factors to us as the consumer. Even what the bird eats will cause a flavor difference. It is important to use only a little bit of herbs or spices and then taste the bird once it is cooked to a “safe to eat” temperature. After this, adjust the amount of spices and seasonings.
What Spices Go with Eggs?
Eggs aren’t really meat, right? So, what are they doing on this list? Eggs are a common breakfast food, and they are extremely high in protein, just like meat. They are full of rich flavor that gives you a lot of protein for only a small amount of money. For some people, eggs are their main source of protein! Mixing up your regular egg routine with some delicious spices will help diversify any egg-based dish.
Black Pepper is the classic spice for eggs. The two are simply a match made in heaven because of the pepper’s bite combing so nicely with the creaminess of eggs. Mountains of scrambled eggs speckled with black pepper are a Sunday brunch staple.
Parsley is a great herb for eggs. It brightens and lightens the flavor of the eggs, which most people agree are quite savory and rich on their own.
Chives are a savory companion for eggs. They add a little bit of oniony, garlicky flavor to eggs without being overwhelmingly flavorful, like true onion or garlic may be.
Yellow Mustard Powder is a secret ingredient in nearly all those eggs you thought, “wow these are the best eggs I have ever tasted!” about.
Green or Red Bell Pepper add a bit of a zing to eggs. They give a nice, fresh, peppery flavor that both tastes amazing and smells very pleasing.
What Spices Go with Cheese?
Cheese and herbs are a food handshake. Satisfying, firmly pushed together in a way that pleases both parties, and perfect for introductions or parties at the homes of people you only sort of know. Back when Charlemagne was still alive, he was extremely fond of cheese with herbs. In his royal gardens across Europe, he demanded that farmers plant his favorite herbs for cheese. Each cheese has a unique flavor profile. Some are strong and pungent; others are sort of sweet with a softness to them. Experimenting with the types of cheese you want to pair with these herbs is sure to help you find the perfect pair.
For strong cheese like sharp cheddar, Chives are the perfect herb. Chives are delicate and oniony, creating a nice contrast to the sharpness of the cheddar cheese.
A bright and citrusy herb, Cilantro pairs well with cheeses like feta or cream cheese. It’s also good on cottage cheese!
Oregano is reminiscent of pizza shops for good reason- that sweet, delicate, slightly woodsy, herbal flavor matches up perfectly with all the ingredients in a classic pie, especially the cheese. Oregano is also excellent with salty cheeses like feta.
Basil is especially delicious with mozzarella and goat cheeses, thanks to its slightly sweet, warm flavor. These soft cheeses taste excellent with basil because they have a salty, briny flavor that is nicely complimented by the sweetness of the herb.
Fragrant, warm Sage is perfect for cheese sauces, particularly when the cheese sauce is cheddar based. Try it on macaroni and cheese.
Jalapeno Flakes add a wonderful bit of spicy zing to cheese. They are perfect on a semi-hard cheese, but also work well in cheese dips and cheese spreads. Try them with brie on a cracker for an interestingly salty, rich, spicy flavor.
Red Pepper Flakes would do pretty much the same thing as jalapeno flakes, but with a less spicy bite!