A judicious dose of basic steak seasoning transforms a promising choice cut from a disappointment to a slam-dunk. It’s the dynamic, primal interplay of juicy seared red meat and assertive coarse salt that makes eating a perfectly cooked steak so satisfying. When you have a jar of steak seasoning on hand, you’re never far away from a steakhouse-level dinner at home.
Here’s our basic mix for steak seasoning that walks the line between Montreal-style and Chicago-style. Whip it up at home you’ll find yourself reaching for it often. It’s both bold and understated–working with the meat and never upstaging it. It’s fun to sprinkle on more than just steak, too!
What Is Steak Seasoning?
In a nutshell, it’s mostly salt with some spices and herbs mixed in. Steak seasoning is different from steak dry rub in that steak seasoning is primarily salt accented with spices and herbs, while dry rub has a higher ratio of seasonings to salt.
Dry rub is usually applied more liberally, while steak seasoning is used with more discretion. Both are terrific ways to flavor a steak, but steak seasoning is the one that’ll deliver more of the true essence of the meat.
Montreal Vs. Chicago Seasoning
It turns out that in the world of steak seasoning mixes, few things are absolute except enduring appeal. The roots of this style of steak seasoning are an indirect path.
Montreal seasoning is indeed from Montreal, Canada, home of Montreal smoked meat. This cured and smoked beef brisket, similar to pastrami, is a beloved deli staple there. A story goes that a cook in Montreal’s Schwartz’s deli seasoned his own steak with the smoked meat seasoning on a whim, eventually arousing the curiosity of customers. Today, Montreal seasoning appears in plenty of variations.
The popular McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning sold in bottles in the US is a little heavier on the salt and lighter on the seasonings than many Canadian recipes for home cooks, but that’s where the inclusion of pepper, coriander, garlic and onion powders, and herbs came from.
And then there’s Chicago steak seasoning, another popular blend found in spice aisles across America. This one is murkier as far as specific origins. Chicago is famous for steakhouses, but the ingredients in Chicago steak seasoning vary quite a bit. Visually, it tends to include more red spice (from mild red peppers) than Montreal seasoning.
Creating a Winning Steak Seasoning
In building a steak seasoning to hit all the marks, Simply Recipes test kitchen developer Nicole Hopper played around with combinations and settled on a mix with just the right levels of heat, spice, and salt: “Overall, the seasoning is well-balanced. It hits those savory, umami notes with little lingering heat on the sides of the tongue. It has a nice earthiness and slight brightness from the coriander and herbaceousness from the thyme, while the mustard powder adds to the depth of flavor–it’s hard to pick up on it as a distinct flavor specifically, but it helps round it out and add a little zing.”
How to Use Steak Seasoning
- Pull the meat from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking it. This helps take the chill off, allowing the meat to cook more evenly so a steak isn’t tough on the outside yet cold and rare inside. Apply the seasoning when you take the steaks out to rest so it can settle into the meat.
- Get the ratio right. Nicole recommends 1 tablespoon seasoning per 1 pound of steak. Sprinkle the meat with the seasoning all over, not just on the broad top and bottom sides. Get the edges, too.
- For the best stovetop steaks, baste with butter near the end of cooking in the skillet. “Butter basting helps pick up any of the seasoning that might have fallen off the steak or stuck to the pan so that you don’t lose any of that flavor,” Nicole says.
Seasoning Beyond Steak
This seasoning has uses that go beyond steak. Try it on any of the following:
- French fries
- Steamed or roasted vegetables
- Pork chops or pork loin
Classic Steakhouse Sides
- Creamed Spinach
- Green Beans With Butter and Herbs
- Air Fryer Baked Potatoes
- Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Combine the ingredients:
Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until evenly combined.
Transfer the seasoning to an airtight jar or container. Store in a cool, dry place. For the best flavor use within 6 months.
To use the steak seasoning:
Sprinkle generously over steaks on all sides, using 1 tablespoon seasoning per 1 pound of steak. Ideally, let the seasoned steaks rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.
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