There are a ZILLION spices out there, but there are a few essential spices for every kitchen. Nothing fancy- these are the basic spices you’ll need to make all kinds of dishes and add delicious flavor to almost any meal! These are basic spices that you can find at regular grocery stores and they are all geared toward the busy home cook!
List of Essential Spices for Every Kitchen
Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
Both sea salt and kosher salt have a courser texture and also have a more subtle salt flavor than table salt. If you haven’t made the switch from table salt — that’s your first order of business!
Fresh Black Pepper
As with table salt, you won’t find pre-ground pepper at my house, either! I find it flavorless! Instead, opt for a simple pepper grinder like this. If you want to get fancy, you can buy whole black peppercorns and use a fancy spice grinder like this.
Either way, you will find you’ll get MUCH more flavor from freshly ground black pepper.
Garlic Powder (not garlic salt)
Garlic powder is the third most-used spice at my house behind salt and pepper. Fresh garlic is always best, but when I don’t feel like chopping garlic, a few shakes of garlic powder is a great substitute!
Garlic Powder and onion powder go hand in hand. Rarely do I use one and not the other…like in this amazing Velveeta Green Bean Casserole! Both the garlic and onion flavors complement each other so well.
Gosh, I love this spice! It adds a subtle, yet rich smokey flavor that adds such a depth of flavor to any dish or spice mixture. I use it in my Homemade Taco Seasoning, the dry rub for these Smoked Chicken Thighs, and in hearty dishes like this Cowboy Stew!
Sweet paprika is OK, too but once you try smoked, you won’t go back!
Oregano or Italian Seasoning
A warm spice I usually equate to the holidays when I make this Cinnamon Whipped Cream or Pumpkin Pie! However, cinnamon is great to have around for simple things like adding to shakes and smoothies, muffins and other baked goods, or good old-fashioned cinnamon toast!
Ahhhh, the earthy flavor of chili powder is soooo versatile in Mexican dishes and hearty soups and stews. It’s also the main ingredient in taco seasoning. It’s a great way to add subtle spice without making a dish SPICY.
Cayenne Pepper or Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
Essential Spice Blends for Your Kitchen (shortcuts!)
While you can probably MAKE most of these store-bought spice blends from the spices in your “essential spices cabinet,” sometimes you need a shortcut…and that is where spice blends and and dry rubs come in!
These spice rubs and blends are an easy way to add a lot of flavor to your everyday cooking without having to do the BLENDING yourself!
Taco seasoning is THE #1 most used spice blend in my spice cabinet! My favorite is my homemade low-sodium taco seasoning that I like making in bulk.
Cajun seasoning is probably my second most-used spice blend. It’s a blend of warm spices and you can buy it in varying heat levels. It’s a key ingredient in my Creamy Cajun Spaghetti and my Cajun Chicken Orzo! I even like sprinkling it over the top of warm, homemade garlic bread.
A BBQ rub is essential for quick summer grilling or when you don’t feel like blending your own spices for meat dishes! Or try a store-bought rub for my Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Thighs, Smoked Chicken Thighs or oven-baked pork chops.
Our #1 go-to BBQ blend is this Kinders Woodfired Garlic Rub.
Seasoned salt is exactly what it claims to be–salt that has been seasoned with other spices. Every brand has a slightly different blend, but typically it’s salt mixed with spices like paprika, turmeric, onion powder, garlic powder and some sugar.
It’s an easy way to kick up the savory flavor in a dish and a KEY ingredient in my Perfect Mashed Potatoes!
Dry Ranch Seasoning
I LOVE having ranch seasoning around! Making my semi-homemade ranch dip (AKA: Wingstop Ranch) is something I do almost every week! We love to use it to dip veggies, or drizzle on sandwiches and wraps!
Tips for Building Your Spice Rack
- Start Small: When you are starting to build your spice “collection” start with a small amount of versatile spices (like the ones I listed above) and slowly build from there.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment! The spices I listed above are just the most essential spices for everyday cooking. Once you have those stocked and get comfortable using them, you can start to branch out and add different spices and blends. Some you might want to add to your collection: cumin, curry powder, garam masala (if you love Indian cuisine), bay leaves, and nutmeg.
- Don’t Pay a Fortune: Spices don’t have to cost a fortune! You can get perfectly good, CHEAP spices at Walmart in plastic containers for $1-2!! You can transfer them into nice glass containers so they last longer, if you like.
- Try Small Quantities: If you want to try new spices but aren’t sure if you’ll like them, check to see if your grocery store has a bulk spices section so you can just try a little without “committing” to an entire container!
How to Store Spices
- No need for anything elaborate, but store your spices in a dark place (like a cabinet), in airtight containers–glass is best.
- Try to keep your spices away from heat and humidity (impossible sometimes, I know!). Just know that spices exposed to more heat will lose their potency faster. Consider storing some spices in the fridge in the summer or if your house is super hot. Storing them in the fridge may extend their shelf life for a few months.
- No need for a super fancy spice cabinet or rack (although if you are in the market for one, I LOVE this!) I love storing my spices on a small lazy Susan–it makes it quick and easy to find them!
- Dry ground spices can last from 1-3 years if stored properly. However, before using each one, give it a good smell to check for freshness. You want a nice, vibrant smell to the spice!