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Easy to make and full of fresh, zippy flavor, this is the best lemon pepper seasoning from scratch. Using simple ingredients you already have, this seasoning blend is full of flavor and perfect on chicken, wings, soup, fish, salad, or seafood!
Lemon pepper seasoning is a Black household staple, y'all. I'm so serious. There's the seasoning salt, the garlic powder, the Old Bay, and the lemon pepper in every grandma's spice cabinet, used in seasoning her crab boils, roasted chicken, and tilapia fillets.
But now lemon pepper has gone mainstream, everyone is loving lemon pepper chicken wings, lemon pepper butter sauces, lemon pepper pasta, you name it. And making the seasoning from scratch is incredibly easy and really handy.
What is Lemon Pepper?
So lemon pepper seasoning is a mix of dried and zested lemon peel, ground black pepper, and often other spices like garlic and onion, salt, etc.
I consider the store-bought ones not worth paying for. I remember buying one brand of lemon pepper where the 'lemon' dust was bright, bright yellow and it had no lemon peel in the seasoning blend, but plenty of chemicals and it tasted like it, too, with an extremely sour and bitter taste that also gave me a little lemon Pledge. The only 'lemon' in that mix was lemon oil. I was like, "There's the Pledge flavor!"
After that, I started making my own. Way easier and tastes a million times better. Not to mention cheaper, too.
Making Lemon Pepper Seasoning from Scratch
The best part of making your own spice blends is being able to control exactly what you want to put in it and how much.
In this recipe, there's dried lemon peel, coarsely ground black pepper, minced onion, a little salt, and garlic powder. Simple, to the point, and a great base for any additions you like. I don't add much salt because the salt needed differs per dish and I like being able to control the amount of salt in my food. But I do add MSG to my spice blend, personally. It's optional in this recipe, but a little MSG does wonders for savory food.
Is MSG bad?
Yeah, I know MSG has gotten a bad rap. But it's all a bunch of lies, I swear! And if you look into the history of those lies, you'll find that they actually came from racist motives against the Asian community in the US.
MSG gives 'umami', which is a savory flavor that rounds out the taste in many dishes and helps give saltiness a boost without making dishes over salty. While it's not a salt substitute, it can help bring more flavor to dishes you aren't using salt in or reducing salt in, including in this seasoning blend.
MSG is found naturally in so many foods (like tomatoes, cheeses, seafood like scallops, oysters and shrimp, egg yolks, broccoli, corn, and so many more) and is in to a ton of your favorite foods and snacks like Doritos, store-bought stock and broth, soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, fast food like those crispy chicken sandwiches from Chick Fil A, lunch meats, bouillon, condiments like ketchup and mayo, all types of stuff.
That's why many of them are flavor boosting foods...I think I told y'all in a beef stew recipe years ago that I liked adding fish sauce to my beef stew because I always felt like it was missing something. You know why? That natural MSG from the anchovies in fish sauce gives great umami flavor and rounds out the dish!
So if you want to add in a bit of MSG, go for it! I put in about ½ to 1 tsp per batch.
Fresh Lemon in Lemon Pepper Seasoning
Lemon peel is what makes the 'lemon' in lemon pepper. Fun fact, the lemon peel is what contains the actual lemon flavor, not the juice. So while the juice is what brings the sour pucker-up taste, it's the peel that has the bright, punchy lemon flavor.
In this recipe I use dried lemon peel, which I buy from a local spice market called The Spice Lab, but you can likely find lemon peel in your grocery store's spice aisle. If you can't, I've found lemon peel from McCormick on Amazon.
If you want to use fresh lemon peel for your blend, the lemon pepper must be refrigerated and used within a week. Using a microplane, zest an entire lemon's peel, keeping away from the bitter white pith.
I actually really like this when I'm only making a small amount of lemon pepper because I can grind the pepper and lemon zest together with my mortar and pestle and release all those fresh lemon oils.
When does Lemon Pepper Expire?
So in general, if stored correctly in a spice jar in a dry, cool place, your lemon pepper seasoning should last a couple years.
Here's the general timeline for spices:
- Whole spices, like whole nutmeg or allspice berries, will last 4 years.
- Ground or granulated spices, like black pepper and dried lemon peel here, will last 2 to 3 years.
- And dried herbs will last about 6 months to a year before losing potency.
Lemon Pepper Uses
Lemon pepper is used to season so many different dishes, but it's most popular on lemon pepper wings, and the lemon pepper butter sauce that it gets tossed in to make 'lemon pepper wet' wings, which are famous in Atlanta.
You can also use it to make delicious salmon dishes, on roasted chicken and potato dinners, in potato salad, in a citronette for a pretty spring salad, or any dish you want to bring bright, zesty flavor into.
Here are some of my favorite recipes to use lemon pepper in:
- Lemon Pepper Wings with Lemon Pepper Butter Sauce
- Salmon en Papillote with Lemon Gremolata
- Shrimp and Grits with Creamy Bacon Gravy
- Spatchcock Chicken and Potatoes with Lemon Garlic Pan Sauce
- Warm Butter Lobster Rolls
- Shrimp Scampi with Pasta
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- ¼ cup dried lemon peel
- 2 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic
- 1 tbsp dried minced onion, optional
- 1 tsp kosher salt or MSG, optional
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the dried lemon peel, coarsely ground black pepper, granulated garlic, dried minced onion, and salt or MSG until they are well combined.
- Pour the lemon pepper seasoning into a spice jar with a lid and keep the blend in a dry, cool environment for up to 2 years.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 4Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 0mgCarbohydrates: 1gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.