Between the smoke and the flames, grilling imparts layers of flavor that far surpass everyday cooked foods already. But as every good grillmaster knows, the right seasonings can bring out an endless strata of tastebud delight in every bite. Sure, salt and pepper on a prime cut of beef—topped with a dot of melting butter—can be more than enough seasoning. But variety is truly the spice of life as the
hundreds of rubs and sauces lining grocery store shelves in this nation can attest. So why not spread your open-flame cooking wings and try some unusual spices for grilling that go beyond the expected?
A deep red, this Middle Eastern spice derives from berries grown on bushes in the Middle East that surprisingly bring a tart, acidic flavor that hints at lemon, which every cook knows can brighten a whole array of dishes. Since it lacks the sourness of lemon, its subtlety also makes it ideal as a garnish that adds a zing of tang to that luscious fish you just pulled off your grates, especially with its coarser grind versus the usual spice powder. Add it toward the end if you’re sprinkling it on by itself, since it loses flavor the longer its on the heat.
Sprinkle on: lamb chops, delicate fish, cauliflower, chicken, lobster, broccoli, or add it to your favorite rub
Okay, you may be thinking you’ve heard of this and what’s the big whoop. But grillers often underestimate the surprise flavors out there that aren’t just about more heat. Cardamom hits that spot. It’s a bit like cinnamon but more sophisticated, with a nutty and even citrusy layer to it. And it’s no wimp. You’ve probably savored it in some types of curry. It’s sweeter than cumin, and sausage makers love it, which means it brings a singular, flavor to your rub.
Sprinkle on: chops, beef cuts, pumpkin, baked beans, lamb
Not everything stays on the flames long enough to pick up much flavor straight from the grill. That’s where paprika shines. But skip the usual sweet paprika that adds that classic color to the top of your favorite deviled eggs. And bypass the Hungarian hot versions. Instead, reach for the smoked paprika. Sometimes called Spanish paprika, the usual chili peppers in paprika are smoked while they dry, leaving them with a woodsy smoke essence that balances with the usual sweet.
Sprinkle on: asparagus, shrimp, summer squash, light fish, leeks, chicken kebabs
There’s something about that umami flavor that, once you know it, makes your mouth water at just reading the word. Truffles lend that satisfying umami note in their unique, luxurious way, along with adding their deep earthiness. Combine that with flavor-enhancing salt and you’ll be lauded for that mysterious new flavor to your flame-kissed food, including steaks. But add it at the end since more heat only lessens its impact.
Sprinkle on: steaks, roasted potatoes, pork roasts, chicken
It’s not just for Christmas cookies. The gnarled root lends a pungent, sweet spiciness that grows milder when ground versus fresh, which means it can add a whole new flavor profile to your grilling repertoire. In Caribbean, Indian, and Asian menus, ginger enhances many a meat and veggie dish. It’s also a perfect foil to hot spices in your rubs and marinades brining in a hint of pepperiness laced with sweet
Sprinkle on: chicken, flank steak, grilled fruits, salmon, roasted vegetables, pork tenderloin
So, what are you waiting for? Head to the store now and pick up these unusual spices for grilling now. Your tastebuds will thank you later.