Celery Salt: Stodgy Spice or Sublime Seasoning?

Celery Salt: Stodgy or Sublime?
Wataru Yanagida / Getty Images

There's a hot dog place in my neighborhood that makes Chicago-style dogs, which feature mustard, onions, neon green relish, peppers, a pickle spear, slices of fresh tomato and a dash of celery salt.

Celery salt, if you're not familiar, is a spice blend consisting of two things: salt and ground celery seed. Like its counterpart, celery root, celery seed has a powerful celery flavor, grassy, a bit sweet and slightly bitter.

My first thought was that only mad dogs and Englishmen would add salt to a hot dog. Hot dogs are basically just tubes of salt and meat anyway, so adding salt seemed like a serious overkill.

But it actually worked. There are a lot of ways to assemble a Chicago dog, but in my case, the tomato slices were laid across the top, so the celery salt went onto the tomato, not directly on the dog.

Celery and tomato happen to be a great flavor pairing. If tomatoes and celery met online, they'd be at least a 90% match. The hint of celery brought a refreshing note to the dog, which is a nice change from the typical chili-smothered New York dog.

And of course, fresh tomato slices absolutely adore a sprinkling of salt — it brings the flavors to life, and, perhaps paradoxically, brings out the tomato's sweetness. So it worked, is what I'm saying.

Illustration that shows what celery salt tastes good with
The Spruce / Mary McLain

Celery Salt: Aromatic and Flavorful

Now, you could argue that the salt is really just a medium for applying the celery seed because celery seed itself is pretty potent and all you need is a pinch.

But hot dog vendors do not deal in pinches. They have a shaker and they give the thing a shake and celery salt comes out.

This is also why celery salt is made with ground celery seed and ordinary table salt—so that it will fit through the holes in the shaker.

Celery salt is also one of the standard ingredients in a classic bloody mary. And it will do wonderful things to potato salad, coleslaw, french fries, corn on the cob, popcorn, deviled eggs.

Or for that matter, plain hard-boiled eggs. Do you like to sprinkle salt on a hard-boiled egg? Me too. Try it with celery salt instead.

Sounds pretty great, doesn't it? It sounds like something you'd like to experiment with. You might even be thinking "Wait, I think I might've seen a thing of celery salt way in the back of the cupboard last year..." But trust me, if you've had it more than six months, it went stale a long time ago. The reason being, once you grind a spice like celery seed, it immediately begins losing its flavor and aroma. So get a fresh one.

Make Your Own Celery Salt

Or better yet, for maximum freshness, you can make your own celery salt in small batches.

It's easy to do. Start with a tablespoon of whole celery seed. Grind it up in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Then add two tablespoons of Kosher salt, mix thoroughly and use. Keep it sealed tightly and it'll stay fresh for a month.

For that matter, you don't need to grind the seeds. It's just that some people don't care to bite into whole seeds. If you leave the seeds whole, your blend will stay fresh longer.

You can make other versions of celery salt by drying celery leaves in a low oven, and then grinding them in a spice grinder and combining with salt. You can even grate celery root (also called celeriac) and dry it and do the same. You might sometimes see celery flakes at the store, which is simply dehydrated celery, and you could combine that with salt to make celery salt.

Finally, you don't actually need to combine the salt and the celery. Keeping the two seasonings separate lets you control each one individually. Celery seed is a common ingredient in various dry rub recipes, which also contain salt. But for the most part, the 2:1 ratio of basic celery salt will be just right.

Would I sprinkle it on a baked potato? Why yes, I believe I would. What about a steak? Oh, I'd be sorely tempted.