A unique, 30-plus spice blend invented in Montgomery is causing classically trained chefs, home cooks, pitmasters and others nationwide to clear out their spice cabinets.
Their favored flavor is Hardin’s Seasoning, owned by Montgomery County father-son duo Tim and J.P. Molpus.
“It’s everything you need to make your food taste good,” said 26-year-old J.P., who takes the lead in producing the decades-old recipe, while his father works with distribution centers to market the blend to over 250 grocery stores.
Granulated garlic, lemon pepper, paprika and dill are a few of Hardin’s high-quality ingredients, which are mixed in small batches with the seasoning’s smoky base.
Tim said Hardin’s distinct profile hits the tongue in three stages. Taste buds first soak up garlicky, peppery, smoky flavors before a combination of celery salt and violet cleanses the palate. A bite of lemon finishes the flavor profile.
At the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery, executive chef Jabari Nix and his team sprinkle Hardin’s on everything from prime rib and pork to roasted potatoes, gumbo and collard greens.
“It’s a staple of what we do,” Nix said. “It has a high salt content. You don’t have to use anything else when you use Hardin’s.”
Sous chef Micah Marlar said he cooked with the all-purpose seasoning at home before the Molpus family connected with the hotel restaurant scene. While he prefers Hardin’s to tenderize and accent beef, he’s created banquet menus featuring the seasoning, like Hardin’s-crusted salmon with blackberry salsa or pork belly sliders with coleslaw.
Created by immigrant German butchers in the 1960s, the seasoning gained popularity at Hardin’s Meat Market in the 1990s. Martha Best Bice bought the recipe from the original family and added ingredients, which made the seasoning a fundamental flavor in River Region households.
“I would love to say I created this seasoning, but I give credit where it’s due. And it’s due to Mrs. Bice,” said Tim, 61. “She was folklore in the area. I’ve been buying Hardin’s for years. When I had the opportunity to buy in, it was a no-brainer.”
Tim bought the recipe a couple years ago after retiring from his commercial paint company. They’ve since added a blue-label poultry and seafood blend to contrast the original, red-label seasoning. The poultry seasoning has extra lemon pepper, dill, habanero and paprika. J.P. is concocting a hotter spice blend at the urging of heat-loving customers in Louisiana and Texas.
Hardin’s is a hit across the U.S., from Martha’s Vineyard, where foodies dunk lobster in a mixture of Hardin’s and butter, to California steakhouses that rub the seasoning on high-priced beef. Italian and Cajun restaurants use Hardin’s, too, as do award-winning barbecue pitmasters. In his experience, Tim said retailers and business owners take Hardin’s home, too.
Home cooks buy 5.5-ounce bottles of Hardin’s in grocery stores like Super Foods, Piggly Wiggly and Food Giant plus locally owned stores and markets. They also buy seasoning at HardinsSeasoning.com. Tim said some customers have driven as far as 40 miles to get their hands on Hardin’s. Maxwell Air Force Base helped spread the seasoning, too, as servicemen leave Montgomery with an affinity for Hardin’s.
Tim recently created a Facebook group called Hardin’s Head to encourage fans to share recipes and photos of good eats seasoned with Hardin’s. Some shake the seasoning on eggs, buttered popcorn and vegetables — and even mix it in flour dredges for fried chicken.
“We have two kinds of customers,” Tim said. “One wants to tell everyone they know about Hardin’s. The other doesn’t want to tell anyone. It’s their secret ingredient.”
Visit HardinsSeasoning.com to learn more.