The long-running Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, which started back in 2003, has covered just about every trade industry you could think of. Its host, Baltimore County, Md. native Mike Rowe, shadows skilled workers to get a taste of the difficult, often messy, jobs they do. It’s entertaining to watch the self-deprecating Rowe struggle at times, but it also helps viewers to appreciate the work that consumers often take for granted.
On a recent episode, Rowe returned to his Maryland roots and put the spotlight on the Chesapeake Bay seafood industry. He visits crab seasoning maker J.O. Spice Company, a family business dating back to 1945.
J.O. Spice was named for founder J.O. (James Ozzle) Strigle, born and raised on Tangier Island. He and his wife Dot created the spice blend now used in many Chesapeake Bay crabhouses, with inspiration from Tangier shoremen who took spices from the pantry and blended them based on centuries of handed-down recipes.
A few generations later, the family produces several spices but they’re best known for their crabhouse spice, known as J.O. No. 2. It’s used to season steamed blue crabs, just like the brand with much more name recognition, Old Bay (owned by McCormick, a Fortune 500 company).
Rowe says he chose to feature J.O. Spice on Dirty Jobs to set the record straight about J.O. Spice being the spice you really get when you order crabs. In a Facebook post, he wrote, “The company has been cranking out tons of the stuff, literally, for four generations. Unfortunately, 99 percent of the country—including most everyone in Baltimore—confuses J.O. No. 2 with Old Bay Seasoning. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, more than once, and I wanted to use Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe to atone for my past mistakes.”
In the episode, Rowe works alongside Quality Control Manager Tyler Ports, great-grandson of J.O. Strigle. Rowe helps with measuring and mixing spice ingredients (sneezing all the way), then cleaning the facility and boxing the product. It ends with J.O.’s employees, Rowe’s TV crew and his elderly parents all enjoying a crab feast together.
It was a happy ending until Rowe went on the Rachael Ray Show to promote Dirty Jobs. Rachael and her producers once again confused J.O. with Old Bay, showing an Old Bay box during the segment. Rowe addressed the snafu on social media, and the Rachael Ray Show quickly removed the error from its website.
Ginger Ports, sales and marketing manager and Tyler’s mother, says after the Dirty Jobs episode aired on the Discovery Channel and the Rachael Ray mixup made news, J.O. has seen a a big bump in business and awareness nationwide.
“In six days, we shipped to 48 states, worked Saturday and are running overtime shifts,” Ginger tells Bay Bulletin. “Social media presence has grown as well as our online store. It is fabulous for us and a lot of small family businesses we work with.”
Ginger says the local printing shops they work with have seen a bump from the increase in J.O. merchandise—the shirt and cap Rowe wore on the show is their number one seller. Tackle shops and grocery stores, she says, are placing orders like it’s summertime.
As for the ongoing fight to fix J.O.’s case of mistaken identity, Ginger says it’s frustrating, but each competing spice has its place.
“By no means does recognizing J.O. as the crabhouse seasoning take away from Old Bay being an iconic Maryland product that it became when McCormick purchased it in the early ’90s from Baltimore Spice. It just isn’t the flavor profile of commercial crab houses or a true crab seasoning.”
J.O. Spice sells many of its spice blends, including the crab-steaming spice J.O. No. 2, on its website.
You can watch the J.O. Spice episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe on demand or stream it on Discovery+.
-Meg Walburn Viviano