Cajun vs Creole BBQ: What's The Difference
Coastal swamps teeming with chirping life. Soulful jazz pouring from the next street over. Washing down a cosmopolitan Sunday brunch with bottomless mimosas. Reeling in your latest freshwater catch before excitedly casting the next line. No matter who you ask, Louisiana culture conjures specific imagery you simply can’t find anywhere else. Rising from the centuries of overlapping colonial influences across a wild frontier, everything from the curious sights and floral smells to the spirited music is distinctly ours.
And then there’s the incomparable food. Even if you haven’t tried it yourself, you’ve definitely heard of it. Take the most iconic cuisines of Europe, filter them through some of the most dangerous wilderness of the New World, and give them the old bayou twang; the food here in Louisiana really speaks for itself. The essence of our ways is all about freshly harvested ingredients, an unparalleled sense of community, and unique techniques and traditions passed down from family to family and chef to chef.
But how exactly do you cook stews and rices on a grill? Answer: with style (bragging rights optional). Call us biased, but we firmly believe that fresh air and wafting aromas just do a seasoned pot of delicious jambalaya justice. So does one of our favorite faces around New Orleans: Chef Kenneth Temple, owner of Savory, LLC and renowned local caterer. With plenty of charisma to spare, our spirited friend sat down with us to discuss the artistry behind grilling good, old-fashioned Louisiana barbecue — Cajun, Creole, and everything between.
What Distinguishes Cajun and Creole Food?
To the outsider looking in, there’s a great deal of subtlety distinguishing Cajun from Creole dishes. But for true Louisiana cooks, they’re as different as day and night. Both cuisines pull from the same strong foundation — and with the rich Louisianan ecosystem and wide colonial overlap, why wouldn’t they? As usual, the devil’s in the details. Look past the mouthwatering dirty rice and piping-hot cayenne pepper, and you’ll see distinctive features clearly highlighting the essence of these cousin cuisines.
What is Cajun Cuisine?
Forget the city-slicker appetite: in the Cajun heartlands, taste and taste trump presentation every time. Cajun food is a robust, rustic mixture of French and Southern cuisines that’s often a one-pot buffet. Traditionally, it uses ingredients sourced right from the land; classics include smoked boudin sausages, savory chicken and andouille gumbos, seasoned rice jambalayas, zesty crawfish étouffées, and other irreplaceable dishes. Though hot and delicious Cajun cuisine is forever a staple of New Orleans, true Cajun country finds its heart hours northwest of the city, where the rural and rustic bayous provide great eating.
What is Creole Cuisine?
Elevating flavor and finesse to an art form, Creole food is a cosmopolitan blend sourcing heavily from European, African, and Native American roots. The strongest influence is in its French roots; think of broiled Oysters Rockefeller, creamy seafood bisques, rich roux gumbos, decadent shrimp creoles, seared grillades and grits, and other fine plates. Creole favors full-bodied sauces, local herbs, red ripe tomatoes and, importantly, seafood caught in nearby waters. Birthed and proudly maintained in the old-line kitchens of New Orleans, generations of tradition are painstakingly followed through to today.
Facts About Cajun and Creole Cuisine
That’s right: we’re straight onto the fact-checking section. With decades of admiration, why is it so difficult to capture that magnetic lightning in a bottle? Is it the okra? Is the air literally charged with garlic particles? Does the dish have a mind of its own — one that hates foreign kitchens? Close, but no. In ways perhaps like no other, Louisianan cuisine is highly misunderstood. Before we dive deeper into brushing off any trade secrets, we’d be doing ourselves (and the hosts of every crawfish boil we’ve ever attended) a disservice without addressing and correcting a few garlic-laden myths.
Sorry, We're Fresh Out of "Bland"
Every single bite of authentic Cajun or Creole should pass through the bayou pantheon with explosive flavor, born of fresh ingredients and potent seasoning. If you’re delving into a Louisianan dish and it doesn’t utterly kick with flavor, guess what? As far as us natives are concerned, you’re frankly eating something else.
Heat Is Not Flavor
Here’s a hot take: Louisianan food isn’t “too spicy” — thank decades of heavy-handed imitators and store-bought seasoning blends for the reputation. Sure, these dishes might be forged in the smoke of Mount Spice, but every authentic Louisianan cook worth their boudin divorces taste from temperature. Set down that milk glass!
Not All Stews Are Gumbos
It never fails: when someone past our borders brings up our food, “gumbo” isn’t far behind. While there are seemingly as many varieties of gumbo as there are ants in our backyards, gumbo doesn’t cover all mildly soupy bowls. Rice in the pot? That’s likely jambalaya. Blonde and thick? Possibly étouffée. Tomato in it? It’s probably a travesty.
Yes, the “Swamp Floor Pantry” Was Real
Spoiler alert: it still is! Chef John Folse (specifically, his father) named it thusly because that’s exactly how locals harvest ingredients for dinner. After all, swamps are rich ecosystems bursting with potent herbs and protein. From the aromatic to the amphibious, the backyard has it all! With no closing hours or unmanned cash registers.
Mean Cuisine, or "Bite It Right Back"
This one’s true too. Famously, Chef Folse says on the topic: “If it crawled, if it swam, or if it flew, it was in trouble in Cajun country.” From alligators to nutria, the wetlands are filled with interesting zoology capable of mauling the locals. No matter the number of teeth or legs, at the top of the food chain proudly stands a Cajun. Spite definitely helps.
Choosing Creole and Cajun BBQ Cookware
You ask: “Great, but what about the grill grates?” Don’t worry, we know physics has a few things to say about whipping up that étouffée under that hood. Introducing: the pot. (Groundbreaking stuff, we know.) Most of what you’ll find with Cajun grilling calls for a solid investment in at least one big, robust pot. Creole, on the other hand, will ask for a variety of cookware — expect a few saucepans, a pot, and an ample skillet for a well-stocked start. And while you’re at it, why not keep a handle on prep work with reliable, high-quality knives?
Grilling With Cast Iron Cookware
The science is in: cast iron cookware hogs heat. Iron provides awesome distribution of heat — which is exactly what you’ll want when you’re stirring that delicate roux. But this juggernaut of retention doesn’t come with a brake pedal; it’s easier to burn your dishes when you can’t stop the heat train. And with these flavorful cuisines, keeping cast iron pots and saucepans well-seasoned will play a key factor in your results.
- Slower yet sstronger heat
- Excellent heat distribution
- Stay on top of maintenance
- Requires gentler cleanup
Grilling With Aluminum Cookware
Aluminum cookware hops the line for getting straight to that sizzling heat. Normally, this argument would be (mostly) over before it was made, but skipping the stovetop for the hooded grill bathes your cookware in precious, sweltering heat that helps to even out the otherwise weak distribution. Aluminum is known to mildly interact with acidic food, but most recipes don’t call for tomatoes. Certainly not the Cajun ones!
- Heats and cools quicker
- Respectable heat distribution
- Possible interactions with acid
- Requires gentler overall use
Grilling With BBQ Cutlery
Once you have the pots and pans, invest in professional BBQ cutlery and grilling knives. Louisiana cuisine is about the spirit of the meal, and rewards those who respect the ingredients. Teach yourself how to care for cooking knives and cutlery, and you’ll find any of these dishes will come faster and easier. We won’t say “don’t get a full set” — every kitchen can use one — but Cajun food just asks for a handful of solid chops. Creole pleads for greater finesse.
- Chef knives for general purpose use
- Utility knives for finer Creole dishes
- Filet knives for prepping fish
Culturally speaking, a bedrock flavor base of 3–4 diced vegetables is easy to teach and easier to keep consistent. To name a few iconic ones, we have the French mirepoix (named for the originating cook’s aristocratic employer), the German Suppengrün (“soup greens”), the Italian soffritto (“underfried”), and the Polish Włoszczyzna (literally, “Italian stuff”). Bayou and wetlands recipes happily bought the playbook; they call theirs “the Holy Trinity,” named with the influential local Catholic culture in mind. Surprise! Cajun and Creole foods might capture differing essences, but the cornerstone of every kitchen between them is the Holy Trinity.
What is the Holy Trinity?
So, the basis of many a great Louisiana dish is “the Holy Trinity,” or simply trinity — equal parts green bell pepper, white onion, and celery. (Occasionally, you’ll hear of adding “the pope” to the trinity: that’s garlic.) Other versions might call for additional greenery, such as parsley, green onions, or shallots. Beyond the separate merits of its three ingredients, the trinity’s aromatic flavor base sweats a robust, full-bodied moisture. This is especially true when heated in the juices of browned meats, or lightly cooked in butter or oil. It’s a legendary combination because it just works.
How is the Holy Trinity Commonly Prepared?
In a mirepoix, the base vegetables are finely diced or minced. Not so with the trinity; unless stated otherwise, its ingredients are roughly chopped instead. (This is true even in the Creole style. See? Those guys know how to cut loose, too.) Furthermore — much like mincing garlic and onion in a pan before browning ground beef for common Italian recipes — the trinity remains a component for the final dish. It’s meant to provide the backbone upon which the rest of the recipe is built.
Example Uses For the Holy Trinity
Start the trinity in the skillet before working in meats or other vegetables. For different impact, brown larger meat selections on the grill before setting them aside, cook the trinity in their drippings, then bring the family back together. .
Punch up a braise’s flavor within the crucial window between browning your meat and adding the broth. Simply prepare and add the trinity, cooking it to satisfaction before mixing in the flood of flavor.
Skillful use of the trinity brings complementary textures to many rice-based dishes — pretty much any great jambalaya comes to mind. Furthermore, the fluffy grains soak up all that distinctive, impactful flavor.
The trinity is a staple in any powerful roux, magnifying the final taste. It also protects the delicate base by pausing it near the intended color; this lowers the danger of burning it, imbuing bitter flavor. (Especially great on the grill grates.) Speaking of roux…
What is a Roux?
Were there such a creature as a “kangaroux,” we believe that might be the apex predator of the wetlands. (Luckily, Australia got first dibs on marsupials.) Rather than a dreaded 8-foot-tall menace with a 20-foot leap, roux serves as a thickening agent for sauces, soups, stews, and more. A traditional roux is a cooked mixture of 1:1 flour and fat. The journey sounds simple enough: first, you melt bacon fat or oil in a pan before adding flour and stirred until buttery smooth. The resulting mixture is simmered and frequently stirred to the desired color level, which for Louisianan recipes should vary between medium-blond and dark brown (black is possible, but is synonymous here with “bitter”).
Keep a Steady Hand…
Bear in mind that cooking a roux is a delicate adventure. Flour is hungry for any excuse to burn, and a roux’s preparation is a balancing act between heat power and stirring endurance. Too much heat, and you flirt with ruining the roux; nail that perfect simmer, and you might spend 30–40 minutes tethered to softly stirring a saucepan you can’t leave. This is where your cookware choices (and your mastery of it) will move the needle. Cast iron is slow to sponge up heat, but retains it; aluminum heats and cools faster, but the thinner sides will expect consistent attention.
…And a Constant Hand
Step away even briefly, and you risk starting over from the beginning. This is especially true in a grilling environment, where volatile heat will poke around your stirring game and try to scorch the fragile broth. It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t far from the truth when preparing roux in general. In fact, any great roux is temperamental to contain (much like our theoretical kangaroux), but basic mastery of the roux makes for an uncomplicated and rewarding milestone. And when you succeed on a grill, you’re making grill masters south of the Mason-Dixon Line proud.
The foundation of any great cuisine is its selection of natural ingredients — and as it turns out, a great place to start is “hundreds of miles of swamplands.” Fancy that! With enough varieties of herbs, proteins, and grains to virtually be a world of their own, the wetlands of Louisiana are the engine behind some of the best food in the United States. Read on to find out how (and why) the locals do it.
Surprising literally nobody, seafood is an important staple in Louisianan cuisine. Fish are typically caught fresh and descaled on the spot or back at the fisher’s camp; shellfish are usually kept live until their mandatory spa day in the boiling pot. Catfish deserves special mention: though commonplace in dishes today, it rose in prominence fairly recently due to increased farming in the Mississippi Delta. Whichever swimming critter is on the menu, a boost of spices will take that plate to paradise.
Freshwater: bass, catfish, perch
Saltwater: trout, redfish, drumfish, snapper
Shellfish: crawfish, shrimp, oysters, blue crab
Everyone loves poultry, and poultry loves soaking up incredible herbs. (Poultry probably loves the Cajun dominion over the ecosystem a little less, but nobody asked them.) Whether raised in the backyard farm or felled from the skies for aerial truancy, a great bird seasoned and smoked is a welcome addition to many dining tables. Local game birds in particular enjoy frequent circulation — at least, while their season’s open. Maybe they should think about that before they loiter in marshes. The boats aren’t exactly subtle.
Farm-raised: turkey, chicken
Hunted: duck, goose, quail
Processed beef, by comparison, holds much less market share in the Cajun palette. Despite much of southern Louisiana being fairly suited for dairy or cattle farming, there’s no unanimous or specifically local spin on the protein. With that said, beef is prepared simply: stews, chops, and steaks. Ground beef is seasoned with the local zest, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, dairy surfaces mostly in Creole-influenced desserts: think luxurious slices of cheesecake and rich bread puddings.
Sides: turkey, chicken
Entrees: duck, goose, quail
Desserts: turkey, chicken
From our Wildlife and Fisheries: “Feral hogs are the most reproductively efficient large mammal on earth, and they can adapt to survive nearly any environment.” That meant year-round pork for early French settlers. To preserve it, they concocted “pickle meat” — often used to provide ample flavor and brine to pots of smothered vegetables and simmered beans. This continues with roadside mainstays such as boudin, or “blood sausage,” with rice used as a cheap but effective filler. Even the hog’s shoulder isn’t wasted; tasso ham flavorfully seasons soups, gumbo, grits, and gravies.
Sausages: andouille, boudin, chaurice
Recipes: tasso, ham hocks
Sources: wild boar, feral hog
It’s been mentioned before, but we’ll say it again: if it can be caught by a Cajun, it’ll be eaten by a Cajun. To call game meat consistently popular simply isn’t accurate enough. It’s woven into the heartbeat of Louisiana cuisine and culture. Early French and Spanish settlers found plenty of local critters to source furs and hides, and their descendants follow the philosophy to this day. Most parts of the animals are retained. If they can’t be seasoned and stewed, you’ll find their bones and teeth in local souvenir shops.
Game: venison, rabbit, opossum
Reptiles: alligator, snake
Amphibians: turtle, bullfrog
Remember when we called out the seemingly endless varieties of gumbo available down in Acadiana country? Seasoning blends continue that trend. However, local spices are integral to the experience — go ahead, count how many times we’ve said “seasoning” on this page — so it’s not a complete guide without them. But every family has its own take for empowering Louisianan plates with captivating taste. You gather up a few dozen staff relatives and ask them the do’s and don’t’s of spice blends and, well…
Truthfully, there’s no unified agreement on ingredients and ratios to blend the best, tried-and-true seasoning for the authentic Cajun or Creole experience. The “right” method is whatever works best with the ingredients at hand, which is why the following isn’t a definitive list. But if you want the spirit of the seasoning, here are key choices you’ll likely encounter between many authentic dishes.
Cajun and Creole Spices:
- Bay leaf
- Bell peppers (green or red)
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Dried shrimp
- Parsley, flat leaf
- Sassafras leaves - dried and ground
- Chili pepper
- Green mint
Cajun and Creole Recipes
We’ve taught you the differences between Creole and Cajun cuisine. Now, it’s time for you to start putting that know-how into action. Assemble your cookware and cutlery, amass your spices and ingredients, and warm up that grill hood — and prepare to throw a BBQ party packed to the brim with zesty Acadiana flavors that’ll knock the socks off of everyone close enough to raid your silverware drawer.
How to Boil Crawfish
Grilled Oysters Rockefeller
Blackened Chicken Mozzarella Po-Boy
Grilled Shrimp Po-boy With Remoulade Sauce
Bourbon Street King Cake Bread Pudding
Holiday Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce and Spiced Cream Sauce
Grilled Alligator Sausage over Corn Grits with a Smoked Gouda Crawfish Cream Sauce
Smoked Gumbo on the Blaze Kamado
New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp on a Grill
Cajun Rotisserie Chicken with Roasted Mixed Vegetables
Cajun Fried Turkey
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