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February/March 2015

Louisiana (Cajun or Creole) Seasoning

We tasted five seasonings labeled Creole or Cajun on white rice and in pork grillades.

How We Tested

Cajun and Creole are terms often used interchangeably to describe the flavorful dishes that Louisiana is famous for. Recipes for Louisiana spice blends vary in name, but whether called Cajun or Creole, most contain a mix of paprika, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne—ingredients typically found in the region’s gumbos, seafood boils, and meat rubs. To determine the best Louisiana spice mix, we tasted five seasonings labeled Creole or Cajun on white rice and in pork grillades.

Tasters wanted seasoning that packed a punch and preferred saltier and spicier products. We liked the “pungent” kick from products that list black pepper, cayenne, or chili powder high on their ingredient lists. Since salt is a flavor enhancer, tasters also thought that products with more sodium had “stronger,” “more complex” spice blends: Our favorite product contains 350 milligrams of sodium per 1/4-teaspoon serving and was deemed “punchy” and “vibrant.” Seasonings with less than 130 milligrams of sodium were “flat” and “bland,” and one salt-free product was “completely boring.” But lots of salt didn’t guarantee a great seasoning: One product contains as much sodium as our winner but also includes flavor-enhancing chemicals, like disodium inosinate and guanylate, which made it too salty for tasters.

Products that stuck to traditional paprika-heavy and garlic-forward notes also rated better with tasters. Two bottom-ranked products included marjoram, fennel, or cumin and were ranked lower for their “misplaced,” “confusing” flavors.

We were concerned that some products were “papery” or “dusty” when we tasted them sprinkled on rice, but texture differences disappeared when the seasonings were cooked in a stew like grillades. Still, we thought seasonings that had a slightly “grainy,” “consistent” texture worked equally well when cooked and when sprinkled as a garnish (like for seafood boils or as a table spice).

When we tested the products against our homemade recipe for Louisiana seasoning in pork grillades, the homemade blend won out for its “balanced” complexity, so we think it’s worth the extra time and effort. But in a pinch, we prefer our winner, a local Louisiana favorite, for its “punchy,” “vibrant” flavor featuring plenty of chili powder, pepper, and garlic. An added bonus: At $0.28 per ounce, it’s the cheapest seasoning of the bunch.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.