Chef Isaac Toups Shares Grilling Secrets
The James Beard finalist gives tips on how to bring some Cajun to your cookout
Isaac Toups is a proud Cajun.
The chef’s family first settled in Louisiana over 300 years ago, meaning that Cajun cooking is literally steeped into the chef’s DNA.
Catch Toups at his New Orleans restaurant, Toups Meatery, and he’ll regale you with tales of both of his grandmothers cooking for the family. Those women influence his cooking today, as evidenced by his menu that combines traditional Cajun flavors with modern techniques. Dishes like BBQ Mississippi rabbit, crispy turkey necks, and Gulf shrimp have earned Toups several James Beard nominee and semi-finalist nods — including this year, where Toups is a nominee in the Best Chef: South category.
Though Toups Meatery is where the chef hones his skills, his first love is outdoor cooking. With warm weather upon us, Broken Palate asked the chef how we can all put a little Cajun flair into our barbecue parties this summer.
Start With a Quality Fire
For Toups, a good fire is most important. He eschews bagged charcoal from the store, opting for quality material for a quality flame. “I use really good hardwood charcoal or hardwood, itself. That’s what makes your grilling so much better,” he says.
Choose The Right Meat for Grilling
Leave the thick, expensive cuts for indoors, says the chef. “I stick with thin steaks or thin pieces of meat. I like skirt steaks, flatiron, and flank. Those are the offcuts of beef,” says Toups. If you do have a big cut, like a ribeye, Toups suggests marking your ribeye on the grill and finishing it in the oven to preserve the fat.
Vegetables on the Grill
For the chef, nothing beats asparagus on the grill. “Even my kids will eat it,” he adds.
Toups also likes to stuff poblano peppers with cheese. “Poblanos are super friendly. They’re not jalapeno hot,” he says. Toups stuffs his peppers with mozzarella or halloumi.
For vegetables, Toups uses high heat oils like refined avocado or grapeseed oils. “lower temperature oils will go acrid on you,” he says.
Toups also says to invest in a grilling basket for vegetables, shrimp, and anything else small. “It beats trying to turn 50 shrimp with your tongs,” he adds.
Season Everything Well
For Toups, good spices and marinades mean everything. “A good bottle of soy sauce will go a long way,” he says.
The chef also insists on fresh spices - especially pepper. “Stick with all the peppers: black pepper, white pepper, Syrian pepper, chili flakes…peppers, peppers, peppers,” he says, adding, “get a pepper grinder and grind your pepper fresh. Freshly ground pepper is one of the big secrets.”
Toups' go-to spice is Korean chili flakes. “It has a bit of sweetness and smokiness. I use it on almost anything and it can stand up to extremely high temperatures,” he says.
The chef recommends shopping online for spices (Spiceology has a good selection) if your local store doesn’t stock a good supply.
Take Care of Your Grill
Toups is a believer in making sure your grill is in tip-top shape. “Make sure to keep your grill clean and it will take care of you.”