Every Essential Element You Need for a Crawfish Boil

Justin Smith, co-owner of Louisiana Crawfish Co., shares his tips for perfecting the cajun classic.

crawfish boil seafood spicy louisiana craw fish boils how to throw at home summer
Flickr/Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau

Elvis once said that if you boil a crawfish just right, it'll be sweeter than sugar when you take a bite. And although the King wrote the book on peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches, he, unfortunately, took the secrets of a perfect crawfish boil to his potentially-empty grave.

Luckily we found another crawfish-lover to fill us in on the dirty details. Justin Smith is the co-owner of the Louisiana Crawfish Co., a family farming operation that has been around since 1985 and has shipped over a million pounds of crawfish. So yes, he knows a thing or to about perfecting your own crawfish boil. Read on to soak in some of his heavily-seasoned—and at times, spicy—wisdom.

Take note of crawfish season 

Crawfish hit seafood markets in December or January, and then disappear come July when the waters become too warm and the crawdads burrow back into their holes. At that point, the farmers drain the pond, plant food, and let the crustaceans grow until re-filling the pond so that hiding crawfish will emerge and release their young. The circle of life. Market price depends entirely on the year, so just hope for a season that will be gentle on your wallet.

Live crawfish are your best bet

In the spring and early summer you can get away with cooking day-old crawfish, but it's always best to buy them on the day of the boil. Online suppliers will ship the critters at 40 degrees so that they're still alive, but go into the type of deep sleep you'll experience shortly after your own crawfish boil. Some people use frozen crawfish, but it's just not the same. Go with live if you can get your hands on the little guys.

Make sure there's enough crawfish to go around

If the crawfish are more of an appetizer, you need one to three pounds per person. If they're a main course (as they should be), you want three to five pounds for uninitiated eaters. If you live in Louisiana, you'll probably need something closer to five to seven pounds per person.

Traditionally, crawfish are sold by the sack, which range from 30 to 35 pounds. If you're going with select size (the middle ground between field run and jumbo), a sack is roughly 500 crawfish.That might seem like a ton of food, but it's important to remember that there's much more craw than fish (as in, you'll be doing a lot of peeling to get to all that good, juicy stuff). When in doubt, it's better to have more than enough for everyone than not enough.

Unsplash/Logan Ellzey

Give the crawfish a good scrub

They're called mudbugs for a reason: they live in the dirt. If you don't clean them thoroughly, you risk a mouth full of grass, bait, or trash. And after you see how much filth comes off them, you will want these things to be as close to Godliness as possible. Save yourself the trouble of chewing on bits of debris and give them a thorough wash.

Source the right equipment

The rule of thumb for pot size is a 2:1 quart to pound ratio. If you never did well on the math section of the SAT, that means a 60 quart pot will cook 30 pounds of crawfish. You'll also need a gas burner, an extremely large ice chest for steaming them after the boil, and another extremely large ice chest for beer.

Flickr/Laity Lodge Youth Camp

It's not a boil without some boil

Everyone has their favorite brand of seasoning, but our buddy at the Louisiana Crawfish Co. recommends his (duh) because it has less salt than the others. This isn't for health reasons; it's so you can use more of it, and the seafood won't be overpowered by sodium. Either way, find your favorite spice mix and season those crustaceans up.

Don't forget the veggies 

Add potatoes first, followed by whatever else you want. Popular choices are corn on the cob, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and artichokes, but you might want to try a more underrated vegetable.

Beer is extra essential

If you peep the recipe at the bottom of this story, three of the 10 steps include drinking a beer. It's that important. Get in the spirit with a hometown brew like Abita, but don't fret if you can't find it: the fine people of Louisiana would never discriminate against any type of alcoholic beverage.

There's no room for formality

Ripping off heads and slurping out guts is just as messy as it sounds. Embrace it; the crawfish boil is about getting messy and eating amazing seafood. But, by the end of the evening, it's nice to have some napkins around so that your guests feel comfortable shaking your hand as they leave. It's always good to clean out the crawfish guts from under your finger nails. 

If all else fails, follow these simple instructions

Justin Smith supplied this roadmap to crawfish boil success. Follow this advice, and you'll end up with a delicious pot of crawfish (and at least three empty beer bottles):

1. Make sure you have a pot and burner that are sufficient to cook the desired amount of crawfish.

2. Wash your crawfish, pulling out any dead or crushed ones that may be inside the sack.

3. Fill your pot about halfway. You want just enough water to cover the crawfish, but not too much, or it will take too long to bring them back to a boil.

4. Add roughly one bag of Louisiana Crawfish Co. seafood boil (or your favorite spice mixture). Honestly, it's just for your guests to smell. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t get inside the crawfish unless you soak them for at least a half-hour.

5. Light your burner and wait for your water to begin boiling. Now is a good time for a beer.

6. After the water comes to a rapid boil, add your potatoes and cook for 15mins or until fork-tender. During the last 5mins, you can add corn and any other vegetables you may want. The options are endless. Then remove and set aside to keep warm.

7. Add crawfish to the rapidly boiling water, cover with lid, and wait for them to return to a boil. (Beer.) 

8. Boiling times may vary depending on the time of the year and the thickness of the shell, but once they come back to a boil, let them boil for no longer than 2mins. This is where many people mess up. You can overcook a crawfish very easily, and then peeling gets tough.

9. While you’re waiting on them to finish boiling, take an ice chest and sprinkle a light layer of seafood boil on the bottom. Once the crawfish have reached your desired cooking time (less is better), dump layers of fish into the ice chest, sprinkling each layer evenly with seafood boil. You will need 1 lb of boil to 15 lbs of crawfish. Once you’ve covered the last layer, you and a buddy need to shake the ice chest to thoroughly mix the seasoning.

10. Let them steam for 15mins with the lid on the ice chest. (Beer.)

11. Gather your platters and serve the crawfish after at least 15mins of steaming. The more time in the box, the spicier they will be.

12. Enjoy Louisiana’s finest delicacy!

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Dan Gentile is a former staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He one day hopes to host a crawfish boil of his own, as soon as he can find a buddy to help him shake the ice chest to thoroughly mix the seasoning. Follow him to true friendship at @Dannosphere.
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