Food & Drink

The 10 essential elements of a crawfish boil

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, 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. Read on to soak in some of his heavily-seasoned wisdom.

1. You must have live crawfish
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 as if they were villains (chillin'... and at 40 degrees) so that they go into the type of deep sleep you'll experience shortly after your crawfish boil.

2. You need to have enough crawfish for everyone
If the crawfish are more of an appetizer, you need 1-3lbs per person. If they're a main course (they should be), you want 3-5lbs for uninitiated eaters. If you live in Louisiana, you need 5-7lbs per person and also to shout "WHO DAT" every 15mins.

Traditionally, crawfish are sold by the sack, which range from 30-35lbs. 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.

3. You must clean them
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.

4. You need 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 60qt pot will cook 30lbs 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.

5. It needs to be 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.

Market price depends entirely on the year: 2013 was the biggest crop on record and thus the lowest price, but 2014's intense Winter has made for the most expensive mudbugs in history.

6. 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.

7. You must add 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.

8. 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.

9. It's polite to have napkins, but you don't need to use them too much
Ripping off heads and slurping out guts is just as messy as it sounds. Embrace it, but have some napkins around so that your guests feel comfortable shaking your hand as they leave.

10. If you don't know what you're doing, follow these 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.

3. Add roughly one bag of Louisiana Crawfish Co. seafood boil. 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.

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

5. 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.

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

7. 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.

8. 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 1lb of boil to 15lbs of crawfish. Once you’ve covered the last layer, you and a buddy need to shake the ice chest to thoroughly mix the seasoning.

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

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

11. Enjoy Louisiana’s finest delicacy!

Dan Gentile is a 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.