Crawfish Etiquette for Beginners: What to Wear, Bring and Do at Your First Boil

A crawfish boil isn’t exactly afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace, but that doesn’t mean manners go out the window. Fortunately, crawfish etiquette isn’t terribly complicated. A general rule of thumb is kindergarten rules apply. Be considerate, share, and be ready to get messy. This primer should help fill in the details so you can attend your first crawfish boil as the perfect guest.

Don’t Show Up Empty-Handed

You wouldn’t show up to a dinner party without a bottle of wine or a small gift for the host. The same rule applies to a crawfish boil, but there are a few items, in particular, your crawdad host will be grateful for. Beer is always number one on this list. You can never have enough beer at a crawfish boil. Check out these crowd-pleasing favorites for brews that pair perfectly with a spicy boil. Ice, sides, newspaper to line the tables, lemons for crawfish spice cleanup (we’ll add more on this later) and a nice bourbon for post-crawfish sipping are all solid options as well.

Wear Something You Can Get Dirty

Not sure what to wear to the crawfish boil? Remember, you won’t find any utensils at the table so you should be ready to get your hands and clothes dirty. Save the seersucker suits and white sundresses for the Kentucky Derby. If it’s dark, machine-washable, short-sleeved and paired with jeans, it’s probably the perfect crawfish boil attire. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a bib, apron, oversized T-shirt or rain poncho you can don for the feast itself. Long hair? Throw it up into a man bun or a ponytail before digging in. Consider leaving the jewelry at home as well.

Respect the Plus-One

Feeding masses of people requires careful planning, so don’t show up with all your old fraternity brothers or your entire softball team. Let your host know if you plan on bringing more than your allotted plus-one and kids. This also applies to dogs (snakes, birds, ferrets). Not everyone wants to share a table with your animal friend, so clear it with the host before letting Old Dan tag along.

Expect Standing-Room Only

Crawfish boils are typically enjoyed standing up. This is for practical reasons. Traditionally, the mudbugs are served on a long table and guests eat in rotating shifts. Adding chairs to the mix would make it difficult for people to rotate in and out. Bonus etiquette tip: Don’t crowd the table while people are waiting to hop in. Eat your share, let others in, and rotate back through when you’re ready for another round.

But Bring a Lawn Chair

Even though you’ll be eating standing up, a crawfish boil is a laid-back affair that stretches on for hours, so you may want to take a seat between your turns at the table. In polite crawfish society, however, it’s rude to expect your host to provide seating for everyone at the boil. Bring your own chair plus a few extras to share with the new friends you’re bound to make—especially if you’re the guy with the chairs equipped with a cup holder.

Plan to Linger

A crawfish boil is about enjoying a long afternoon with great friends and making new ones over a table full of spicy crustaceans. Prepare to show up early, mingle, and stay to sip on some bourbon after the crayfish is gone. Don’t be the guy who shows up just as the last batch is being served and leaves right after he’s had his fill. No one likes that guy.

Share and Share Alike

It can be tempting to grab the first shift and nab the biggest mudbugs before anyone else makes it to the table. We don’t have to tell you that’s rude. You know it is. Sharing is pretty much the first thing you learn as a toddler; you should be able to rock it as an adult. Keep an eye on the corn, potatoes and sausage, too. Make sure everyone gets a few of these goodies before you kill the pile.

Pay Your Respects to the Live Ones

Crawfish are a near-sacred crustacean for the Louisianans who most likely supplied them (as much as 95% of crawfish served in the U.S. comes from Louisiana). With this in mind, it’s only polite to pay your respects to the sacks of living crawfish before they’re tossed into the boil. Thank them for the sacrifice they’re about to make for your good time and full belly.

Don’t Be a Backseat Boiler, But Offer to Help

If you want a crawfish boil done a certain way, host one yourself. Otherwise, keep your opinions to yourself. Your host knows what he’s doing and doesn’t need you to chime in. He does want you to pitch in, though. Offer help early and often, and you’ll be the hero of the day. He may even sneak you an extra-large mudbug or two.

Hands Off the Playlist

The pot isn’t the only place to keep your opinion to yourself. Chances are your host put some thought into the playlist as well, so don’t mess with it. Also, leave the volume where it’s at. The second you hear a song you love and crank up the music, you’ve ruined the flow of conversation for everyone else at the boil. Respect the dial.

A Boil Is Not for the Faint of Heart

If you don’t like spicy food, you may want to stay home. Your host can opt to serve a milder batch of mudbugs, but crawfish lovers notoriously love their spice, too. At the very least, you’ll want to get in on an earlier batch because the last batch of crawfish will always be the spiciest. You also can’t be afraid to suck the heads. It may sound crass, but this isn’t the place to be dainty. You haven’t truly enjoyed crawfish until you’ve sucked the hot, spicy liquid from the head.

Clean Up After Yourself

To paraphrase your mother, you were not raised in a barn, so don’t act like an animal. As you finish your crawfish, throw the carcasses into the trash cans your host has undoubtedly provided for you. Also, hose down before going into the house and using the fancy guest towels. Your hands will be covered in spicy crawfish juices. A little lemon juice can help get them clean and neutralize the spice—a tip you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever gotten hot sauce near your eyes.

Leave a Good Impression

Hosting a crawfish boil can be a lot of work, and it certainly leaves a mess behind. Helping your host clean up will ensure they’ll extend another invitation the next time they boil up a few dozen pounds of crawfish. Earn even more brownie points by peeling the extras so they can whip up something with the leftovers. If you’re really good, they may even drop by with some etouffee the next day.