Every boil master has their own take on the classic crawfish boil. Hand-carved paddles passed down from generation to generation. Magic ingredients. Secret spice blends. But anyone who’s ever attended a crawfish boil knows there’s really no wrong way to pull it off. As long as there’s plenty of crayfish, beer and music, your guests will have a great time. That being said, we do have a few tips to help you host a legendary crawfish boil.
Pot and Cook Stand
You can’t throw a crawfish boil without the right equipment. You’ll need a heat source and pot large enough to handle enough crayfish and fixings to feed your crowd. A large stock pot and strainer paired with a cook stand powerful enough to boil everything from crawfish to potatoes is a good option. Expert boilers recommend at least 50,000 BTUs. You can go with a pot as small as 60 quarts or something as large as 100-plus quarts. While you can boil in batches, you wouldn’t want to go much smaller than 60 quarts or you’ll never be able to step away from the pot.
Regardless of whether you choose a boiler or a pot and cook stand set, you’ll need a paddle to stir up your feast. Stainless steel paddles require less upkeep and last boil after boil. Some prefer the classic look of a wood paddle. A number of crawfish fanatics even carve their own paddle, adding personal details to the handle and the blade.
How to Buy
As the star of this show, you’ve got to do your crawfish right. That starts with finding a good supplier. Louisiana Crawfish Co. and Cajun Grocer are some of the most popular options for crawfish lovers throughout the Gulf and across the U.S. Wherever you get your mudbugs, you’ll want to make sure they can ship the live crustaceans overnight. Ideally, they’ll be caught fresh only a day or two before they ship and arrive the morning of your boil. Plan on serving about 4 to 5 pounds of crawfish per person.
Handling and Prep
Crawfish are delicate creatures and should be handled with care. When transferring the sacks, pick them up and set them down gently. Some even recommend carrying them like a baby, but we don’t know that you need to go that far. Keep your crayfish cool and moist in a cooler until you’re ready to cook. Before boiling, rinse the crawfish under a constant flow of water until it runs clear. Never submerge the crawfish or purge them in saltwater. Doing so will kill them, and you want those mudbugs kicking before the boil.
Despite the name, you should not actually boil the crawfish at a crawfish boil. You simply want to poach them in hot water. To do this, bring the water to a rolling boil. Add the crawfish and the vegetables (more on those later) and stir before covering the pot. Check periodically and kill the heat when the water begins to lightly boil (don’t let it get to a rolling boil). Stir and let the crawfish continue to soak up the spices. When the crayfish begin to drop, they’re ready to serve. This usually takes 20 to 40 minutes. Be sure to pull out a crayfish from time to time and check the texture. If it’s rubbery, they need to cook longer; if it falls apart, they’re overdone.
This is where crawfish hosts start to form some strong opinions about their boil. Some stick with the traditional corn on the cob and potatoes. Others like to get creative with celery, mushrooms, artichokes and myriad other vegetables. The one agreed-upon rule in this area is the corn should be frozen and added just a few minutes after the heat is cut. This cools down the water and ensures your corn stays intact.
Another traditional crawfish fixing is andouille sausage. While some throw the sausage in with the rest of the mix, this can leave you with crawfish coated in sausage fat. Instead, use fully cooked sausage and toss it into the hot crawfish water for 15 to 20 minutes after removing the crawfish. When it’s ready, throw it on the table with the pile of crawfish.
Some of the biggest debates of crawfish culture occur over spice. Homemade? Prepackaged? What’s too much? What’s too little? Well, you’re hosting the boil, so you get to make the call. Zatarain’s makes a time-tested crawfish boil seasoning. So does Louisiana Crawfish Co. If you want to make your own, you’ll find plenty of recipes online to get you started, but cayenne pepper, black pepper, mustard seeds and oregano are some solid standby ingredients.
In addition to the spices, throwing some lemon, garlic and onions into the mix will enhance the flavors. Remove the skin and halve the onions to release the flavors. Quarter the lemons and cut the garlic through the center to expose the cloves. Toss them all in with the spices before bringing the water to a boil.
Whether you go all-out with the Instagrammable details or lowkey and traditional, your table should be set up to help your guests throw down on as much crawfish as possible. Traditionally, crawfish is consumed in shifts while standing, so there’s no need for chairs. Use a plastic tablecloth to line the table before covering it with newspapers. Place some rolls of paper towels on the table and you’re ready to go. A real crawfish pro will put trash cans under holes cut in the center of the table, so guests can easily toss their shells.
The Little Details
A crawfish boil is like no other party, so the details can make all the difference:
- Setting up a wash station with a hose, sliced lemons, crawfish boil soap and old towels will keep your guest bathroom cleaner.
- Have plenty of beer, iced tea and lemonade on hand to extinguish the spice.
- Throw some hot dogs in with the sausage for a kid-friendly dish.
- Demonstrate how to eat crawfish before serving the first batch, so your less experienced guests know what to do.
- Make a playlist to set the festive mood. Zydeco, funk and blues are all a great place to start.
- Have fun, make some memories, and invite your guests back for another round.