First Crawfish Boil: The Dos and Don'ts You Need to Know

The table is surrounded by a throng of people, eagerly grabbing at the lifeless crustaceans strewn about. They rip the heads off the creatures, their lifeless eyes staring back at their attackers, and expose the insides. The entrails burst forth, and fingers are smeared with guts.

Interestingly enough, this isn't a spine-bending passage from a Stephen King novel, but a description of a typical crawfish boil in Mobile, Alabama. My first foray into this world has me transfixed as I watch people chow down on the boiled beasties with zeal. I ease in, grabbing a potato, and am greeted with a spicy explosion of flavor that brings tears to my eyes. Undeterred, I forge ahead, now reaching for a clove of garlic and smashing it onto the tater before each satisfying bite. The crawfish lay before me, staring with their beady eyes.

I ask a friend to peel one for me and watch as he painstakingly removes the meat, which is a small reward compared to the hard work it took to extract it. The tender, not-at-all-chewy flesh seasoned with a perfect amount of spice is delicious, making me want more. My friend humors me, handing over the whole crawfish and challenges me to peel it myself. I dig in, and before I know it, I am as covered in guts, juices, and shellfish parts as those around me.

Crawfish boils are a tradition throughout the South, a time when people come together to boil vast quantities of the creatures alongside potatoes, corn, garlic, and maybe some andouille sausage or other veggies. The spoils are then poured onto long tables covered in newspapers and plastic tablecloths with rolls of paper towels strewn in between. Eating with one's hands is the norm, and plates are all but forgotten. When the food runs out, another pot is poured, and the feasting continues.

Surviving one's first crawfish boil can be a daunting task, especially for those from the north whose shellfish experience may be limited to crab and lobster served on plates or peeled shrimp. If you're planning to attend a boil, there are a few essential tips to keep in mind:

    - Expandable pants are essential. You will devour four to five pounds of crawfish per person, and there will also be corn and potatoes. With so much food, you will be glad to have some extra wiggle room.

    - Dark clothing is the way to go, and bibs are a no-go. You will not impress anyone with a plastic bib, and colorful clothes are likely to attract crawfish guts.

    - Long hair can be a hassle, so keeping it tied up is crucial. You don't want to have to wash crawfish juices out of your hair.

    - It's best to remove watches and rings, as your hands will be covered in all manner of crustacean bits.

    - Travel with water. Boils are spicy affairs, and Southeners do not skimp on their seasonings. You'll be grateful to have a gallon of water to cool things down.

    - Cold beverages aren't just for hydration. They help to keep the spiciness under control and are useful for washing down all the food.

    - Zydeco music is a staple in the South and is often heard at crawfish boils. The lively tunes help to keep everyone moving and are a ton of fun to listen to.

    - Choose your crawfish carefully. For the best meat to shell ratio, choose the largest crawfish with a curved tail.

    - Peel carefully. Break the crawfish in the middle and peel away the shells one at a time. Watch out for the black-tubed "pooper," which you should remove before eating.

    - If you're feeling brave, suck out the juices before peeling the tail. Only the most hardened crawfish lovers suck out the head juices.

    - After the feast, wash your hands with lemon juice to remove debris and smell. Make sure to also clean under your nails with a nail brush.

    - Take a shower after the boil to emerge smelling sweet again.

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