Get Messy! 5 Tips for Hosting a Crawfish Boil

Nealey, our Southern recipe columnist, just threw a huge crawfish boil for her boyfriend's birthday. It reminded me of my own favorite annual gathering, which also involves eating pounds and pounds of crawfish, on newspaper instead of plates, elbow-to-elbow with friends and strangers. It isn't easy or cheap to pull off, but if you can manage it, crawfish boils are the ultimate outdoor bash. Here are five tips from my friends' Annual Crawfish Boil. The Annual Crawfish Boil has become a tradition among my friends, who take its organization and execution very seriously. (They even have a Crawfish Boil Committee!) This year marks their fourth annual gathering, so I turned to them for some tips on throwing a great boil.

1. Find a good source for your seafood. My friends buy live, purged crawfish from Louisiana Crawfish Company and have it delivered the morning of the boil. They estimate about one pound of crawfish per person, and as far as I know, there are never any leftovers. Crawfish season peaks in March and April and lasts through June, so keep that in mind when scheduling a boil.

2. Designate a boil-master. My friend Will is in charge of mixing up a big pot of boiling broth and cooking batches of crawfish throughout the day. Here's his recipe:

Well, let's see, I throw about 25 pounds of crayfish into a big pot seasoned with a ton of Zatarain's powder with a few gurgles of their liquid crab boil as well, then a bunch of corn on the cob cut small, mushrooms, whole heads of garlic, potatoes, onions, and a few lemons. You boil the potatoes and corn first for awhile then the other vegetables, then the crawfish for only about 6-8 minutes. Then let them sit in that goop for 30-40 minutes so they can suck up that sauce. That's it. Oh, and you need a big ol' stirring stick.

Will's preferred stirring stick is a clean baseball bat.

3. Give a quick lesson on how to eat. Everyone loves the moment when the steaming crawfish and vegetables are dumped onto the newspaper-topped table, ready to be devoured. But for the uninitiated, it's helpful to have a brief tutorial on how to tear apart a crawfish, eat its tail and suck out its head juices before everyone digs in.

4. Encourage guests to eat everything. The boil broth is so good, every ingredient that touches it turns to gold, so the potatoes, corn, onions and even whole cloves of garlic can and should be eaten. Little piles of Old Bay sprinkled on the table encourage dipping and eating of everything on the table. The more people loosen up and get messy, the better!

5. If needed, recoup some of your costs by asking for donations in exchange for a souvenir: There has been some debate about whether or not you should throw a party if you can't afford to pay for everything. My friends choose to order commemorative crawfish boil cups, which they give out at the party in exchange for a $5 donation. This has proven to be wildly successful — I couldn't even get a cup the first year they made them — and allows the planners to go all-out, buying extras like a whole turducken or smoked brisket. The bottom line: guests are happy to chip in a bit to make the bash its best. If you can afford to provide it all, then go for it! But lack of funds shouldn't stop you from having a truly amazing crawfish boil.

Do you have any tips for hosting a seafood boil?

Related: Recipe: Classic Southern Coleslaw

(Images: Anjali Prasertong)

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