Mardi Gras has come and gone, which means that crawfish season is now in full swing. The weather is warming up, and the price per pound for live crawfish is stabilizing (except for fluctuations in fuel prices). You, my friends, stand on the cusp of a decision: a) spend this year's crawfish season buying mudbugs boiled by others, or b) gearing up to boil your own and becoming a backyard legend. Choose b) and read on. Or, choose a) and join the masses at the trough.
The first step to doing anything well is having quality tools for the job. Think of your boiling gear as a three-legged stool consisting of a pot, a burner and a tool kit. A weakness in any one of these elements will make your boil a P.I.T.A.
The central focus of boiling crawfish is your pot. Size matters, people. You should use a pot that will easily hold one sack of crawfish (35-45 pounds) and accouterments unless you like working yourself to death, or you are cooking for no more than four diners.
You can get by with a 60-quart pot, but I'd recommend 80-plus if you're going to buy a pot. Once you're in for the expense, why not shell out a few extra ducats for more capacity? Don't forget about girth; opt for a wider, shorter pot if it's available, because it makes it easier to lift the basket out when it's time to serve. Stainless steel is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it. Feel free to opt for a cheaper, aluminum model unless you're worried about upping your chances for Alzheimer's. Who are you, and where's my cheese?
The burner is where most folks fail, but you won't since you're reading this. "They" say, "a watched pot never boils." Well, brothers and sisters, a watched crawfish boil won't get lukewarm without the right burner, 'specially if you're trying to rumble 40 quarts at one time. Get a jet burner that cranks out the BTUs. Further, make sure the burner is sturdy enough to support the weight of your ginormous pot of goodness, which will be roughly 150 pounds if you're boiling a sack at a time. Feel free to take it off the rack, and jump on it. If it flattens, run away and try another store.
Your crawfish-boiling tool kit is a collection of essential equipment consisting of all the little things you need to get to the finish line. A properly outfitted kit is key, particularly if you're boiling anywhere but your home or restaurant. My suggestions are below:
Tackle box - All boxes are not created equally. Opt for the tackle variety, since the accessory trays are hinged and compartment sizes are adjustable.
Crawfish paddle - You need to be able to stir your cauldron. Get a wooden paddle (or go stainless if you're loaded). DO NOT use your fiberglass kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding equipment. No, this won't fit in your tackle box unless Ronco has developed one.
8 - 10" Ginsu chef's knife - You have lots of chopping to do. Use a knife that will cut through anything.
Utility knife - While not ultra-essential, you'll probably want to open your sacks of crawfish with something other than your prep knife. Leather work gloves - The basket will be hot and unweildy when you're ready to pour the bugs on the table. Protect yourself.
Chopping mats - Mats are essentially thin cutting boards that you can roll up and carry in your tacklebox. Stock at least one in your kit - more if you've got prep helpers.
Industrial pot scrubber and a small bottle of liquid dish detergent - I'm talking about the kind of thing that looks like the green scrubber on the back side of your sponge but is all business with a built-in handle.
Trash bags - Aside from the obvious, you should line the serving table with bags before you lay down newspaper, or else you could face an uphill battle getting dried paper off of the table.
An extended-reach butane lighter - Avoid burning off your eyebrows by lighting the burner with this. It's more reliable than rolling up a piece of newspaper.
Crescent wrench - You'll need this to properly tighten the regulator/burner connection should it become loose.
Teflon tape - Coat the burner threads with this before tightening down the connection to insure a quality seal in your gas line.
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NOTE: Burners and pots can be had at most sporting goods stores. However, the selection is typically not very diverse. I'd suggest checking an online retailer like BoilCrawfish.com or Amazon.