I have not been eating crawfish my entire life. I'm not even going to lie to you like that. I have, however, been eating crawfish for a little over half of it.
I am also not going to sit here and tell you that one size fits all when it comes to eating mudbugs. You should find a style that suits you, one that makes it easiest for you to pry that tasty meat from its tough little shell.
What I will tell you is that eating a few pounds of crawfish with your friends is one of the best ways I can think of to spend an evening -- or a whole day, if you're a serious crawfish devotee -- as the rewards of crawfish are many. And chief among them is the triumphant feeling you get with every bite of tail meat, owed to the pure physicality of working for your food just that little bit more than merely lifting a fork to your mouth.
There's also the shared jubilation of staring down five pounds of crawfish and leaving a trail of dessicated husks in your frenzied wake. The feeling of emerging from the trenches dirty and perhaps a bit worse for the wear (ever get crawfish juice in your eye?), but knowing that you and your dining companions fought bravely through those bugs. First world problems, perhaps, but glorious in their small victories.
That said, it's crawfish season in Houston and you should be well-armed for battle. Here's our primer on how to get those puppies out of their shells.
Step One: Grab the head and tail of the crawfish.
Step Two: Pinch the tail and pull it gently but firmly away from the head.
Step Three: Congratulations! You should now have your crawdad in two pieces. You can Choose Your Own Adventure from here. Your options are:
1) Peel the tail away from the meat like you would a boiled shrimp and eat it that way.
2) Grasp the tail meat between your lips and/or teeth and suck-pull it out of the shell.
3) Do either of the above and suck the head when you're finished.
For sake of reference, the photo above shows how to peel the shell away from the meat and eat it with your fingers. This is preferable if you're at a crawfish joint (read: most of the places in Houston) that doesn't add spices to the water as the crawfish are boiling, and instead dumps the spices on top after the bugs come out of the water. In these cases, there is often so much spice on the shells that it can be painful for your lips to come in constant contact with the shells.
If, however, you are at a backyard crawfish boil or at a local watering hole that does it right, it's preferable to suck-pull the crawfish meat straight out of the tail with your mouth. After a handful, you'll get the hang of it.
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To see the process in its entirety -- including how to suck the head (or, in this case, the little lungs of the crawfish because all the good goo ended up there when I was popping it open), check out the short and sweet video below.