Crawfish boils have become a springtime ritual in Houston. At least once a season, it's an accepted necessity that we waste an entire day pinching tails, sucking heads and covering ourselves in spicy, stinky seafood slime.
Finding the bugs typically isn't a problem -- you can hit up any number of restaurants and beer joints serving 'em up fresh all over the city. But it you want to make a real day of it--as authentic a Houston experience as we've got at this point -- it's time to call up everyone you know and boil mudbugs in your driveway.
Or, if you're smart, somebody else's driveway. See, when done right, do-it-yourself crawfish boils take a lot of effort, a lot of cash, and a lot of people to pull off properly. If you're ready to give it a try, prepare to find out who your real friends are.
Sissy nerds like us prefer to help out with the backyard bug boil by providing the perfect soundtrack to a classic Gulf Coast picnic. After all, you can't just blast the new Springsteen album at the party and expect the occasion to feel right. Soundtracking a crawfish boil takes planning.
Remember, we're not just talking about "lunch," here. This is an all-day feast celebrating our annual three weeks of perfect weather, and feasts must be prepared for. God knows you're busy already! That's why Rocks Off has gone through the trouble of coming up with a few handy tips for crafting the perfect crawfish-boil playlist.
The party doesn't begin when bugs hit boil. First, you've got to gather your supplies. That means getting together a boiling rig, tables and chairs, coolers, ice, trash bags, spices, plenty of beer and the crawfish themselves. And that means leaving the house pretty early.
It's perfectly acceptable to pick up everything you need from Fiesta, but we prefer to drive down to Kemah to pick the crawfish up fresh from a real, live seafood market. For this mini-adventure, you'll need a good hour or so of drive-time music. We like to get up for a party with some classic hip-hop jams. Fat Pat's "Tops Drop" sets the perfect tone -- Sunshine let it down, turn it up and clown.
We ate our first crawfish growing up in Southeast Texas' Golden Triangle, the area roughly bounded by Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange that's got more than a dash of Louisiana culture mixed in. It's probably why we find it totally appropriate to bump a great deal of UGK on the road to buy crawfish.
After all, Pimp and Bun are a couple of the Triangle's favorite sons. "Wood Wheel" is a personal favorite, and if "Big Pimpin'" doesn't put you in the mood to pop bottles outdoors, you're driving too fast.
Once you've got your supplies, the real work starts. You've got to purge the bugs, set up your boil, season it and start murdering crustaceans. It's a lot more effort than it sounds like. With a good group of friends and a few brews, though, the work passes quickly. Especially if you've got the right tunes.
Now's the time to clear your head, enjoy the sunshine and mentally prepare for the orgy of spices to come. This is where Springsteen works. Wrecking Ball will do, but "The Big Muddy" from the Boss' Lucky Town album is a better fit for the day's theme.
As the mudbugs cook, it's best to gradually increase the intensity of the music as anticipation builds for the party proper. Springsteen dovetails nicely with some classic ZZ Top, and an old-fashioned work song like Skid Row's "Slave to the Grind" helps us keep the proper perspective when we're changing out bin liners and washing crawfish grime off of our Sauconys.
The Great Gorge
Once people start arriving, the crawfish should be ready to peel. It's time to party for real. There's pretty much only one acceptable music choice for a crawfish feast in full swing: Zydeco, and plenty of it. Houston's got as good a claim as anywhere to being the birthplace of the Zydeco scene, and vital, current stuff is still being played live all over town wherever you find bugs and suds.
We've gotten drunk at Jax a time or two, but we won't pretend that we jam swampy accordion tunes 365. That's why a crawfish boil is the perfect time to educate ourselves (and our captive audiences) on some of the best local sounds.
Dr. Roger Wood's excellent book, Texas Zydeco, is a great starter's guide. It's how we discovered both classic originators like Clifton Chenier and contemporary cross-pollinators like Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers. Do a little digging in there, and you can put on a diverse selection of periods and places for the guests to enjoy.
Don't catch yourself hovering over the music, though. This is a crawfish boil. Grab a pound or five of bugs and start tearing them in half -- the zydeco will keep the party moving. That's why it was invented.
Once your friends have gone through 60 lbs. or so of critters and a case or two of beer, the party is going to switch gears on you. All of a sudden, everyone's cuticles are on fire, and their bellies are crammed too full of bottom-feeders to move. Things are slowing down: That washboard music is starting to sound abrasive, and nobody knows the words.
It's time to chill things out with the country music your girlfriend won't let you play in the car. You know, feel-good stuff that people can talk over. Willie Nelson is an ideal choice here (the man knows his way around a picnic).
We're partial to crowd-pleasers like "Whiskey River," but it's a nice touch to throw in "City of New Orleans." We're working with a theme here. Hank Williams' "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" works nicely, too, and Larry Gatlin's "Houston" appeals to the obnoxious homer in us.
Things are typically pretty silly and disgusting by this point anyway, so we feel no remorse for breaking out the Nashville hits of our '90s youth. Anything off Ropin' the Wind makes for a fun singalong, and the hipsters who can't hang will head straight for the door. Bonus points for passing around an acoustic guitar.
Head 'Em Up
Once your backyard starts smelling like Galveston on one of "those" days, it's time to start sending people out on a high note. One good option is to let things swell and peak with the electrified crescendo of Explosions in the Sky. "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls We Slept" is a great track to wind things down. Be sure to break out a canister of Wet Ones to help soothe guests' raw, red and filthy fingers.
At the end of the day, there's always at least one asshole sticking around to polish off the imported beer that someone else brought. This guy can be a real annoyance, especially if he starts trying to talk about the Astros' prospects. When it's time to gather up the trash bags and give the crawfish carcasses a proper burial in the church dumpster up the street, it's OK to blast the straggler off on his way with music you know he ain't gonna like. For us, that means King Diamond's Abigail album, but ICP will do in a pinch. Anybody wearing makeup, really.
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Before you know it, you're done! You've taken your crawfish boil on a musical journey from dawn to dusk, and you've even explored a bit of the city's cultural history. All ten digits might be burning in agony, but you can rest easy knowing you've satisfied your crawfish quotient for another year and enjoyed the outdoors before the mosquito swarm arrives.
Just remember to do yourself a favor and wash your hands before you pee. That shit burns.