The dog days of summer bring both good news and bad news for Houston seafood lovers. The bad news is that crawfish season traditionally ends around the 4th of July. Also, high summer is not the best time to eat raw oysters as the warmer waters of Galveston Bay tend to produce shriveled specimens which may or may not contain the potentially deadly bacteria Vibrio vulnificus.
The good news is that the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico cause blue crabs to stir from their winter dormancy and begin mating and growing. Blue crab season traditionally runs from May through October, and summer is when blue crabs are at their peak.
In Southeast Texas, one of the most popular cooking techniques for blue crabs is to "barbecue" them. The traditional "BBQ crab" preparation is a misnomer. They are actually fried, not barbecued. Hard-shell blue crabs are cleaned, broken in half, dredged in spicy seasoning and then deep-fried in cooking oil until the shell turns red and the crab meat is tender.
BBQ crabs were invented at Granger's Restaurant in Sabine Pass in the 1940s. After that restaurant burned down, another Sabine Pass restaurant, Sartin's, began cooking its own version of BBQ crabs in the 1970s.
In Houston, BBQ crab can be hard to find, even during high season. The Ragin' Cajun on Richmond prominently displays billboard advertisements for BBQ crabs. If you travel south to Galveston, seafood shacks like Benno's on the Beach serve up a tasty platter of BBQ crabs (Benno's calls them "Cajun fried").
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Another well-known Houston-area source for BBQ crabs is Floyd's Cajun Seafood House in Webster. Floyd's is known for adamantly adhering to the seasonality of menu items like crawfish and crabs. In fact, crabs were not on the menu at Floyd's until only very recently.
A recent visit to Floyd's found BBQ crab prominently displayed on the menu at "market price," which turned out to be a whopping (though not unusual these days) $3 per crab. For those of us who grew up eating all-you-can-eat "platter service" for BBQ crab (usually around $20-$25), the current prices for crab are a bit of a shock.
The BBQ crab at Floyd's on this night were covered in a spicy and salty seasoning with a mild heat factor. The crabs arrived only seconds out of the deep fryer and were so hot we had to wait a few minutes before we could even touch them. As with most big platters of BBQ crabs, there were hits and misses on the quality. About half the crabs on this night were of the papershell or "buckram" variety, meaning they were harvested relatively soon after molting. The shells were thin and not conducive to the frying preparation -- most of the crab meat had just evaporated.
But the other half were fully-hardened shells with generous amounts of steaming, flaky crab meat. Although expensive, messy to eat and sometimes hard to find, a really good BBQ crab is well worth the effort for any true seafood lover.