A pile of crawfish awaits the feast. The Louisiana staple is equally at home at backyard boils and casual restaurants. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

You can love crawfish, you can be obsessed with them, you can post your social media pictures of all their red shell glory until your phone dies.

But I have a firm conviction that no one ever really gets crawfish until they soak in the full experience of the do-it-yourself backyard crawfish boil.

The crawfish boil is a process that comes with practices, rituals and designated roles.


Steam rises from a pile of crawfish as people dig in. The Louisiana staple is equally at home at backyard boils and casual restaurants. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune)

Someone must supervise the boil, someone must analyze how they’re doing it wrong, someone must set at least one live crawfish free on the grass to entertain the kids, someone must organize the peeling detail to salvage leftovers for future etouffee and bisque.

Boiled crawfish was the big attraction at the 46th annual Louisiana Crawfish Festival.

As it all unfolds, the boil also comes with a built in commandment to slow down, and we don’t need any tricky traffic cameras to remind us how valuable that is today.

Crawfish take time to cook and they take time to eat. They’re typically prepared in batches, creating an unscheduled interim.

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A giant pot with 400 pounds of freshly boiled crawfish at Frankie & Johnny's restaurant in New Orleans on Friday, February 19, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

That time is what makes a crawfish boil a social event rather than just a meal. The time invested in the process yields conversations, the general casual intimacy of talk that comes out when the pressure is off, when you’re participating in something that has your interest but doesn’t necessarily require your full attention (see also: marsh fishing, quilting, watching baseball).

This weekend brings the high holy days of Louisiana boiled seafood, and one of the last big weekends for such boils as the season slides toward conclusion. Its customs and traditions will play out in countless individualized ways that all draw from a common thread.


A pile of crawfish await the feast at a home boil. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune) 

I’ve written before about how the hands-on work of actually eating crawfish miraculously banishes cellphones for a spell. Let’s also appreciate the close proximity crawfish boils invite us to share. Eating elbow to elbow is an exercise in accommodation, coexistence, perhaps even reconciliation.


The dance floor at the Maple Leaf Bar is transformed into a communal crawfish boil prepared by Jason Seither at the legendary music club on Sundays during crawfish season. (Staff Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)

A family boil might be the best proving ground for this, because it gives you a fuller tableau of local life.

The crawfish boil brings everyone together, not just the college kids, or the young parents, or the gray hairs, each in their own groups. It mashes everyone together around the table, and maybe over the ice chest. If you can replicate this social mix within your tribe of friends, more power to you. An intergenerational family gathering guarantees it.

Social time spent with people who are not just like you — even when they’re related to you — is good for you. The delicious pursuit of crawfish provides common cause and opens a big tent.

Crawfish are beasts. Crawfish boils can make us feel a little more human.

Note: an earlier version of this column was originally posted in 2019

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