Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dutch Oven Crayfish Boil

Recently, we had one of the most amazing, fun, and delicious family experiences in a long time.  We went Crawdad catching, and then had a Cajun crayfish boil and feast.

Let me interject here, that I don’t really know what to call them:  Crawdads?  Crawfish?  Crayfish?  Mud bugs? Lil’ Lobster Mini-me’s?  I think Crayfish sounds more “dignified” and “crawdad” sounds more bayou.  My kids liked the sound of “crawdad” better, so that’s what we ended up calling them.

Then I faced another difficult problem. Not only did I not know what to call them, I also didn't know how to cook them!  I surfed all over the ‘net looking for advice and recipes.  There was plenty.  Too much, in fact.  Too much contradiction, to be exact.  Everyone said that their way of doing it was the only way of doing it.

Normally, when I encounter that, I just brush it all off as folklore, and do a kind of hybrid of everyone’s recipes.  But the contradictory information was more of the type that scared me.  If you do it this way, then your crawdads will die, and you don’t EVER eat crawdads that died before you killed them!  Don’t do this, don’t do that!  It was all quite frustrating and confusing.

In the end, it all worked out.

Dutch Oven Cajun Crawdad Boil

2x 14” Deep Dutch ovens

A whopping LOT of coals underneath each one.

  • A whole lot (15-20 lbs) live crayfish
  • 1 carton salt
  • A lot of water
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp coriander
  • 1 ½ Tbsp cloves
  • 1 ½ Tbsp allspice
  • ¼ lb kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 6 bay leaves, crushed
  • A lot more water
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 heads garlic, broken apart, not peeled
  • 3 jalapenos, sliced
  • 3 lbs potatoes, in 1” sections
  • 8 ears corn, broken in half
  • 1 lb sausage (andouille, or smoked), cut into ½” pieces

I won’t go into the catching, here.  That will go for another time.  In this place, we’ll just talk about the cooking.

I started with the crawdads.  The first thing I did was to “purge” them.  The idea is to make them sick so they purge out their guts before you try to eat them.  I filled up the cooler where I had them stored with water, and shook in about a half of one of those cylindrical cardboard cartons of salt.  Right away, the crawdads reacted, swimming and thrashing around in the water.

I drained it, and then repeated the process.  At the time, I was nervous about killing them, but it turns out that you have to try REALLY HARD to kill them.  Like, dropping them in seasoned, boiling water.  Salt may freak them out, but it doesn’t kill them.  Yet.

Then, I filled it up again, and drained it again, without salt.  I repeated that clean rinsing process again.  Next time, I’m going to do that many, many more times, to clean them more thoroughly.

While, I was doing the “salt, rinse, repeat” thing, I also got out the Dutch ovens, and started up the coals.  Once the coals were basically hot, I put the dutch ovens on and filled them about ¾ of the way with water.  I put the lids on, because water boils better in Dutch ovens with the lids on.  I also knew that it was going to take a long time to boil that much water.

I mixed up the spices, and began cutting the veggies while I waited for the water to boil.  The spices I split into half, and put half in each dutch oven.  I put one head of garlic (broken up) into each pot, and I put two sliced onions in one of the pots.  I suppose i could have done the whole thing with just one Dutch oven, but one of our friends that we had invited over is allergic to onions.  So, my thought was to make one pot without onions, and one with.  The recipe listed above says 4 onions, though, 2 in each pot.  You do it how you want to.

I kept the coals replenished, and as hot as could be.  Before long, the water was simmering, and then boiling.  Once the boil was going, I put in the potatoes, sausage, and corn.  As soon as I did that, of course, it stopped boiling.  I put the lids back on and let it come back up to a good stead boil.  I let it cook until the potatoes were soft enough to eat, and the corn looked bring yellow.

Finally came the moment we’d all been waiting for.  Using my food tongs (not my coal tongs), I started grabbing the crawdads and dropping them into the boiling pots.  I tried to keep them even between the two.  I don’t know that it mattered a whole lot, though.  They turned this rich red/brown almost immediately.  I put the lids back on and let them come back up to a boil for a little bit, mostly to give the spices time to infuse in the meat.  Finally, I used a strainer to scoop out the crawdads, and the corn, potatoes, and sausage.

Traditionally, you serve crawdads poured directly on to a newspaper-covered tabletop.  We actually used dishes.

After only a few, I got the hang of eating them.  I would grab the crawdad tightly between the tail and the shell, and twist the tail off.  I would pinch pretty hard, so as to not get so much of the guts in the body.  Then, I’d crack off the first one or two segments of shell on the tail.  Gripping the end of the tail between my thumb and forefinger, I squeezed while tugging the meat out with my teeth.  I never built up the courage to suck out the head, like some real cajuns do. There’s not much meat in the tail.  Fortunately, that’s why you cook up so many of them!

After every few crawdads, I’d pause and eat a few potatoes, onions, or corn cobs.  Oh, and the sausage.  Those were all delicious.  It was the first time I’d tasted corn that sweet and spicy!

Even though it all tasted delicious, at the end of it all, this was not so much a dish to cook, as it was a whole experience for the family to savor.  It was one that we’ll remember for a very long time!


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


  1. Probably an important note for many of your readers: Utah law forbids the transportation of live crayfish. They must be killed where they are caught to prevent their being introduced into waters where they are not wanted.

    Because crayfish meat deteriorates rapidly, it is important to ice it quickly and keep it at a temperature of 40 F or below until processed.

  2. Looking at your pictures, I can't help but notice you *STILL* don't have a Dutch Oven cooking table. We need to do something about that... real soon.

  3. @Ranes: True that! At one time, I had this wonderful plan laid out for this amazing dutch oven cooking work station, complete with a cover and everything. Someday I'll build it...



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