What To Look For When Buying Crawfish At A Fish Market

If you've ever spent time in the south during crawfish season, you might have been lucky enough to attend a crawfish boil. There's truly nothing like the sights and smells of a boil. When the host pours the giant metal basket of crawfish, corn, potatoes, sausage, and garlic onto the table, the delicious fun begins. Seafood boils happen all over the country, and oftentimes include shrimp, crab, lobster, and clams. But crawfish in Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Texas feel extra special due to the crustacean's limited availability.

Crawfish season is only from January to July (unless the Gulf Coast experiences a particularly warm winter) and crawfish boils in New Orleans most often coincide with the main festival season — Mardi Gras to Jazz Fest — as crawfish peak from March to May. If you love music, frivolity, and crawfish, it's a great time to be on the gulf coast. But what if you live farther north and have just as much of a hankering for crawfish? It is possible to get live crawfish in northern states, but before you plan a boil of your own, there are a few precautions you will want to take when buying live crawfish.

Go in prepared

The first thing you want to do is research your local seafood markets and call them to check pricing and availability. Some companies will ship you live crawfish straight from the gulf, but these options can be pricey. So, if your local seafood market has fresh crawfish, that may be the way to go. With that said, you want to avoid value-grade crawfish from your local seafood market. 

While the price can be lower, these mudbugs are often inconsistent in size, which can cause issues when boiling or cooking. Also, value-grade crawfish tend to be dirtier — or even dead, and you definitely do not want that. Instead, opt for "select" crawfish, as these have been graded and quality-assured. 

Before buying pounds of crawfish, make sure to carefully look at the seafood market's supply. You want crawfish that have cleaner shells, healthy-looking eyes, and still have a little pep in their step. Crawfish is sold by weight, so the cleaner the crawfish, the surer you can be that you're paying for seafood, not mud. Depending on how many people you're feeding, you'll want about half a pound of crawfish per person. But if prices are high, you can beef up a crawfish boil with accouterments like corn on the cob, sausage, and red potatoes. 

If you can't get down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, a crawfish boil at home is the next best way to let the good times roll.