You can love crawfish, you can be obsessed with them and 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 in Louisiana.

If you happen to find yourself at a family boil — anyone’s family — all the better.

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Marican and Krona Moreno enjoy some crawfish.

I’ll take crawfish any way I can get them this time of year. Restaurants that boil crawfish make it easy, and God bless them for the service they provide when all you want is a hit of the boil, a place to sit and eat, and someone to bring another round.

But the crawfish boil itself is about more than getting mudbugs in your belly. It is a process that comes with practices, rituals and designated roles to play.

Someone must supervise the boil; someone must give running commentary on how they’re doing it wrong; someone must set at least one live crawfish free on the grass to entertain/terrify the kids; someone must organize the peeling detail to recycle leftovers for future étouffée and bisque.

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Jayden Dove, 2, inspects his crawfish before pulling off the tail during the 8th Annual G.R.I.D Parent Association Crawfish Cookoff at Mel Ott Park in Gretna, La., Saturday, May 19, 2018. The fundraiser helps programs offered by the Gretna Recreation Department.

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, which can feel like the rarest of gifts these days.

That time is what makes a crawfish boil a social event rather than just a meal. The time invested in the process yields a return in 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, sewing circles, watching baseball).

This weekend brings the high holy days of Louisiana boiled seafood (and, of course, Easter). Its customs and traditions will play out in countless individualized ways that all draw from a common thread.

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.

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Students enjoy boiled crawfish during Lagniappe Day Friday, April 5, 2019, on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus in Lafayette, La.

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.


Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.