How Do You Purge Crawfish?

Crawfish are edible freshwater crustaceans that have a similar taste to things like lobster and shrimp.

You may know them under a slightly different name – crayfish tails are a popular seaside snack, and you often see stalls selling trays of them at the beach. 

They are also known as crawdads in some places, and even mud bugs in others. All these names refer to the same delicious creature.

You can prepare and cook crawfish yourself at home, and it’s not that difficult to do. However, it is very important to purge your crawfish first before you eat them. 


This is a process that cleans them thoroughly, making sure they taste as great as possible. People have developed different methods to purge their crawfish, but we will show you a simple way that is guaranteed to work every time.

Why Do You Need To Purge Crawfish?

When you buy raw crawfish, they will likely have some dirt on the outside and impurities left behind in the intestinal tract. This is because they live in muddy waters and like to eat anything they can find. 

The remnants of its last meal will be hanging around still, which believe it or not can actually affect the taste. Simply boiling the crawfish will not get rid of these things, so they will still be there when you come to eat them unless you purge them properly first. 

Foolproof Crayfish Purging Method

  1. First, make sure the crawfish are still alive, as you will need them to be fresh for when you start cooking them. Store them properly with ice in a container, and they will be good for at least a couple of days.
  2. Before you start the purging process, allow the crawfish to warm back up to room temperature.
  3. Place the crawfish into a cooler or other plastic tub with plenty of room in it. 
  4. Fill the tub with water so all the crawfish are covered fully. The water will start to become cloudy and brown as the mud rubs off their shells. Stir the crawfish with a stick or other implement to agitate the dirt and loosen it.
  5. Check for and discard any dead ones, as they are likely to float to the top at this stage. 
  6. After 5-10 minutes have passed, drain the water completely and refill with fresh water. Repeat the same process as before. 
  7. Drain and refill one last time, making sure to remove dead crawfish if you spot any. The water should now be more or less clear. 
  8. Empty out the final water, so you are left with a tub of clean, live crawfish.

Once you have completed all these steps, you are ready to start boiling your crawfish. It is best to use a large pot that can fit all the crawfish in comfortably.

How To Eat Crawfish

Even after you’ve purged and boiled your crawfish, you may be confused about how they are eaten. After all, there is a lot of shell and you want to get to the soft meat inside. It is also sometimes difficult to know which parts are okay to eat and which aren’t, so let us take you through it.

You’ll want to start with the head: you may return to this later, so pull it off and set aside. Holding it at the head end, carefully peel the shell apart so that you uncover the meat all the way down to the tail.

The main edible section is the meaty tail, so this is what you should be focusing on. That said, there may also be meat in the claws, if they are big enough. 

Returning to the head – while you can’t eat the head itself, it does contain a yellow substance that some people find to be very palatable.

This is actually an organ that performs a similar function to a liver, called a hepatopancreas. You can access the edible substance by sucking it out of the head. It tastes quite sweet and salty, so you can see why it would be popular.

How Do You Purge Crawfish

Are There Other Ways to Purge Crawfish?

While most people use some variation of the method above, it is also common to add salt while purging crawfish. There is a widespread belief that this encourages the animals to expel the waste more quickly, essentially inducing a vomit reaction in them. 

You will be able to see the crawfish writhe when they’re covered in salt, but this is because the abrasive substance irritates their bodies.

All you are really doing when you use salt for purging is causing them unnecessary discomfort. They excrete the waste matter through their gills, which requires time and patience more than anything else. 

According to some experts, a thorough purging to remove as much waste as possible would take at least 12 hours. However, this is mainly true for commercially-supplied crawfish that are purged before they reach the consumer.

This process can decrease the hindgut size more effectively than home purging, but that is mainly an aesthetic issue. 

Purging correctly with the method detailed above for around half an hour should be sufficient to clear most of the mud and other impurities, and it will definitely leave your crawfish in a safe state to eat. It is also recommended that you don’t purge your crawfish for too long, as this increases the risk of them dying before you start cooking.


As you can see, the process of purging crawfish is actually quite simple, which has hopefully relieved some of the anxiety you may have had about purchasing them.

This must be completed before you cook them, as otherwise they can end up tasting bitter or unpleasant. 

You also need to be constantly on the lookout for dead crawfish among your batch – there is only a slim window of time when crawfish can be eaten once they have died, because they can cause food poisoning if left too long.

Purging your crawfish will allow you to enjoy the wonderful fishy taste to the max, and soon you won’t be able to get enough!

Jess Smith
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