Skip to Content

How To Tell If Crawfish Is Bad: A Guide For Storage, Freezing & More

Planning to buy some crawfish? Learn how to tell if crawfish are bad and how to store and freeze them for best taste in this comprehensive guide! 

Crawfish, also known as crawdads, crayfish, and mud bugs, are freshwater crustaceans, which people often find crawling around swamps, rivers, and lakes.  

They resemble small lobsters with a taste usually described as a combination of shrimp, lobster, and crab; they’re slightly salty and sweet with a hint of a mineral flavor profile. 

One of the best ways to cook crawfish is to boil them with garlic cloves, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, or artichokes. Remember, crawfish boil?

Besides some seasonings, the fresh crawfish also adds texture and flavor to recipes like chowder and the Louisiana classic jambalaya

But how to know if crawfish are bad? 

We reveal some clear signs of bad crawfish and learn how to store the seafood the right way to enjoy them all year round here.

How to tell if crawfish is bad

Contents

Here are the four different ways to tell whether your crawfish have gone bad:

1. Best-by and sell-by date

The simplest way to tell whether your crawfish have gone bad is by checking the product dating. 

Crawdads sold in the store come with a best-by and sell-by date on their package.  

These dates would likely tell you how long the seafood maintains its best taste and texture. 

FDA recommends to “purchase the product before the sell-by date.”

2. Appearance

Another great way to tell if your crawfish is already bad is to check its appearance. 

A bad crawfish features off-color on its shell and meat. 

Generally, most crawfish appear to be a deep moss green with a hint of brown or muted orange. 

But other varieties have red, blue, or black hues. 

Gray crawfish are likely spoiled, so avoid them. The raw meat is grayish but once cooked, it will turn bright red with clean, white meat. 

Also, it’s believed by many that once your cooked crawfish have straight tails, the seafood are likely dead before they hit the boil.

But take into account that this is just a theory and you shouldn’t rely on looking at the straight tail when identifying old crawdads. 

Sometimes, the crowded conditions in the boiling pot can also prevent the tail of the live crawfish from curling. In short, not all cooked crawfish with straight tails are dead. 

3. Smell

Fresh crawfish, whether whole or as tails, should have a clean, seaside smell, not overly fishy. 

If your crawfish happen to have a fishy odor, it’s best to throw it away and find a fresh one. 

If it smells like ammonia or bleach, don’t think twice and toss it immediately, as this is a clear sign that bacteria are growing on the seafood. 

Pro tip: Don’t taste a crawfish that already has an off smell because this might lead to food poisoning, and you don’t want that. 

4. Texture

Raw crawfish meat must be firm and not so squishy that pressing the flesh causes it to crumble or macerate

If you have crawfish with soft flesh and a slimy shell, discard it right away because it’s already spoiled.

Keep also in mind that the shell of a fresh crawfish should feel rough with smooth patches.

How to store crawfish? (The recommended method)

In case you’re planning to purchase some at the seafood market, you must buy your crawfish alive and fresh for the best flavor.  

Because like many types of seafood, crawfish are considered perishable, meaning they can spoil very quickly, even within a few hours. 

But the good news is they tend to keep well in a refrigerator, freezer, or freezer and can be stored in either before being eaten. 

Here’s the best way to store crawfish so you can keep the seafood fresh longer: 

Tools needed:

  • Crawfish
  • Sack
  • Bags of ice
  • Thermometer
  • Towel, burlap sack
  • Cooler

Instructions for storing live crawfish in a cooler:

  1. Place unopened bags of ice on a wet burlap. 
  2. Put the sack of crawfish on its side in a cooler. Keep them out of direct sunlight. 
  3. Then open the drain in the cooler and slightly elevate the other side so the water can drain out. 
  4. Using a thermometer, monitor the temperature and maintain 36°F to 46°F.
  5. Leave the cooler lid open at least an inch so your crawfish can breathe. 
  6. Consume the stored crawfish within two days for the best results.

Tip #1: Avoid buying dead crawfish and pick those fresh, alive, and clean. Also, all crawfish should be similar in size so you can cook them in the same amount of time. 

Tip #2: Soaking your crawfish in ice water will kill them, so it’s best to replace the ice as needed from time to time.

How to store crawfish in the freezer?

Storing cooked crawfish (especially if you’re planning to remove the meat from the shell) is labor-intensive. 

However, it’s well worth the effort. 

Cooked crawfish can be frozen, however, it’s advised that you should cook the seafood first before storing them in your freezer as this helps preserve their flavor and texture. 

In this storage method, you need to parboil the crawfish before shelling and deveining them. 

Without further ado, here’s how to properly store cooked crawfish in your freezer.

Tools needed:

  • Fresh crawfish
  • Salt
  • Ice cubes
  • Bucket, freshwater
  • Large pot
  • Colander
  • Airtight containers, freezer bags

Instructions for storing crawfish tails in the freezer:

  1. Put the fresh crawfish in a bucket with ice cubes and let them cool for about two hours. 
  2. Add some salt and fresh water to the bucket. 
  3. Stir and let them sit for about three minutes. 
  4. Drain and repeat the process twice or until the water appears clear. 
  5. Once the crawdads are killed, fill a large pot about three-quarters full of water.
  6. Bring to boil. Add crawfish to boiling water with long tongs.
  7. Parboil crawfish for about 5 minutes. 
  8. Transfer all crawfish in a colander and wash them under running water.
  9. Twist off the tails and start shelling and deveining them. Make sure your hands are clean when doing this process to avoid contamination. You may want to use tight-fitting disposable gloves to keep your hands from smelling like crawfish.
  10. Collect the flesh and place them in airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags.
  11. If freezing in zipper bags, lay them flat in the freezer.

Learn more about storing crawfish in this Youtube video.

How to store crawfish in the refrigerator

Storing crawfish in the refrigerator is quite similar to freezing the seafood. 

It would help if you dispatched, shell, and devein the swamp bugs before transferring the flesh to a sealed container. 

Here’s how to do it: 

Tools needed: 

  • Fresh crawfish
  • Salt, Ice cubes
  • Bucket, freshwater
  • Large pot
  • Colander
  • Airtight containers

Instructions for storing crawfish tails in the fridge:

  1. Put crawfish in a bucket with ice cubes. Let them cool for about two hours. 
  2. Add some salt and fresh water to the bucket. 
  3. Stir and let them sit for about three minutes. 
  4. Drain and repeat until the water appears clear. 
  5. Fill a large pot with about three-quarters full of water
  6. Bright to boil. Add crawfish to boiling water. Be careful with splashes! 
  7. Half-boil crawfish for about 5 minutes. 
  8. Transfer all half-cooked crawfish to a colander. Wash under running water.
  9. Twist off the tails and start shelling and veining them. 
  10. Collect the flesh and place them in an airtight container. Then refrigerate.

Pro tip: It’s possible to store leftover crawfish in the refrigerator but ensure not to refrigerate those crawfish left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Can you freeze crawfish?

The short answer is yes. 

You can freeze your crawfish, but ensure that they’re freshly cooked and not alive. 

The crawfish will die in the deep freeze, so once thawed, you’d be cooking dead crawfish, and while we tend to be risk-averse and don’t like to cook pre-dead foods, you would need to cook them IMMEDIATELY after thawing to help prevent food poisoning.

Also, it’s recommended to freeze cooked crawfish without the shell as storing this way can extend their shelf life for up to three months. 

How long will crawfish last in the refrigerator?

Crawfish that are freshly cooked and placed in an airtight container can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to four days. 

Crawfish that are alive and stored in the cooler should last for more than two days, while cooked seafood stored in the freezer remains fresh for up to three months. 

The bottom line

Crawfish are edible crustaceans that are loved by many due to their sweet taste and firm texture. 

You can enjoy them during crawfish season, from November to July in the U.S. 

However, you can still enjoy the seafood all year round by storing them in your fridge or freezer. 

If you’re planning to buy some for your crawfish boil feast, ensure to pick those alive and fresh!

Got leftover crawfish? Reheat them now!

Looking for more seafood recipes? Here are seafood appetizers you must-try!