'Swamp magic'

A look at the work of a crawfish boiler

Savannah Vasquez
Billie Adams with Louisiana Lagniappe Seafood uses large, custom-made pots for crawfish boils benefiting different charities around Destin. [SAVANNAH VASQUEZ/DESTIN.COM]

From May to July, crawfish boils can be found across the Panhandle. If you catch one in the Destin area, you are bound to find at least one person at every boil: Billie Adams.

Adams has been boiling up crawfish for nearly three decades, and said even after all these years, he still enjoys the process.

“We used to bring in about 2,000 pounds a week back when I worked for Louisiana Lagniappe,” said Adams. “We were the first people to bring crawfish in and we used to sell to everybody all over town.”

Today, Adams runs his own business, Louisiana Lagniappe Seafood, a wholesale seafood business, and while he no longer runs crawfish boils for the restaurant of the same name, he does help organize and cook at most of the charity crawfish boils in the Destin area.

“It’s not a business (crawfish boiling); it’s more of a community thing,” he said. “I do charity boils for high school cross country teams and middle schools, and other charity fundraisers.”

In order to accommodate bigger functions, Adams owns three large, custom-made boiling pots that can each hold 250 pounds of crawfish.

He also carries all the spices and stirring utensils needed to boil enough crawfish for a small army.

“We had them built to our specifications so we can do eight sacks of crawfish (which weigh from 33-40 pounds) and eight sacks of spices,” Adams said of his pots.

At the Destin Rotary’s Cinco de Crawdaddy Bash on May 5, Adams and his team boiled 1,300 pounds of crawfish. Averaging 1-1/2 pounds of crawfish per person, he could feed more than 800 people.

Adams gave a step-by-step of his cooking method.

“The first thing is to get the product – the crawfish – from your sources and get them on site,” he said.

Adams drives to and from New Orleans to buy and sell crawfish, shrimp and other seafood. Traveling Interstate 10 to the Big Easy eventually drew him to the crawfish boiling scene.

“I got a job driving the seafood truck for Louisiana Lagniappe in ’92. I liked the freedom of getting out and going and seeing places I’ve never seen,” he said.

Before each boil, Adams sets up his pots and connects each to a propane tank. Each pot is then filled with water, onions and garlic and then brought to a boil. Once the water is boiling, Adams adds his secret liquid spices to the water.

“It’s called ‘Swamp Magic,’” he said. “We had it made. We were using one called, ‘Swap Fire,’ but everyone told us it was too spicy so we took out some cayenne and added some more garlic and other spices. They weren’t used to the Cajun flavor here yet.”    

After the spices are added, it’s time to pour in the live crawfish. Adams explained that the crawfish have already been culled, which means they have been cleaned of mud and any dead crawfish have been removed.

“I use the Cajun version of culling, which is to just let them swim around in the water and get all the mud off them themselves,” he said.

Watching live crawfish added to the boiling pot is not for the squeamish, but — contrary to some opinions — crawfish do not scream (they have no vocal chords) when they are dropped in the water. The shells, however, may make a clicking sound as a reaction to the boiling hot water. Adams pointed out that the water is so hot that the crustaceans are dead within a minute of hitting the pot.

Next it’s time for more spices, this time the dry variety.

“This is the only time I stir it; when I add the dry flavor,” Adams said. “The way I cook, I let the pot do the stirring for me.” 

With this style of cooking, Adams said, it allows the crawfish to naturally create a thickened sauce that he calls “crawfish gravy.”

“It will start steaming up on top and then it will start gravying up,” he said. “When the gravy comes up I shut (the propane tank) down and the gravy soaks back through and makes a thick coating over everything, then right before we serve them, I’ll toss them again.”

Adams said this style of boiling crawfish really helps the flavor soak in. He said his technique came from years of observing others.

“I guess it’s a combination of the guys I worked for at the Lagniappe, and going to a ton of boils and watching them do it over the years,” he said.

Adams said the reason he loves boiling crawfish so much is because he likes helping the community. When crawfish are out of season, his business offers other fundraising options.

“I also do shrimp, red beans and rice and jambalaya for off-season type stuff,” he said. “Crawfish season is basically Super Bowl to Fourth of July, and sometimes you get them a little bit longer."

Billie Adams will host a crawfish boil benefiting Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast at Harry T’s from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20. For more information visit To book Billie Adams for a charity fundraiser, call 850-830-8862. 

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