How do you store fresh caught crawfish?

Crawfish, also known as crayfish or crawdads, are freshwater crustaceans that are similar to small lobsters. They have become a popular food, especially in the Southern United States. Crawfish are often caught live and can be kept alive for several days if stored properly before cooking. Here are some tips on how to best store live crawfish after catching them yourself.

Keep Them Cool

The key to storing live crawfish is to keep them cold. Their metabolism will slow down in cooler temperatures allowing them to stay alive longer. As soon as you catch them, get the crawfish into an ice chest or cooler filled with ice. Make sure there is plenty of ice, and keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and heat.

The ideal temperature range for storing live crawfish is between 33-40°F. This cold environment will keep them dormant and slow their metabolism, extending their lifespan. If kept at this temperature range, fresh caught crawfish can survive for 4-5 days before becoming too lifeless to cook.

Use a Crawfish Box

For best results, store the crawfish in a specialized crawfish box or crawfish sack which allows water drainage. This is better than just throwing them in an ice chest. The crawfish box contains compartments to separate the crawfish into smaller batches.

Having the crawfish in a perforated box suspended over ice is ideal. As the ice melts, the water can drain out the bottom of the box rather than pooling around the crawfish. Excess water will essentially drown the crawfish over time in a regular cooler.

Keep Them Moist

In addition to keeping crawfish cold, it is important to keep them moist. Keep a damp towel or burlap sack over the crawfish box to maintain humidity. You can also mist them with water periodically.

Just like lobsters, crawfish breathe through gills that must stay moist. Dry gills will suffocate the crawfish. Maintaining moisture around the crawfish ensures their gills do not dry out.

Avoid Crowding the Crawfish

When catching and storing crawfish, do not overcrowd them in the cooler. Crawfish need adequate space and airflow to survive. If too many crawfish are packed together, the ones on bottom can get crushed and they can suffocate from lack of oxygen.

A good rule of thumb is not to exceed 2 pounds of crawfish per cubic foot of storage space. Overfilling will lead to higher crawfish mortality before cooking.

Frequent Purging is Key

The storage ice will gradually melt and pool water in the bottom of the crawfish box or cooler. The crawfish will also release waste that accumulates in this water. To keep crawfish alive and healthy, this water needs to be periodically purged and replaced with fresh ice.

Ideally, the melting ice water should be drained and replaced every 8-12 hours. This regular purging clears waste and provides fresh, cold water for the crawfish. Purging less frequently can expose the crawfish to unsanitary conditions as waste builds up.

When purging, avoid exposing the crawfish to warmer air or water temperatures that will shock them. Work quickly when discarding old ice and water before replacing with new ice.

Look for Signs of Life

Prior to cooking, examine your stored crawfish for signs of life. Active crawfish will move their legs and claws when touched. Their tails will curl and uncurl when picked up.

Crawfish that are no longer moving may still be alive but are in poor condition for cooking. It is best practice to only cook active, responsive crawfish.

Crawfish that are dead or dying will be limp and unresponsive. They are starting to decompose and should be discarded.

Cook Them Quickly

Once ready to cook, do so as soon as possible. Cook live crawfish within several hours of removing them from cold storage. Extended time out of refrigeration will quickly weaken or kill them.

Many people like to purge crawfish again before cooking by soaking in salt water. This one final purge removes any residual waste and energizes them. After purging, cook the crawfish right away for best flavor.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Here are some common mistakes people make when storing live crawfish that should be avoided:

Using Too Little Ice

The most important factor is maintaining cold temperatures. Be generous with ice and monitor melt rate. Top off with fresh ice routinely.

Letting Ice Melt and Not Draining

Allowing crawfish to sit in pooled melt water leads to poor water quality. Drain routinely.

Allowing Heat Exposure When Purging

Quickly discard old ice/water and replace with new ice to minimize warming.

Crowding Too Many Crawfish Together

Overfilling will crush crawfish and reduce oxygen. Follow spacing guidelines.

Infrequent Purging

Waste accumulates quickly and will deteriorate water quality if not drained.

Keeping Crawfish Too Long

Crawfish held longer than 4-5 days will have lower quality. Cook sooner for best results.

Storing Cooked Crawfish

In contrast to live crawfish, cooked crawfish have a much shorter shelf life. Here are some tips for storing cooked crawfish:

Refrigerate Promptly

After cooking, let crawfish cool slightly and then put in refrigeration within 1-2 hours. Leaving cooked crawfish at room temperature too long allows bacteria growth.

Use Shallow Containers

Store cooked crawfish in a shallow container no more than 2-3 inches deep. This prevents crushing and allows faster cooling.

Separating is Better

Store cooked crawfish tails separate from whole cooked crawfish. The tails cool and drain better for longer shelf life.

Eat Reheated within 3 Days

Cooked crawfish tails or whole cooked crawfish are best quality if reheated and eaten within 3 days. After 3 days, discard uneaten crawfish.

Reheat Thoroughly to 165°F

Only reheat previously cooked crawfish once. Heat to an internal temperature of 165°F before serving.

Freezing Cooked Crawfish

For longer term storage, cooked crawfish can be frozen. Here are some freezing tips:

Flash Freeze Crawfish Tails

Spread tails in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze quickly. Transfer to freezer bags once frozen.

Blanch Whole Cooked Crawfish Before Freezing

Quickly blanch whole cooked crawfish in boiling water before freezing. This stops the cooking process.

Exclude Spices When Freezing

Avoid freezing cooked crawfish in heavy sauces or seasonings. The liquid will ruin texture.

Use Freezer Bags

Put frozen crawfish in airtight, moisture-proof freezer bags. Remove excess air before sealing.

Freeze at 0°F or Colder

For best quality, freeze crawfish at 0°F or colder. Never refreeze thawed crawfish.

Use Frozen Crawfish within 3 Months

For optimal flavor and texture, use frozen cooked crawfish within 3 months. Discard if freezer burned.


Properly storing fresh caught crawfish is important for keeping them alive, healthy, and good eating quality until ready to cook. Quick chilling, frequent draining of ice water, and avoiding overcrowding are key. Don’t store live crawfish longer than 4-5 days even in ideal conditions before cooking. Cooked crawfish have a shorter shelf life of only a few days and should be refrigerated promptly and reheated thoroughly before eating. For longer storage, cooked crawfish can be frozen for use within 3 months.

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