H-E-B Crawfish: What To Know Before You Buy

Crawfish, which are also known as crayfish, crawdads, or mudbugs, are frequently a principal ingredient in many southern recipes. They are also commonly used in traditional seafood boils. Like much seafood, crawfish have a uniquely alien appearance. This is because they're served shell-on, according to The Pioneer Woman, and therefore still look like giant insects complete with pincers and antennae when they hit your plate. This unusually natural appearance can dissuade eaters. Then there's the method of eating crawfish, which can be revolting to onlookers. "Just watching someone suck a creatures head and eat it's insides kinda grosses me out," said one Redditor.

It's true that crawfish isn't for everyone. However, for the few who can get around the insectile appearance and difficult eating methods there awaits a "flavor similar to shrimp and lobster," according to this Reddit thread.

Though a shrimp and lobster taste combination sounds delightful, crawfish need to be cooked correctly. If you're not a maestro in the kitchen, you're going to want someone who truly knows how to throw a boil to give you the proper flavor. Which is part of the reason grocery store H-E-B offers up freshly cooked crawfish, along with more standard grocery fare. Wide Open Eats reports that the Texas grocery chain even opened its own concession stand, the True Texas Boil House. With all these choices, there are several things to understand before you get in touch with your southern side and grab some mudbugs from H-E-B.

Should you buy fresh, frozen, or pre-cooked?

The first thing to know about buying crawfish at H-E-B is that it's a grocery store, which means it stocks crawfish in multiple forms, each one giving you a different experience. If you're talking about buying frozen crawfish, you're not going to find anything H-E-B specific, but the store does stock a couple of choices from brands like Acadia and some tail meat from Cajun Central, Inc. if you want something to take home.

For those aching for a fresher experience, you might need to wait a while. "There's actually only a three to five month season for crawfish, depending on the weather," Chef Brandon Boudet told LA Weekly. The same piece points out that crawfish season can begin in December, or wait until February, but no matter when it begins, the time to harvest is small. This makes fresh crawdads straight out of the deli something you're only likely to see during special times. If it isn't crawdad season, anything you find labeled "fresh" is likely to be suspect.

The short season also means that what you're going to find pre-cooked out of the deli or True Texas Boil House might be either fresh or come frozen depending on when you're buying, since eHow says quick consumption of the crustacean is necessary.

How much do H-E-B Crawfish cost?

How you buy your crawfish at H-E-B is naturally going to impact the price, especially during uncertain economic times. The website lists frozen crawfish landing in the range of $11+ to about $15 currently, with the weight of each package changing depending on if you're buying just the meat or whole-cooked crawdads. This seems not only commensurate with standard market prices, but Walmart, known for affordable goods, has similar crawfish tails online for just under $14. Though, buying fish and other seafood from Walmart isn't always a good idea.

If you're getting fresh, packaged deli crawfish, it's a lot more unpredictable. The price will generally be done by weight, and the price per pound is going to be highly variable. With The Sunday Island reporting "soaring" fish prices, it could get costly, quickly.

When it comes to the crawfish sold out of the concession, H-E-B's menu shows a pound of cooked crawdads will run you just under $7, with a discount of a dollar per pound if you order more than five. This puts it either a dollar or two below the cost of a shrimp basket. It might not be a $1.50 Costco hot dog meal, but it doesn't promise to break the bank, either.

Are H-E-B crawfish available year-round?

Due to the seasonal nature of crawfish, and the unpredictable nature of the exact months contained in that season, buying crawfish at any time can cause some uncertainty. The Spruce Eats says that for people who live in the crustacean's harvesting regions, it's possible to get them fresh any time of the year. That means crayfish enthusiasts who reside in prime mudbug locales, such as Louisiana, the Pacific Northwest, China, or parts of California, which Seafood Source says are major harvesting locations, are likely to be able to dine on crawdads nearly all year long.

H-E-B stores are largely located in Texas, home of the aptly-named Texas Roadhouse, where the company is based. While Texas isn't Louisiana, the close proximity makes it possible that certain H-E-B locations might have fresh crawfish anytime the crustacean craving strikes. On the other hand, Texas is huge, so the farther one goes west, away from the rich Louisiana swamps, the less likely the stores are to stock much that's straight out of the water.

That won't necessarily stop each store from offering crawfish, but the company's website specifies that it offers "Live Louisiana Crawfish in Season." Thus, going at the wrong time could mean that you get a frozen pretender, rather than the real thing.

What kind of crawfish does H-E-B use?

Though most crawfish look similar, especially after being boiled, there are actually more than 500 species of the little monsters, so says a study released by the Virginia Cooperative Extension. According to the numbers published there, "nearly 70 percent of the world's total species, inhabit waters in the United States," meaning H-E-B has about "353" species from which to choose.

Unfortunately, the grocer is especially recalcitrant about what type of crawdads you can expect to find at their establishments. While the company is more than happy to tell you about its crab species, trying to discover what crawfish it uses is nigh impossible. Even calling stores' meat and seafood departments won't necessarily get you a straight answer.

However, Crawfish Cafe claims that the most popular types of crawfish, especially in the U.S. where H-E-B has its stores, are red swamp or white river crawfish. It's safe to assume one of those two would be the crawfish species being used, though you might need to check with a specific store, and hopefully you can get an accurate reply.

Therefore, you should know that with H-E-B crawfish you might be getting a mystery species since the company isn't transparent about disclosing what's going into its boil pots. Well, the H-E-B website does note that "Shopping to create your perfect boil has never been easy at Texas' Live Louisiana Crawfish Headquarters," so apparently the goal is to make it difficult (or maybe it's just a typo).

Are H-E-B crawfish good?

Knowing everything about when and where the best crawfish can be found is nice for academic purposes, but it doesn't tell you the most important thing: are they any good? Sadly, the answer seems to be a resounding "meh."

On one Reddit thread, a person went after H-E-B's crawfish with a vengeance. They said they were "Probably worst tasting crawfish I have ever tasted." Their complaints about taste were met with explanations from supposed employees. "I work in meat market and I have watched the guys in seafood prep the crawfish and no way in hell would I ever buy any of those crawfish lol," one said. "We ... just threw them in I told my boss dude wash them first and season the water and he said nah," offered another.

This sort of bad behavior didn't seem to be everywhere. An alleged grocery employee pointed out "My store washes the crawfish and does a decent boil," while someone backed them up, saying, "My stores started boils last month and everything tastes amazing!"

All of this means you need to be careful about which H-E-B you visit, and know in advance that one bad experience might just mean that you ended up at a poorly operated store and it's not some franchise-wide failure.