Feel the Pinch: Tips from a Competitive Crawfish Eater

Kurt Benoit Crawfish Cajun Eating Photo by Brad Kemp
Kurt Benoit, center, from Port Arther takes part in the crawfish eating contest which he won by nation our 35 pounds in 45 minutes during the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival at Park Hardy on Saturday, May 4, 2019 in Breaux Bridge, La. Photo courtesy Brad Kemp.

Polish Off 3-10 Pounds of Crawfish Like a Pro

Feeling the Pinch on your Crawfish Skills? In the Cajun Capital of Texas, we love our crawfish boils for graduation, weddings and any old weekend. Some people arrive in Port Arthur not knowing what a crawfish is, much less how you eat a little red mud bug. Next they hear we enjoy our spicy friends by several pounds at a time.

Crawfish eating contests can be quite the show. Ask veteran Kurt Benoit, who has eaten 20 pounds in 20 minutes and broken his own records. Want to get an edge on tackling one of our favorite Port Arthur meals?

News flash: Since this blog went up, Benoit has also earned first place in the Men’s Division of the 2024 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival contest by downing 27.1 pounds of crawfish!

Get to Know Kurt Benoit

Kurt Benoit and Family. Crawfish Champion at the 2019 Cajun Heritage Festival in Port Arthur, Texas.

Benoit was born into a seafood-loving family. His mother Esther Benoit is known locally as our Cajun Queen and the family ran Esther’s Seafood at the base of the famously-tall Rainbow Bridge in Port Arthur. He’s cooked, sold and served them. He’s also reigned as champion in several contests. His first, the 1980 Nederland Heritage Festival contest, saw him down 12 pounds in 10 minutes. His stats list includes the Breaux Bridge Cajun Festival from 2019 to 2022, eating 23 pounds at a time. He won the 2016 Larry Judice Invitation World Crawfish Eating Contest for downing 24 pounds in 15 minutes.

Benoit recently won the Cajun Heritage Fest crawfish eating contest, again, and consumed 5 pounds in 1 minute and 48 seconds. Bam!

Tips from a Professional Crawfish Eater

Volunteers hold signs indicating how many pounds of boiled crawfish contestants in the crawfish eating completion have eaten at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at Parc Hardy in Breaux Bridge. Courtesy Brad Bowie.

Even if you aren’t going for a record, you might enjoy some of Benoit’s thoughts on the matter. Benoit shares his methods, favorites and Cajun pride.

Dinner by the pound?

Down here we estimate 3 to 5 pounds of crawfish to feed each guest. If you are the boil master, know their appetites! And remember to toss in savory corn, potatoes and onions into that boil. Visitors shocked by the poundage may not be accounting that that weight is before heads and shells come off, so our bellies actually take in a smaller amount of just the tail meat.

“Crawfish are measured live by the pound. Only about 15 percent of the total weight is the tail meat. So 10 pounds of live weight would only make about pound and half of tail meat,” Benoit says.

Ah, we feel better already.

The “Twist the Head” Trick

hand holding crawfish in port arthur texas

Most people break the heads off then peel each ring of the shell to get to the meat, Benoit says.

“The way I do it is to twist the head off and I put the end of the tail in between my teeth pulling slowly out while pinching the tail,” he says. “If they are cooked perfectly they will slide right out of the shell.”

Contest Mode

Contestants in the boiled crawfish eating competition Randall Washington, left, and Kurt Benoit, work on their first five pound trays of boiled crawfish at the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at Parc Hardy in Breaux Bridge. Photo courtesy of Brad Bowie.

In a contest, I twist the head off, pinch the tail and grab another one as fast as I can. At home or a restaurant, I take my time sucking the heads and eating the claws in enjoyment. Watch him win here.

On the Clock

We asked Benoit how many pounds he’d eat in an average meal. We mean, if not being timed. Can you keep up with his answer?

“I normally eat about 5 to 8 pounds at home or at a restaurant. I take my time eating the big claws and sucking the heads. While sucking the heads you get all the flavor of the seasoning and the tasty juices. When doing the competitions, especially the larger amounts to eat, I don’t really enjoy the eating aspect of it. It is too much too fast after about 10 pounds. The fun part is watching the faces in the crowd smiling at me in amazement because the have never seen anyone eat so many that fast.”

Spice Level 10, but Don’t Make his Lips Swell

huge pile of seasoned crawfish in port arthur, texas

“Spicy, which means flavor to me, is always at a 10 but if we are talking about pepper hot spicy I am at about a 7 always. I like to taste my food but with just a little bit of sting on the tongue. I don’t like it hot where your lips swell,” Benoit says.

More Applause for the “Claws”

Kurt Benoit and father, John Benoit, with Kurt's Crawfish Eating Contest winnings.
Kurt Benoit and father, John Benoit, with Kurt’s Crawfish Eating Contest winnings.

Benoit says he loves fried crawfish and “etouffee is the best.”

“I like to show people on how to eat them, especially family members, friends and kid. But I will show anyone that asks. My granddaughter is already peeling them and loves it.”

Memories of Esther’s Fine Cajun Seafood

Benoit’s mother Esther is still known for dropping off one of her coveted Cajun Cakes around town. Her seafood restaurant namesake was famous for fried seafood diners enjoyed will gazing over the water toward the Rainbow Bridge and Veterans Memorial Bridge that connects Port Arthur and Bridge City.

Benoit recalls:

“At my home, my favorites were seafood and wild game she cooked such as gumbo, fried shrimp, soft shell crabs, pot roasted ducks and rabbits. Anything she cooks is amazing. My dad was also a great cook learning the skill at an early age because he worked on shrimp boats at an early age with his dad. I learned how to the cook on the tugboats at the age of 12. As far as Mom cooking at the restaurant, my favorites were the ones she was famous for such as gumbo, scampi, fettuccines, Pontchartrain, bread pudding, Cajun Cake and boiled crawfish.”

Why does he do it?

kurt benoit holding a platter of freshly boiled crawfish
Kurt Benoit holds a platter of freshly boiled crawfish in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

Mr. Benoit, we get you love a good meal, but tell us again why you’re willing to pile on the crawfish, and in front of an audience.

“I love the competition aspect of it. I am full of Cajun pride representing our culture,” Benoit says.

Well there you have it. Let the boiling begin!

Join us at the Cajun Heritage Festival, April 6, at the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center in Port Arthur. Peel your way through this contest, but know that Kurt Benoit has won before and he’s likely to enter again!

Come on down to the Cajun Capital of Texas anytime and take your time peeling your own crawfish, here.  #cajuncapitaloftexas

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