Roll up your sleeves and get crackin – it’s BBQ blue crab season in Texas. Houston has the best of all worlds. Close enough to Galveston to get them fresh, and far enough away from Louisiana to justify barbecuing a crab, Houston is perfectly centered in blue crab country. Every Houstonian should experience the unofficial crab crawl at some point in life. That means packing a healthy appetite in a car with family or friends and taking a BBQ crab tour through Houston and the areas outside of Houston. There are no driving directions for a perfect BBQ crab road trip throughout the Gulf Coast. The only requirements are that you have an appetite, some patience to get to the good meat, and a group of friends who are willing to share in the experience.
During the summer months when crawfish find their way off of menus throughout the Gulf Coast, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico become warm enough to cause blue crabs to come out from their hiding spots and begin growing. The typical blue crab season in Texas runs from late May through October depending on the temperature of the water and the temperament of the crab. Despite the visual, Texans don’t simply throw the crab on the pit and smoke them. Instead, BBQ crabs are dredged in BBQ seasoning then deep fried until the meat is sweet and tender.
The concept of BBQ crab began in the 1940s, but it was not until the 1970s when the Sartin’s family made them famous. Now, various iterations of the Texas specialty find favor from crab lovers and native Texans throughout the Gulf Coast region. BBQ crabs offer the best of both worlds – prime seafood and BBQ flavoring; all of the makings of a great Texas tradition. While there are a number of restaurants that may be local favorites, the following locations have been serving up the succulent goodness for years and constantly find their way onto the winner’s podium during the season.
1) Sartin’s Seafood (Beaumont, Texas; Nederland, Texas). Sartin’s is a tradition seemingly as old as Texas. In the old days during the summer months, parents would strap their kids into the backseat of the family car and make the one hour drive to the latest and greatest Sartin’s restaurant for the all you can eat BBQ crab platter. That tradition continues today. Although various branches of the Sartin’s family (and in-laws) have opened a number of restaurants through the years, one thing that has escaped the family drama is the flavor of the BBQ crabs. Regardless of the location, Sartin’s offers the BEST flavor and the best value for your money. Depending on the location, the AYCE platter is only offered on certain days (including weekends) and ensures that you will be happy and full when you leave. BEWARE: everyone at the table must order the $25.00 platter, so make sure your party is hungry when you get there. In fact, make this your first stop. What makes Sartin’s the leader in BBQ crab preparation is its consistency. Also, the accompaniments served with the platters are equally as good as the crabs themselves. Do not skip Sartin’s if you are looking to go on the Tour de Crab this summer. You will miss out on a legend if you do.
2) Floyd’s Cajun Seafood House (Webster, Texas; Sugar Land, Texas; Pearland, Texas). Floyd’s knows good seafood. Appearing more like a standard Texas draft house and less like a seafood joint, Floyd’s adheres to the seafood traditions in the best way possible by serving blue crab, oysters, and crawfish according to the designated seasons. Floyd’s has become so popular that it recently opened a location in Sugar Land, Texas off of Hwy. 59 next to First Colony Mall. The area is littered with families, the signature clientele for this restaurant. The crab preparation at Floyd’s follows the traditional style – a dredge of salty BBQ seasoning and a quick visit into the deep fryer. Floyd’s does not offer an all-you-can-eat option for the crabs which may make your wallet raise an eyebrow, but the crabs are so good that it is well worth the $3.00/crab price. For the best flavor, try the Webster and Pearland locations. The Sugar Land location only recently opened and the cooks are still learning how to balance off the saltiness of the seasoning. Otherwise, Floyd’s comes in a close second to Sartin’s and is well worth a stop on any BBQ crab crawl this season.
3) Ragin Cajin (Houston, Texas; Sugar Land, Texas; Westchase (Houston)). Ragin Cajun also adheres to the seasonalities of crab and crawfish, and offers BBQ crab beginning in July. Ragin Cajun has a different take on the tradition, however. The restaurant still deep fries the crab but the finished product tastes and looks like the chef uses a hint of flour to create the “fried” experience. Although the BBQ flavor is less prominent than at Floyd’s or Sartin’s, what Ragin Cajun achieves is value for the size. Of all three top contenders, Ragin Cajun provides the largest crab, and the meat is more tender and sweeter than at its rival restaurants. While Ragin Cajun does not offer an AYCE version, it does offer a nice sized platter with four crabs and two sides for $16.00. This is a decent value, especially given that most people can only eat 4 – 5 crabs at one sitting. Because Ragin Cajun uses a more flour-based dredge, the crabs are not as salty as they are at Sartin’s and Floyd’s. Regardless of your preference, make sure to make Ragin Cajin a necessary stop on your crab crawl.