Why is a crab boil Carla Hall's go-to party? "It's big on fun but low on stress," Carla says. The key to your success is prepping ahead of time, keeping things organized and encouraging your friends to pitch in. "They'll be so into the groove, they won't even realize they're doing work!" she says. And the easiest part comes at the end of the day, because with newspapers lining the table and food you eat with your hands, the cleanup is practically done for you.
Follow Carla's easy plan and you'll be cracking crabs, not cracking under the pressure!
The Day Before
Gather your shell catchers, crackers, dish towels, clothespins, kitchen twine and trash bins. Put your crab spices and side dish ingredients in zip-top bags. "This way, the day of the party it's literally a dump and stir," Carla says.
Tip: Say yes to the mess! Instead of buying flimsy plastic bibs, use inexpensive dish towels, and put out clothespins to attach them. (You can grab towels at IKEA for less than $1 each.)
The Day Of
Buy the live crabs about 4 or 5 hours before the party. (The less time they spend out of the water, the better.) The ideal way to store crabs is in cool, moist packaging: "Crabs need to breathe, so keep them in a container with wet newspaper and some straw to retain the moisture, and make sure you keep the lid ajar," Carla says.
An Hour Before
Start heating the water. "You want to get all of your liquid up to a rolling boil," she says. Since there's so much of it -- around 3 gallons -- it may take longer than you think.
Tip: For the drinking water, use a little wine 'n' twine. So they don't slip out of messy fingers, wrap your water and wine bottles with thick string or twine. "It takes about 10 seconds, but I bet your friends won't be able to stop talking about the great idea!"
During the Party
Have guests "clean" as they eat: Set out big bowls for discarding shells and cobs. Put out small bins labeled for "bibs," "mallets," "trash" and "recycle," so guests do the work of dividing up your trash for you. Empty the shell buckets (or put someone on trash duty), and make sure everyone has enough napkins. Don't forget to melt some butter -- or lime butter left over from the grilled bread -- and put out small bowls for dipping.
Place your baguettes in clean vases or buckets on the table. Guests can tear off chunks to sop up the cooking liquid. "It makes everything feel extra casual and approachable," Carla says.
Line the table with 3 to 4 layers of newspaper, "so when the table gets really messy, all you have to do is take off the top layer," Carla says. For a nice surprise, use a bright plastic tablecloth on the bottom for when you serve dessert.
At this party, it's cool to eat with your hands! For a little help, toss out some toothpicks or wooden skewers for picking up potatoes and sausage. "They're cheap, it still keeps things casual, and you don't have to deal with washing them later."
Give your guests a lesson in Crab Cracking 101! Download and print our handy how-to crack a crab table tents and display them on your spread (plus, get the remaining three steps!).
If you used disposable cups, cleanup is as simple as balling up the newspaper and tossing your cooking vessel and utensils in the dishwasher. "As a recovering caterer, I love the idea of a meal that basically cleans itself," Carla says. "It sure beats looking at the mess after the party and saying, 'Oh shoot, the work has just begun.'"
Maryland Blue Crab Boil
Now that you've got the how-to taken care of, let's talk food! This authentic Maryland Blue Crab Boil with Beer & Old Bay is a one-stop shop. Put it on the table, spread out and let your guests feast!
Lime-Buttered Grilled Bread
The kick of citrus lime really packs a punch in this crave-worthy carb.
Amaretto Icebox Cake
Finish off the night with an icebox cake made with chocolate wafer cookies ... need we say more?
And finally, wash it all down with a basil twist on the classic lemonade.
"To me, there is nothing better than eating together around a table, cracking crabs as a group and sharing stories," Carla says. "By the end of the meal, everyone at that table feels like they're family."
More Party Ideas
When the weather's warm, round up your pals and neighbors and take the party outside with the help of our 10 outdoor get-together ideas.