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My first experience with crayfish was when I was 11 or 12. My parents bought me an aquarium, and I stocked it with two crayfish.

Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing, because they both escaped the tank within a week. I found their dried-out shells when we moved years later.

Fast-forward to Saturday. My second experience with crayfish wasn't much more positive.

Over the weekend, a group of us met up at the Lakeside Crawdad Festival. To prepare, I had watched a YouTube clip on how to eat crayfish. What looked to be a tiny 15- or 16-year-old began by saying she had ordered a five-pound bag -- less than she usually eats, she noted.

I was floored. How could five pounds of crayfish fit into the stomach of such a small girl?

Then I watched as she tossed around phrases like, 'suck the juice out of the brain," and 'twist off its tail," and 'pull out the doo-doo."

It was one of the most complicated things I've ever seen.

As I watched her garner tiny bits of meat out of relatively large crayfish, I realized how she was able to tuck away so many pounds of the stuff. Make no mistake: Eating crayfish is a lot of work for little meaty payoff.

Undeterred, I waited in line Saturday afternoon and ordered a pound: half mild, half spicy. Not that it mattered. I got maybe a pinky's worth of meat out of those suckers because I couldn't master the technique required to open 'em up.

My friends and I all struggled with our crayfish. People next to us laughed. One man, whom we later dubbed the Crawdad Whisperer, dropped by and showed us how to do it. He was incredible, able to transform a shelled crawfish into an edible delicacy with a few twists and a patient thumb.

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Yet no matter how many crayfish I cracked open, I couldn't extract more than a hangnail-size bit of meat.

Misery loves company, so I delighted in watching my friends struggle, too. We gave up after about 20 minutes. We piled our crayfish into a tray and presented it as an offering to the Crawdad Whisperer.

We still had fun. I was able to extend my foray into festival fine dining by trying my first deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was ridiculously good. I only ate half, so I could save room for a pulled-pork sandwich. (Also ridiculously good.)

By time I left Lakeside, my belly was full. And I'll always be thankful for the Crawdad Festival for introducing me to deep-fried PB&J.

Executive Editor George Spohr can be reached at

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