To best understand a people and place look to the foods they eat on the run, those iconic handheld meals — quick, filling, portable, tasty. In Lafayette and the surrounding towns and parishes of Acadiana that fast food is boudin. Simply and affectionately referred to as “links,” boudin is a roughly half-pound, half-foot length of sausage available for purchase in most every local meat market, grocery store, and gas station. A perfect way to explore the region is to try one boudin after another, link after steaming hot link, to form a chain that connects, or literally links, the Cajun prairie towns to the Creole bayou communities.
Though the recipe is uncomplicated — pork, rice, seasonings, and spice stuffed into an edible casing — each and every boudin is unique in texture and taste. Vendors are known for their distinct links. Some boudins come plump with chunks of coarse-ground meat, while others contain a more pâté-like filling. Ratios of pork liver, rice, and green onion can vary from one link to another. Some boudins swell with porky juices, others are starchy and dry. And across the vast spectrum of spice, boudins can range from mild to cayenne-pungent.
This diversity of form and flavor is rooted in boudin’s beginnings. In southeast Louisiana, a communal hog-slaughter known as a boucherie, from the French boucher, ‘to butcher,’ once united families and towns each harvest season. Each portion of the animal would be used — fat rendered into soap, skins fried into crisp cracklins — and the leftover scraps of meat would make red and white boudin — rouge and blanc — for intestine-stuffed links made with and without the addition of hog’s blood. Every community boucherie had their own boudin recipes. But by mid-century, the spread of refrigerated slaughter houses and supermarkets all but killed the boucherie, and boudin slowly became a popular staple in just about every small town and interstate convenience store (health codes gradually eliminated the commercial production of so-called “blood boudin”).
Today, most boudin aficionados squeeze the piquant pork and rice stuffing, push-pop style, directly into their mouths. Others spread the filling on saltine crackers, perhaps with a few dashes of hot sauce. While a small number of devotees insist on eating the link whole, including the casing. But all eaters can agree that boudin is best eaten fresh from the crock pot or warming tray, straight from the butcher paper or foil wrapping, in the parking lot of their favorite stop, with a handful of cracklins on the side, most any time of day (it’s not rare for locals to begin their day with a breakfast link).
But boudin is not limited to the traditional link. There’s a variety of boudins and boudin-derived delights, including smoked boudin; seafood boudin, a mainstay during the Lenten season; boudin-stuffed breads called pistolettes; and the ever popular breaded and deep-fried boudin balls. More recently, freethinking boudinnières have filled egg rolls, king cakes, and kolaches (filled pastries common to the region). One meat market has recently marketed an “ultra low-carb boudin” that substitutes minced cauliflower for rice.
There’s a boudin for every mood and palate (and maybe for each day of the year!). So grab a link, and don’t forget a bag of cracklins to go!
Alexander’s sells two types of boudin: mild and hot — though a more fitting description might be “hot, hot, hot!” Unwrap the foil-swaddled hot links to unveil an immense boudin that is almost crimson in color. The meat and rice swim in a bath of cayenne-injected juices. Those links are well worth the drive to the Northside of Lafayette to find this nondescript lunch counter and soft-drink store, located in a bare-bones brick building that once housed LeBlanc’s meat market.
Sandwiched in a corner of the University Exit off Interstate 10, the scent of barbecue cooking on the large pit will greet you before you turn into the parking lot. The plate lunches and cracklins are also specialties of a stop that deserves to be your next great boudin find. Also of note: this is one of the few African American-owned meat markets in the region.
In April 2012, the Louisiana State Legislature designated the town of Scott the “Boudin Capital of the World” (not to be outdone, the rival town of Jennings declared itself the “Boudin Capital of the Universe”). Much of that recognition is due to the long-standing popularity of the Best Stop.
Open since 1986, the small meat market and grocery store’s red brick exterior and stop sign logo are iconic images down in boudin country. The Stop advertises that they churn out an unbelievable 2,000 pounds of boudin a day — that’s seven tons each week!
There’s not much rice in these links, but plenty of pork meat and spice, with a touch of liver. The Best Stop is also justly famous for their smoked boudin and beef jerky. And the meat counter’s menu is one of the region’s most varied, offering rarities like chaudin (Cajun pork haggis), stuffed quails, stuffed beef tongue, and marinated rabbit.
“Don’t Boo-Day, Eat Boudin,” read the billboards in Broussard, a play on the Cajun colloquialism meaning ‘to pout’ — boudé. Billeaud’s Meat & Grocery has been curing the boudin blues since 1990, when Billy Billeaud opened the lunch counter-slash-meat market in the back of a small grocery and gas station previously owned by his father.
The links contain a fair amount of liver and spice, and customers have been known to stuff the de-cased sausage into duck, pork chops, and bell peppers. Billeaud’s sells 400 lbs. of boudin a day on average — more when its oilfield season, and workers are hot-shotting down Highway 90 to the coast (Travel Channel star Andrew Zimmern recently stopped by for a few links and a bag of cracklins).
The store also makes smoked boudin, crawfish boudin, and, a true rarity, cold boudin dip: softened with cream cheese and ready for spreading on a saltine cracker.
In addition to traditional boudin links, Billy’s serves boudin pistolettes (fried, boudin-stuffed rolls) and boudin rollups (egg rolls). But it’s the boudin balls that have justly made Billy’s famous. Fried to a dense, Moon-crater crispness, the massive orbs come regular or stuffed with oozy pepper jack cheese.
Billy and Patsy Frey first started selling boudin out of a mini mart in Krotz Springs, a river town northeast of Lafayette, back in 1995. Two years later the couple purchased a small grocery named Ray’s in nearby Opelousas.
Ray’s had its own popular boudin recipe (less spicy, more rice-y), so the now Frey-owned store became an oddity in Cajun country, a place that offers two pork boudin recipes for sale: Billy’s and Ray’s.
But only Billy’s boudin is served at the Billy’s in Scott, alongside smoked links and crawfish boudin during Lent, all sold by the sack from the counter or the consistently congested drive-thru.
There might not be a more immaculate spot to purchase a link or two than Chop’s Specialty Meats. When Jeff Delahoussaye opened Chop’s in 2003 his customer base was primarily offshore oil field workers who would stop in for sacks of boudin, fresh sausage, and steaks.
But as the town of Broussard grew and grew, Chop’s customer base and storefront followed (even bouncing back from a devastating kitchen fire in 2013). Today, Chop’s is an upscale grocer and meat market (Kobe beef!) with an impressive, international wine selection and array of Louisiana-made products. The boudin is thick, meaty — all Boston butt, no liver — and cayenne-hued.
There’s seafood boudin and, on the lunch menu, a boudin burger: a quarter-pound boudin ball smashed between a homemade bun. Look for the whimsical logo of a pig, sporting a yellow neckerchief and Paul Prudhomme hat, taking a cleaver to a pork chop.
Got Boudin? A veritable warehouse of meat, Don’s two locations can claim some of the most consistently crowded parking lots in Acadiana. Don Menard and Mark Cole opened the original Carencro location of Don’s in 1992 (Don left after a few years to open a grocery store, but his partner kept his name on the building).
Their flagship location in Scott, just off Interstate 10 west of Lafayette, and advertised for miles coming and going, is a road trip landmark. Combined, the stores sell upwards of 12,000 pounds, or over 6,000 links, of boudin per week, while annually racking up awards. The boudin here is porky and peppery, with just a touch of liver and generous flecks of green onion throughout each link.
Head butcher Jimmy Guidry has been in the meat business for over 40 years, and ensures the consistency of each link of Don’s boudin. Note: Don’s Carencro location burned down in late 2016, but will reopen in a new spot by the end of 2017.
Earl’s is the type of family-owned grocery store that once dotted every neighborhood in America, the kind forced to shutter decades ago with the coming of the national supermarket chains. Opened by Earl Comeaux back in 1979, Earl’s Grocery Store was an institution for shoppers on Lafayette’s Southside.
Now owned by another branch of the Comeaux family, and renamed Earl’s Cajun Market to honor its founder and his heritage, the boudin recipe remains the same. These links are definitive of the region: massive, grease-slicked, and green onion-y, with a higher-than-normal ratio of rice to pork.
Recently, Earl’s has begun supplying the pork and rice filling for the boudin-stuffed, cracklins-crumbled, and Steen’s Cane Syrup-slathered king cakes made famous by Twin’s Burger and Sweets (you can buy the cakes during Carnival season at Earl’s or year-round on the Twin’s website).
“Home of the boudin with an attitude,” according to signage, which also features an accordion playing link, Guidroz Food Center has been in business since 1959. That was the year Joseph Guidroz started his own grocery after 20 years of working in meat markets (he quite school at the age of 12 to support his family delivering groceries by bike before graduating to cutting meat). Alvin Guidroz took over from his father in 1987, but Joseph kept making the boudin into his 80s.
More recently, the store has been purchased by Steve Griffin and Corey Glaude, old friends who grew up in the Northside neighborhood that has housed Guidroz for six decades. Guidroz’s boudin comes wrapped in butcher paper and is offered in mild and hot varieties. The latter, “attitude” flavored, links come red-hued, flecked with black pepper, and offer a welcome tickle on the tongue.
In Cajun French, a “boucaniere” is a smokehouse, but more recently it’s a term synonymously linked, in and around Lafayette, to Johnson’s Boucanière, which specializes in pork, beef, and turkey sausages, tasso, jerky, brisket, and pulled pork. The roots of Johnson’s stretch back to the late 1930s, when Arneastor Johnson opened his eponymous grocery in the Cajun prairie town of Eunice. Johnson’s Grocery was one of the first, if not the first, establishment to commercially sell boudin in Louisiana.
After the business closed in 2005, Johnson’s granddaughter Lori, who craved her family’s sausage recipes, opened the second iteration of Johnson’s Boucanière, with her husband, Greg Walls, smack dab in the middle of Lafayette. The boudin recipe is the same as it was when a young Arneastor first began adding rice and spice to ground pork.
This is an archetypal link, a beauty of the form, best eaten on the sprawling porch that wraps the building, or delivered via a Parrain Special, a boudin-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich slathered in barbecue sauce (or level up with the Drew’s Special, which piles pulled pork onto the Parrain).
Kirk’s showcases the diversity of boudin varieties. Here, the links are white in color. The meat and rice finely pulverized. The mixture austere, lacking green onion and the traditional cayenne kick. It’s a unique link and worth a try. Long known as Bruce’s U-Need-A Butcher, Kirk’s — named for its second owner Kirk Courville — is now operated by Blake Gallet, whose smiling, cartoony portrait — complete with aviator sunglasses, goatee, and Hawaiian shirt — advertises the business.
It’s because of Gallet that Kirk’s remains a Northside neighborhood cornerstone. One side of the store is covered with wonderfully rendered portraits of local icons, like Helma B. Constantine, who integrated Lafayette’s university back in 1954; Father Anthony Bourges, the Parish’s first African-American priest; and, the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier. One day Kirk’s head butcher, Andrea Jones, quite possibly the only female meat cutter in Lafayette, might find her portrait painted on that wall. U-Needa visit Kirk’s.
Menard’s doesn’t look like much from the outside. A crossroads country store way off the beaten path. A ramshackle shed, perhaps, or, with its front porch and vast parking lot, a tin-roofed community social space. A filling station that stopped selling gas when the pumps hit a dollar a gallon. Menard’s Cajun Grocery might be all of these things, but above all else it is a boudin boutique well worth the drive out to Duson.
Step inside to a sonic wave of Cajun and Creole “chank-a-chank” music cranked so loud that you’ll likely have to shout your order over the counter. The links here are dark, piquant, and meaty, with a notable green onion crunch. Customers drive for many miles to few pounds of boudin, along with a sack of boudin balls — sold in the thousands per week — and maybe a boudin wrap (egg roll) or two.
The location has seen several iterations over the years — Don’s Country Corner became Mike’s Country Corner before Menard’s took over the spot — but hopefully Lynette and Darrin Menard, the current co-owners, who opened the place in 2015, stick around.
From small town beginnings, NuNu’s has transformed into a verifiable boudin behemoth. It all started in 1953, when Arthé Broussard opened a bar and gentlemens hangout, the Blue Room Lounge, in the unincorporated, Cajun community of Milton. After selling sliced bread and sandwich meat to accompany the cold drinks, it became apparent to Broussard that a grocery was needed more than a barroom. His son Walter, affectionately nicknamed NuNu, eventually opened Walter Broussard’s Supermarket, alongside his wife Jeannette, in 1976.
From the start, most everyone in town called the store NuNu’s. Today Arleen Broussard Choate and her husband, David, oversee a mini NuNu’s empire of four locations in the towns of Milton, Youngsville, Maurice, and, most recently, Scott (in the former Early’s Cajun Supermarket).
Each site sells links prepared by decorated boudin master David Choate, who is the sole keeper of the NuNu’s recipe. Served in plastic-wrapped Styrofoam containers — perfect for packing — the NuNu’s boudin is fatty, peppery, and rice-rich.