Nearly every coastal region in the United States has a signature seafood dish that brings together the bounty of the local waterways and the friendliest locals you can gather. These dishes are crowd-pleasers created to feed lots of people with only a little effort, the kind where you often just throw everything into a hot pot for the time it takes to down a drink or two, and voila—instant fellowship.
In Louisiana, it’s the crawfish boil. In the Chesapeake Bay area, it’s the Maryland Crab Feast. And up and down the Georgia and South Carolina coast, most of us call it Lowcountry Boil—although you may occasionally hear an old-timer call it Frogmore Stew, so named for the tiny, unincorporated part of South Carolina where its popularity is supposed to have originated.
Maybe the best thing about all these dishes is that they can’t be fully enjoyed without a passel of loved- ones crammed elbow to elbow over a makeshift table piled high with fresh seafood. After all, there’s not a lot of room for pretense when everyone’s dripping in shellfish.
My family perfected its version of the Lowcountry Boil a quarter century ago and we’ve never been bashful about sharing. It’s always seemed wrong to keep secret something that was always intended to bring people together. And while Lowcountry Boil recipes are easy to come by, ours is still the barometer by which I measure all others. Sometimes a dish comes to taste like home, and once it does you don’t want it any other way.
I’ve always believed what sets our family recipe apart is the boiling liquid, which is essentially a hot brine. And if you know anything about brines, then you know the stronger they are the more flavor they impart. So with that being said, you’ll note that some of the quantities for the boiling liquid may seem a little… excessive. That’s by design, so unless you’re using a significantly smaller pot, resist the urge to moderation.
Start with 40–quart pot that has a cooking basket. Fill the pot halfway with water and bring the following ingredients to a boil on an outdoor propane burner:
- Table salt
- Old Bay seasoning
- Worcestershire sauce
It’ll likely take at least half an hour for the brine to boil, so pour yourself a cold drink, tell some stories, and enjoy the company of others. Lively conversation is part of the cooking process.
Into the Pot
When the liquid comes to a boil, add the potatoes and cook until they begin to soften. The trick here is to learn how long to cook the potatoes before adding the other ingredients. The potatoes will take the longest to cook, and when everything is finished you want the potatoes to be done—but not so done they fall apart. When you can stick the potatoes with a fork and it will easily go in about half an inch, you’re ready to add the next ingredients.
Once the potatoes have begun to soften, add the corn and cook it for about 10 minutes. Next, add the sausage and onions, and cook another 5–10 minutes.
Check the potatoes at this point to be sure they are completely cooked, and then turn off the propane burner.
Add the shrimp to pot and cook 3–5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The shrimp are the trickiest part of this recipe as they are easy to overcook. The key to not overcooking shrimp is to understand that they will continue to cook in their retained heat even after you remove them from the pot, so you’ll want to pull everything when the shrimp are still slightly underdone. Otherwise, you’ll end up with tough shrimp.
Last, pull the cooking basket from the pot and let the liquid drain. Dump the contents onto a big table and dig in. Make sure you have plenty of melted butter, Old Bay seasoning, and cold beverages within arms’ reach.
Y’all enjoy yourselves, now.
- 1 stick of butter or margarine
- 1/2 cup of Old Bay seasoning
- 1 bottle of ketchup (32 oz or more)
- 1 box of table salt (2–3 cups)
- 1/2 cup of Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 pound of shrimp per person
- 3–4 Vidalia sweet onions, peeled and quartered
- New potatoes or small red potatoes, halved: 50% more pieces than people
- Corn on the cob, cut into thirds: 50% more pieces than people
- Smoked sausage, cut into 2 to 3-inch lengths: 2–3 pieces per person