My ancestors lived in Charleston and other parts of South Carolina's Low Country. We've hosted many Low Country Boils over the years.
What Is a Low Country Boil?
Perhaps you've attended a Low Country Boil, or maybe you've just heard of them. They’re very popular here in the South—they're our answer to the New England clambake. Like the clambake, a Low Country Boil is a great way to enjoy having friends over for a casual meal of freshly caught seafood.
My family has hosted numerous Low Country Boils over the years, and I'm not sure I've used the same seafood or recipe more than a couple of times. One of the great things about this dish is that not only is it delicious, but it's designed for no-fuss entertaining. You can spend time with your guests instead of scurrying around the kitchen. And since everything is cooked in the same big pot, cleaning up after the gathering is a cinch. A Low Country Boil should be super-casual, laid-back, relaxing, and fun for everyone—including the hosts!
Music, Drinks, Atmosphere!
When you call your pals to invite them to the party, tell them to wear their jeans or shorts. This is definitely not a fancy affair!
Put some 1960s beach tunes or some Jimmy Buffett on the outdoor stereo, and crank it up. Get two of those big inflatable palm trees—the ones that have a cooler at the base—and fill one with ice and beer and the other with ice and soft drinks. Put the palms in a central location so that everyone can help themselves to an icy beverage. If you want to serve wine with the meal, choose pinot blanc, chardonnay, vinho verde, or chenin blanc.
- Cooking equipment: You’ll need a gas cooker and a large pot with a lid. You’ll also need a large basket for the cooker. A fish fryer or a turkey fryer will also work (though you’ll be using water instead of oil for cooking). The cooker should be placed on cement, concrete, or stone. Don’t use it on a wooden deck!
- Tables and chairs: Set up enough outdoor tables and chairs to seat everyone, and cover the tables with several layers of newspapers.
- Tableware: The name of this game is easy—so set out paper plates and plastic forks.
- Paper towels and wipes: Take a cue from oyster bars and place a roll of paper towels in the center of each table. You might also want to add a box of moist towelettes or baby wipes so your guests can clean their hands after eating without having to go inside for hand washing.
- Condiments: Each table should have salt and pepper, garlic salt, cocktail sauce, Louisiana hot sauce, horseradish, some melted butter, and a basket of saltines.
- Food waste: Next to the tables, place buckets or trash pails for shells and corn cobs.
Low Country Boil Recipe
Don’t start cooking until everyone gets there. Part of the fun is standing around and watching the pot boil! (Only sort of kidding.)
- 4 pounds small red potatoes
- 5 quarts water
- 1 pint apple cider vinegar
- 1 quart beer
- 5 tablespoons seafood seasoning
- 3 whole bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons red pepper
- 4 limes, quartered
- 4 lemons, quartered
- 3 pounds smoked hot sausage, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 12 ears corn, shucked, silked, and cut in half
- 5 pounds large raw shrimp, with shells on and heads removed
- Place the potatoes in the basket and lower it into the cooker.
- Add the water, vinegar, beer, seafood seasoning, bay leaves, salt, red pepper, and lime and lemon slices. Bring to a rolling boil and place the lid on the pot. Boil for 7 minutes or until potatoes are just beginning to get soft on the edges.
- Add the sausages and corn, and cook for 13 more minutes with the lid on.
- Add the shrimp carefully and stir. Cover and cook for 5 or 6 more minutes, until the shrimp turn pink.
- Using a glove or an oven mitt, remove the basket from the water and divide the food evenly among the tables, right onto the newspapers. No serving platters needed!
Yield: 12 servings (If you’re feeding more than 12 people, cook a second batch.)
Additional Ingredient Options
You can add other ingredients to the boil, too: crab legs, crab claws, lobster tails, whole crabs, or broccoli are all great options. Just remember that you’ll need plenty of shrimp—at least one-third of a pound for each guest, plus a little extra.
A great traditional dessert for any seafood meal is key lime pie. Options that work really well with boiled shrimp in particular include lemon meringue pie, lemon squares, lime squares, and lemon icebox pie. If the weather is warm, a tart lemon or lime sorbet would also be a good choice.
Cleanup and Leftovers
When everyone has finally finished eating, just refrigerate any leftovers (should there be any), gather up the newspapers, and wipe down the tables with Clorox wipes. Throw the soiled newspapers in a trash can lined with a plastic bag. Close the bag and secure it with a twist tie. You won’t like the aroma the next day.
Learn More About Low Country Cooking
- Why Lowcountry Boil Is a Quintessential Charleston Experience | Charleston Magazine
This is Lowcountry cooking: a simple, yet flavorful, one-pot meal that combines fresh local shrimp, corn on the cob, red or new potatoes, and smoked sausage.
- Charleston-Style Shrimp Creole
This is a wonderful old recipe for shrimp creole, made in the tradition of Lowcountry cuisine, in Charleston, South Carolina. Easy instructions and photos are included.
- Old-Fashioned Southern Tea Cakes Recipe
This is a wonderful, old-fashioned recipe for Southern tea cakes. Photos and easy instructions included!