Lowcountry boil, a southern staple with deep and delicious roots in South Carolina, is a great way to feed a crowd without too much effort. Traditionally made with shrimp, corn, sausage, potato and various herbs, spices and aromatics, Lowcountry boil is also one of the most hotly debated dishes in the region. Crab or no crab? Onions or no onions? And what about beer? Lucky for you, we took the guesswork out so you can focus on enjoying a delicious dish best eaten elbow-to-elbow with your favorite people, no matter what state you call home.
Since Lowcountry boil is an easy one-pot meal, it’s a great dish to make when you’re away from home, from camping trips in the woods to bonfires at the beach. Indeed, Lowcountry boil is the recipe when you’re looking for something super simple that can satiate—and impress—a large group. Simply scale the recipe up or down based on the number of people you’re serving (or how hungry you are), adjusting the pot size accordingly.
What is a Lowcountry boil?
This South Carolina specialty is sometimes called Frogmore stew or Beaufort stew, recognizing the two Lowcountry communities that lay claim to its origin. A Lowcountry boil is essentially a seafood boil starring shrimp, a key ingredient found in the low-lying coastal regions of the state known as “Lowcountry.”
It’s similar to a Cajun boil, which features ingredients like crayfish, andouille sausage and regional spices and seasoning. Enjoy this Cajun boil on the grill if you’re craving a different take on southern tradition.
Ingredients for Lowcountry Boil
- Seafood seasoning: Purists will insist on using Old Bay seasoning, but plenty of store-bought blends of this versatile spice mix are suitable to use in this Lowcountry boil recipe. Feel free to add more or less to suit your tastes. You can also make your own salt-free seafood seasoning to use in this or other recipes.
- Beer: This buzzy libation adds subtle flavor to the cooking stock, so choose something with lots of malty, citrusy or bright herbal notes. Beers like lagers, pilsners, ambers or New England-style IPAs are best; avoid brown ales, stouts or overly bitter brews.
- Red potatoes: Red potatoes are a top pick for Lowcountry boils. Considered a “waxy” potato, these potatoes maintain their shape and flavor better than other types of potatoes.
- Sweet corn: When picked at the peak of the harvest season, sweet corn adds, well, sweetness. But, like all good things, that season is short. Our advice? Buy more than you need, then use the rest in these sweet corn recipes. If you’re making this outside of corn season, you can use whatever your local grocery store has in the produce section. You can even use frozen corn on the cob.
- Shrimp: Extra-large shrimp, 26 to 30 per pound, are the perfect size for this Lowcountry boil. They cook quickly but are substantial enough to eat independently. Assume 1/4 pound shrimp for each person. Our recipe calls for removing the shells before cooking, but you can keep the shells on and have your guests experience the fun of peeling them at the table.
- Sausage: Our recipe calls for smoked chorizo or kielbasa sausage. Already-smoked sausage is fully cooked, so it doesn’t need time to cook, plus it’s easier to slice. You can also use cooked andouille sausage, which makes it more Cajun, but no one will complain.
- Snow crab: Adding succulent crab gives this Lowcountry boil recipe a “leg” up. Cooked in its shell, the crab stays tender, with the bonus of being fun to crack at the table. Can’t get your hands on legs? Use crab claws instead.
Step 1: Make the stock
In a Dutch oven, combine the water, beer, seafood seasoning and salt. Add the potatoes and onion. Bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
Step 2: Add the corn and chorizo
Add the corn and chorizo to the Dutch oven. Simmer until the potatoes and corn are tender, 10 to 12 minutes longer.
Editor’s Tip: Use a heavy-duty, sharpened chef’s knife to safely and more easily cut through the corn’s tough cob. Or, if you’re feeling extra strong, break it in half with your hands instead.
Step 3: Make the garlic mixture
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, cumin, cilantro, paprika and pepper. Cook and stir over medium heat for one minute.
Editor’s Tip: Cooking the spices helps them to release their flavors slowly. Just carefully watch the fresh garlic so it doesn’t burn and develop a bitter flavor.
Step 4: Stir in the seafood
Gently add the shrimp, crab legs and garlic mixture to the Dutch oven. Cook until the shrimp and crab turn pink, four to six minutes. Drain and transfer the seafood and vegetables to a large bowl. Serve with condiments of your choice, such as lemon wedges, melted butter and cocktail sauce.
Editor’s Tip: Shrimp can become tough and rubbery if left in the cooking liquid too long, so only cook the shrimp until they’re just opaque, then drain them immediately. Learn more in our guide on how to cook shrimp.
Lowcountry Boil Variations
- Crank up the heat: If you want a little extra kick, add crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper to your stock. Spice things up with a few dashes of hot sauce, or serve a few bottles alongside as a condiment. Here are some of our Test Kitchen’s picks for the best hot sauce brands.
- Take it outside: There’s nothing like cooking a Lowcountry boil in the great outdoors. A few essential tools you’ll need to do it safely: an outdoor propane burner, a large stockpot and a steamer basket to scoop and transfer the hot contents after cooking into a large bowl.
- Have fun with flavor: Lowcountry boils are relatively forgiving, so don’t be shy about adjusting or customizing the seasonings to your tastes. A few popular additions include bay leaf, fresh lemon quarters, whole cloves, peppercorns and even a stick of butter.
How to Store a Lowcountry Boil
Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. When ready to warm up, separate the shrimp from the vegetables. Warm the veggies in a microwave or on the stovetop. Enjoy the shrimp chilled, or bring them to just warm. Reheating already-cooked shrimp can make it rubbery.
Lowcountry Boil Tips
Do I have to use beer in this Lowcountry boil recipe?
While the beer in this recipe adds depth of flavor, other options exist for adding that “special something,” including clam juice, seafood stock or chicken stock. Simply add the desired amount to your cooking water to lightly season it.
Can I add other types of seafood to a Lowcountry boil?
Absolutely, the more the merrier! Shellfish like clams and mussels can be added to the boil during the last few minutes of cooking. They’re done when their shells open. While not authentic, crayfish and even lobster tails are delicious additions. Can’t get enough seafood? Here are some of our favorite seafood recipes.
How do I serve a Lowcountry boil?
The best way to serve a Lowcountry boil is to spread it out! For a presentation that will elicit squeals of delight, drain and then dump the pot’s contents in front of your guests onto a newspaper-covered table or a disposable tablecloth. Cleanup is a breeze, too. All you have to do is roll up the mess and throw it away.
What can I serve with a Lowcountry boil?
This Lowcountry boil recipe is bursting with seafood, meat and vegetables, so you probably don’t need much in the way of sides, but it will be right at home served with southern sides or other recipes from South Carolina.