It can’t be summer in the South without an Old Bay Seafood Boil overflowing with your favorite seafood, sausage, corn and new potatoes. Perfect for when you’re having a big crowd, just make sure you have a big enough pot!
An Old Bay seafood boil is a summertime classic in the South. It’s the most flexible recipe where you can increase the amount and variety of seafood depending on what you can find at your market or fish stall.
You can make it a crab boil, a shrimp boil or a Cajun boil depending on what seafood you can find in your neck of the woods.
Most fresh seafood is available from Spring through December, so you don’t have to serve this only in the summer, and you can use frozen, just thaw it first.
If you love seafood but don’t want to make the investment in a seafood boil, try a crawfish etoufee with frozen crawfish, it’s also great when you have a crowd.
If you’ve never tried a seafood boil, this is one of the easiest recipes to make that will wow your guests. You will have to stand in the kitchen for 25 minutes while you’re adding things to the pot, but it’s one of those dishes that’s worth every minute and you can get your guests to help.
This is a great dish for entertaining a crowd because you don’t need sides, just dessert. Of course, you can never go wrong with some cornbread or dinner rolls! You can make a peach cobbler in advance and just pop it in the oven while you’re at the stove.
This may look intimidating but I promise it’s so easy to make an Old Bay seafood boil, the only way you can mess it up is if you leave the shrimp in too long. You can add and subtract seafood depending on what you like and what you can find in your area.
We’re pretty lucky in NC to get fresh seafood, but I still have to get frozen king crab legs from colder climates. If you don’t have much seafood available, make a shrimp boil instead. Or if you only have a few for dinner, try a shrimp boil pack.
You may also have heard this called a Low Country Boil if your from South Carolina or a Cajun Seafood Boil if you’re from New Orleans. A low country boil recipe tends to only use shrimp for seafood but otherwise it’s the same. A Cajon seafood boil can include crawfish and cajon seasoning instead of Old Bay.
The Best Seafood Boil Recipe
- You can substitute and alter the amounts of the seafood depending on what’s in season and what you’re willing to spend.
- The Old Bay seasoning compliments without overpowering the seafood.
- Potatoes and sweet corn are cooked all in the same pot.
- Clean up’s a breeze with only one pot to clean.
- Have more than 6 people for dinner, just increase the veggies, sausage or seafood.
Crab and Shrimp Boil Ingredients
Seafood boil pot
Before you decide to make any seafood boil recipe, you need to see if you have a big enough pot. Not only does it need to hold 6 quarts of water, but it has to hold all the ingredients. A traditional Dutch oven is not large enough.
I use a canning pot that will hold 12 quarts. You don’t need one quite that big, a large stock pot would also work. A seafood boil pot doesn’t have to be a great quality pot, it just needs to be big and have a lid.
If you don’t have a large enough pot, use two pots. Put all the broth ingredients in one pot and add the potatoes and corn in the same pot. Once cooked, add some of the broth to the other pot and add half of the seafood to one and the other half to the 2nd pot. It’s a little bit of trouble, but you you can make this with two pots.
- Seafood– shell fish works the best, shrimp, mussels, clams and snow crab legs are my favorite seafood additions. Of course you can add lobster tails if they’re in your budget. You can use frozen shrimp and crab legs, the mussels and clams will need to be fresh. I like to use large jumbo shrimp if available, the small ones cook so quickly it’s hard to keep them from overcooking. If you have crawfish, make it Cajun.
- Sausage – I like andouille, but smoked sausage or kielbasa are also delicious.
- Veggies -corn on the cob and small new potatoes or red potatoes cut into smaller pieces.
- Flavor enhancers – carrots, celery, a whole head of garlic, an orange and an onion will flavor the broth. You can use a lemon instead of the orange, but you’ll need some citrus.
- Seasoning – beer/wine, Old Bay, paprika, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce.
The best beer or wine for this Crab Boil Recipe
In my neck of the woods, people are split on whether they use beer or wine. I like it both ways. If using beer, I prefer a dark beer like Guinness. It will be diluted as you’re adding two bottles to 4-6 quarts of water, so choose whatever you enjoy drinking.
If using wine, go with a white wine, it is going to be diluted so you don’t need an expensive bottle.
The alcohol is boiled so you don’t have to worry about serving this to kids. However, if you don’t want to add either, you can substitute chicken broth.
For a fantastic seafood boil, you want to start with a flavorful broth. The only thing that you MUST include in my book is Old Bay, everything else is optional. It can’t be a seafood boil without Old Bay.
For the rest of the seasoning, I add smoked paprika and bay leaves, maybe some cayenne or red pepper flakes if you want a little spice.
To the boiling water, either add two bottles of beer or whatever white wine you have hanging around. The amount is not critical and you can leave it out and just use water or chicken broth but it won’t have as much flavor. To the liquid, I’ll throw in carrots, celery, a Vidalia onion and lots of garlic.
You want some type of citrus in the mix, most add lemon juice but I prefer the sweeter taste of an orange and then a splash of Worcestershire sauce.
PRO TIP: This is really one of those recipes where it’s crucial that you have everything prepped before you start, otherwise, you’ll overcook the seafood.
How to make a Seafood Boil
Step 1- create a broth
Bring water to a boil in a large pot, then add the seasoning ingredients and let the broth boil for 10 minutes. Set a timer for 25 minutes. That’s about how long new potatoes will take to cook.
Step 2- make the sauce
While the water is boiling, brown some butter in a small sauce pan and set it aside.
Step 3 – start with potatoes
Once the water is boiling, set a timer for 25 minutes. That’s about how long new potatoes will take to cook. Add baby red potatoes to the pot, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Next you’ll add things based on how long they take to cook.
Step 4 – add corn and sausage
Add corn on the cob that has been cut into thirds and andouille sausage and cook for 5 minutes, you should have 10 minutes left on the timer. Crab legs, shrimp, clams and mussels only take a few minutes so make sure the potatoes and corn are almost done before you start adding the seafood.
Step 5 – start adding seafood
When the potatoes and corn are done, about the 5 minute mark, add uncooked crab legs. If the crab legs are already cooked wait to add them with the shrimp. With 3 minutes left add shrimp, clams and mussels or whatever mixture you have. Cook until the shrimp are pink and the shells have opened on the clams and mussels.
Step 6 – drain and serve
Drain the liquid and pour out everything onto a platter or a large rimmed baking sheet works nicely.
Try to keep the lid on the pot while it’s cooking so that you don’t loose all those great flavors. If your pot is not enormous, you might have to crack the lid to keep it form boiling over.
Drizzle with browned butter, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
PRO TIP: Remove any clams or mussels that did not open before serving. This means they were probably dead before you started and should not be eaten.
How to make the sauce for this Shrimp and Crab Boil
I like to drizzle brown butter over the top of a seafood boil. You could add cajun seasoning to the butter or garlic but with all the flavors from the broth, I think a simple brown butter sauce is all it needs.
To brown butter, cook butter over medium high heat until it just begins to turn brown. As soon as it starts to turn brown take it off the heat and put it in a glass bowl or pitcher. If you leave it in the pan you browned it in, it will continue to cook and burn.
While a seafood boil may sound complicated, once you’ve done it the first time, you’ll see how easy and adaptable it is. It’s great for a crowd.
How to reheat Seafood Boil
Seafood can be difficult to reheat, it can give off a strong fishy smell and can easily get dried out and rubbery. But if you have any left over, you want to be able to enjoy it the next day.
The oven is the easiest way to reheat leftover fish. If you put it in the microwave, the shellfish will get rubbery. Instead place it in a casserole dish, sprinkle with water and cover with aluminum foil. Place it in the oven at a low temperature, 275º for about 10 minutes.
How to make a Cajun Seafood Boil recipe
A cajun boil is going to have crawfish, they will take about 10-15 minutes to cook so you’ll need to add them earlier than any other seafood you are adding. You’ll leave out the Old Bay seasoning and add Cajun seasoning instead.
Best Seafood Boil Recipe FAQs
Shell fish like clams, mussels and shrimp. It’s not complete without crab legs, if lobster is in your budget, it’s a wonderful addition.
You can substitute chicken or vegetable broth or just use water.
Depending on the size of the potatoes, it will take about 25 minutes to cook. If you want to speed this up, you can pre-cook the potatoes before starting.
The best way to thaw frozen shrimp or crab legs is to let them thaw in the refrigerator. Another option is to place them in a bowl of cool water in the sink. It should take about an hour or so to thaw depending on their size.
It will only take about 3-5 minutes to cook crab legs.
Shrimp and crab boils are used mostly in the summer in the South when you have a large gathering. It’a a simple one pot meal, you don’t have to make anything else. They are especially popular when you’re at the beach where the seafood is readily available.
If you have purchased pre-cooked frozen crab legs, let them thaw first and then cook them for 5 minutes. If they are not pre-cooked, it will take about 10 minutes.
It will only take 2-3 minutes to boil shrimp depending on their size. They should be pink when they are done.
Mussels take about 5 minutes to cook. They are done as soon as the shells pop open. If you have some shells that do not open, it means they are bad and should be thrown out.
What to serve with this Seafood Boil Recipe
Since a seafood boil already has protein, corn and potatoes, all that you need is some bread. I like a crusty soda bread or cornbread with the Old Bay flavored seafood.
If you want to go all out, add a fruit salad and then finish it off with a chocolate cake or a strawberry slab pie.
More seafood dinner ideas
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Shrimp and Crab Boil Recipe
- 4-6 quarts water
- 24 ounces white wine/beer 2 bottles of beer, 1 bottle of wine
- 1 Orange unpeeled, cut into quarters
- 2 carrots cut into pieces
- 2 stalks celery cut into pieces
- 2 head of garlic Sliced in half
- 1 Vidalia onion cut into chunks
- 3-5 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 bay leaf
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- 4 ears corn on the cob cut into thirds
- 2 lbs new potatoes
- 12 ounces andouille sausage sliced into 1 inch slices
- 1 lb shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1 lb crab legs
- 2 lbs mussels/clams
- Bring water to a roiling boil then add beer or wine, orange, carrots, celery, garlic and onion. Next add the seasoning and continue to boil for an additional 10 minutes.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and add the new potatoes, cover and continue to boil. After 10 minutes, add corn and sausage. When the timer gets to the 10 minute mark, check to make sure the potatoes are done, if so then add uncooked crab legs. If the crab legs are already cooked, wait to add them until the end. When it reaches 5 minutes, add mussels/clams. With 2-3 minutes left, add the shrimp and precooked crab legs. Keep the lid on while you are cooking except to add the ingredients.
- Once the shrimp is pink and the mussels have opened, pour through a strainer and place seafood on a platter or lined baking sheet. Drizzle with browned butter if desired.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- Start with a large pot, try a canning pot.
- You can substitute white wine for beer.
- Have all the ingredients ready before you begin.
- Make sure the potatoes and corn are cooked through before you start adding the seafood.
- Don’t over cook the seafood.
- Throw out any shell fish that does not open.
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Harold Heffalump says
MMMMMmmmmm doggy! Threw this down tonight… added extra on all the seafood and did 6 qt of water and 6 Tablespoons of Old Bay, 3 carrots+, 3 celery+… pumped this up a little and WHAMMY HOT DAMNY dump that pot onto the table, drizzled some melted Kerry Gold in garlic all over, you GOT TO HAVE some gooood bread to dip in this dunkaroo, and I liked it! Make it!
Harold Heffalump says
Barbara Curry says
Wow Harold, I can tell this was a big hit! Glad you liked it.
Harold Heffalump says
ONE MORE TIME! GET YOUR CLAMS AND MUSSELS! 5 STARS. I LOVE YOU BARBRA!
Sara Landry says
So so so yummy!!! I followed this recipe to the T and the shrimp, crab and clams turned out perfectly. I like a little spice (not everyone’s thing) so I poured in a little cayenne pepper to the boil. The potatoes and corn soaked up the true essence of the ingredients the stock, and the seafood turned out perfect – nothing was over cooked and FULL of yummy flavor!
Barbara Curry says
Thanks for the 5 star rating Sara, I’m glad it worked out for you. I like more spice too!