Kiawah River’s Tips for Hosting a Lowcountry Boil
In the sea islands of South Carolina, the very essence of the region is served up in the Lowcountry boil. It’s a meal steeped, literally and figuratively, in tradition.
Whether you’re a Lowcountry native looking for some tips to fine-tune your seafood-boil technique or a newcomer to these parts looking to immerse yourself in the sea island way of life, the Lowcountry boil—also known as Frogmore stew, Beaufort stew and Beaufort boil—is a must-have in your Southern cuisine repertoire.
Here are three tips to help you host a Lowcountry boil guaranteed to impress Southern Grannies and foodies alike.
Keep it simple
A Lowcountry boil offers a built-in theme so don’t overthink it. The basic formula for the iconic dish involves a short list of ingredients: shrimp, sausage, corn, red potatoes and a seasoning blend such as Old Bay. Variations on the classic can include the addition of crab and other seafood, and vegetables like onion and okra—cook’s choice! It’s the quintessential one-pot meal. If you want to add a little extra bounty to your boil party, you can throw in some classic Southern side dishes like coleslaw, fried okra and cornbread. But don’t overcomplicate things—the Lowcountry boil is meant to be fuss free. After all, that’s the spirit of sea island life.
When it comes to party décor, here at Kiawah River the natural beauty of the sea islands does the hard work for you. Find inspiration in the breathtaking marsh views of wind-swept grasses, meandering waterways, and sprawling oak trees adorned with Spanish moss. With that as your backdrop, a few seasonal flowers and a rustic tablescape is all you need to set the stage for your party. In very casual settings, hosts may serve up their boil directly on a covered table, whereas a more polished look is accomplished by ditching the newspaper for decorative platters.
Keep it local
This tip achieves a Lowcountry win-win scenario. When you buy local, you ensure the freshness of your ingredients while supporting your local economy. It’s a win-win.
A Lowcountry boil should be held during shrimp season because the shrimp should always be fresh. Never frozen! Pro Tip: For boils held during colder months, frozen corn on the cob can be substituted for fresh. In fact, some boil masters prefer frozen corn year-round.
Don’t forget the two Ds: Drinks and Dessert!
As any good host knows, the drinks are nearly as important as the food, so stock up on a variety of libations. Surely a pre-meal cocktail from nearby Firefly Spirits and a selection of local craft beers to pair with your food will keep your guests smiling. As for a non-alcoholic offering, nothing beats sweet tea.
Meanwhile, as the mountain of food diminishes and hand wipes are ceremoniously passed around the table, your guests may claim the inability to consume another bite—that is, until you mention dessert. Key lime pie? Yes please! Peach cobbler? Who can say no.
Lastly, keep in mind that a Lowcountry boil is not just a meal—it’s an event. And as the host, you set the tone for your guests, so relax and have fun!
Gates was kind enough to share his family recipe for a Lowcountry boil with us at Kiawah River:
Notes: With a Lowcountry boil, it is all about the quality of the ingredients and the timing in which you add them to the boil. It’s pretty easy. When I’ve seen it go wrong it’s usually because it is overcooked (mushy potatoes, tough shrimp).
Lowcountry Boil Recipe
Ingredients: What follows are the basic ingredients. You can add onion, okra, whole blue crab, you name it! Also, amounts can be based on appropriate serving size for your particular gathering.
> Seasoning—In my experience you cannot have too much seasoning if it is a very spice-based seasoning, like Old Bay. Some of the other crab-boil seasoning brands are very salty and you risk over-salting. I’ve always liked Old Bay, but there are other great options and some folks are very particular.
> Medium red potatoes
> Sausage—preferably Andouille
> Corn on the cob, halved—the sweeter the better
> Shrimp—local, shell-on, medium. Too small and it’s a hassle, too big and it’s harder to boil them just right. A uniform size is best.
> Add seasoning to stockpot, bring water to boil. Add whole potatoes, let return to boil and boil 5 minutes.
> Add sausage, boil 15 minutes (some folks add onions too)
> Add corn, boil until potatoes are done (usually 10 minutes).
*The next step is one of the most important— adding the shrimp. Whether or not the shrimp is cooked to perfection is often the first thing a Lowcountry boil snob will judge.
> Add the shrimp to the boiling water, put a lid on the top, cut the heat, then let the shrimp sit for 1 minute in the boil. Then strain and prep to serve. I sometimes sprinkle more seasoning on top before serving.
That may seem like not enough time for the shrimp, but it is important to note that everything is still cooking in all the heat even as you strain and prep for serving. If you leave the shrimp in much longer, they will be too tough for the snobs. If you have lots of assorted sizes of shrimp, the smaller shrimp will be too tough, the larger potentially underdone, so it is important you have one size, and I find medium shell-on is best.