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This seafood paella recipe made over an open fire is perfect for entertaining a crowd! It serves eight; pair it with Spanish cheese and sangria.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan
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Have you tried making paella over an open fire? Because what’s more fun than gathering around a fire, smelling the intoxicating aroma of dinner, and then all eating out of the same dish? It looks showy, but we promise: you can learn to make this traditional Spanish dish at home. Alex and I have a long history of learning how to make paella that goes back to my university days 15 years ago, and ends a few months ago in Valencia, Spain. This recipe was born of all those memories. And our years of research paid off when a Spaniard friend tasted this recipe and gave it two thumbs up. Keep reading for the story, and how to make this seafood paella recipe over an open fire!

Want to cook it on the stovetop? Try our Classic Spanish Paella.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

A love story with paella

The early days…

I ate my first paella 15 years ago in Madrid as a young university student. My host mother beamed from head to toe as she presented her homemade paella to me for Sunday dinner. At the time I didn’t know a thing about food, but I could sense that paella was something truly special. Paella is a Spanish dish that originated in Valencia and is now eaten all over the world. As an American, I’ve been happy to see more and more people in my country now know the joy of paella.

After introducing paella to Alex back in the early 2000’s, we started to make it regularly as a celebratory food. Valentine’s Day? Paella. Special visitor in town? Paella. We watched videos of Spanish chefs and learned about paella pans, using saffron, and finding the right type of rice. We cooked from all sorts of recipes from authentic sources. We developed a few seafood paella recipes and vegetarian paella spins for this website. And of course, we have a veggie paella recipe in our cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. Paella became our special thing (well, that and artisan pizza).

And today

A few months ago, I was finally able to return to Spain with Alex (and our toddler Larson) so he could experience Spanish paella firsthand. And where to go than the birth place of paella itself, Valencia? One of our favorite memories of the trip was eating paella in a tiny town outside of Valencia. Alex searched the internet for an authentic paella joint, and we showed up a Sunday afternoon to an unassuming concrete building in a sleepy town. To our surprise, it was full of locals enjoying massive paella pans with their families!

We ordered a “paella for 3” with our son Larson, and had a fantastic afternoon cleaning up our huge pan. That paella had chicken, meatballs, snap peas, and artichokes; the snap peas in this recipe are an homage to that paella. Another fantastic paella from this trip was a seafood paella in Barcelona–this seafood paella is a mashup of the two.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

Paella FAQs

This paella recipe was developed using our background knowledge of years of research, interviews with Spaniards and Spanish chefs, and lots of practice. We’ve used most of the textbook equipment and ingredients. With the magic of the internet, most of this equipment and ingredients are readily available for today’s American kitchen. Though it may seem like a lot if you’ve never tried it before, once you’ve practice you’ll find you can hone your paella over time. This is a seafood paella (paella de mariscos) similar to ones we had in Valencia and Barcelona.

Is this an authentic seafood paella recipe (paella de mariscos)?

What is a fully authentic paella recipe? Spaniards themselves differ on this topic: we’ve eaten paella in Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid and all of them have been vastly different. If you’re hard core about it, the traditional Valencian paella has chicken, rabbit, garrofó (a variety of lima bean), saffron, and rosemary. But paellas of all flavors are served throughout Spain: it’s a traditional dish that has many variations.

This recipe has been honed over years of learning from authentic sources. Of any of the paella recipes we’ve developed, this one is the closest to an authentic paella. We’ve used a traditional paella pan, saffron, pimentón, bomba rice, and an open fire. Even better, our friend who’s a Spaniard tasted this recipe and gave it two thumbs up! That’s the best endorsement we could imagine.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

How should I cook paella over an open fire?

For this seafood paella recipe, Alex built a custom makeshift paella grill using 8 concrete blocks from our hardware store: and it only cost $10! We then topped it with the grate from our standard grill. This made it easy to cook the paella on our deck. You can also cook it over a campfire using whatever method you have to suspend the grate 8 to 10 inches above the fire. It’s nice to use a hardwood like hickory or oak to easily maintain the fire temperature, but you can use any wood.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Can I use my grill to cook paella?

If your grill is big enough, you can cook paella on a grill. However, on a charcoal grill it can be hard to maintain the correct temperature for the paella. If you’d like to use a grill, use our Simple Grilled Seafood Paella recipe that uses a smaller paella pan and serves four.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

What is the best paella rice type?

The most authentic paella rice type is called bomba rice; it’s a white short grain rice. In the past in our paella recipes, we’ve “cheated” and used Arborio rice, which is easier to find. However, for this recipe we tried bomba and felt like it had more consistent results. Luckily these days, you can purchase bomba rice online.

Order it: Bomba rice!

Open fire seafood paella recipe | bomba rice

What is the best paella pan?

A paella pan is a large round, shallow pan with handles used for cooking paella. Since it’s so shallow, it allows the rice to cook consistently instead of becoming watery and gummy as it might in a skillet. The best paella pan for this seafood paella is one that is 16 to 18 inches. Do not attempt to make this recipe in a smaller pan! It is customized for this size of pan and will serve 8 people. Here’s the large paella pan we use.

Note: Paella pans are made of carbon steel and will rust. Make sure to dry the pan completely after cleaning it, and rub it with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

Order it: 17 inch paella pan (serves 8)

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan | bomba rice

Do I have to use saffron and pimentón in paella?

If you want it to be close to authentic paella: yes, use saffron! Saffron brings an earthy flavor and a beautiful color to the dish. Smoked paprika, called pimentón, gives the dish more color and a smoky undertone. (Here’s more about smoked paprika and more recipes that use it!) Saffron is one of the most expensive spices, so it’s a bit of a splurge. However, you’ll only use small bits at a time: this recipe only uses 1 pinch. Pimentón is a fantastic addition to your spices: we actually use it in many of our recipes outside of this seafood paella to bring a smoky flair in vegetarian dishes. You should be able to find both at your local grocery store. If not, we’ve linked to a saffron you can find online below.

Order it: Saffron

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

What is socarrat?

One of the unique things about paella is that once all the ingredients are added to the pan, you do not touch it! No stirring is allowed. This allows the broth and spices to boil through the rice, leaving everything perfectly cooked. Traditionally, there should be a lovely crust formed on the bottom of the rice called the socarrat. It’s difficult to achieve the perfect socarrat because so much depends on the exact timing and the hotness of your fire. If you don’t get the perfect socarrat, don’t worry! Each time you cook this seafood paella, you’ll learn new things about perfecting your paella technique.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

What should I serve with this seafood paella recipe?

We recently had a paella party where we invited 3 other couples to eat this open fire seafood paella recipe with us. We started with a cheese plate featuring Spanish cheeses (like Manchego) and cured meats, and some marinated olives. During that course we enjoyed some Spanish white wine (Albariño), but sangria or herb infused cucumber water would be another great choice! We then served the seafood paella with a green salad, and finished with churros (takeout style from a nearby restaurant).

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Any questions?

Making this open fire seafood paella recipe has a few specific techniques and tools, but once you have the general idea it’s pretty simple to make. We love cooking over an open fire and enjoying time with our guests eating appetizers, then all digging into the pan together. Let us know if you have any questions!

Other Spain inspired posts

A few other Spain inspired posts and recipes:

Related: Try using our Homemade Vegetable Broth for this recipe!

This seafood paella recipe is…

Pescatarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

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Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Open Fire Seafood Paella

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  • Author: Sonja
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 8 1x


This seafood paella recipe made over an open fire is perfect for entertaining a crowd! It serves eight; pair it with Spanish cheese and sangria.


  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 ½ cups snap peas
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound large shrimp, raw, deveined and peeled
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops, or large scallops cut into quarters
  • 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 very large pinch saffron
  • 2 ½ cups Spanish bomba rice (it’s easiest to find online, so order here!)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 quart fish stock
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • 16 to 18 inch-paella pan (here’s our paella pan)*
  • *To replicate our open fire setup (available at your hardware store):
    • 8 concrete blocks
    • Hickory or oak logs (made for grilling or smoking)
    • The grate from your grill


  1. Set up the grate: The paella can be cooked over any open fire, with a grate placed about 8 to 10 inches over the fire. For our open fire paella, we built a makeshift paella grill on our deck (for just $10!). To make the same grill: buy 8 concrete blocks from hardware store and place them in the configuration shown in our photos. Then place the grate from your standard grill over the top of the blocks.
  2. Start the fire: About 1 hour before you want to start cooking, start the fire. We recommend using a hardwood such as hickory or oak to help the fire burn consistently (we picked up some packaged logs made for grilling or smoking at our local hardware store). While cooking, add small pieces of wood to maintain the fire.
  3. Prepare the ingredients (“Mise en place”): Small dice the onion and bell pepper, and add them to a bowl. Mince the garlic and add it to the same bowl. Cut off any hard ends from the snap peas and place them in a separate bowl. Measure out the remaining ingredients and place them on a tray. Then take the tray to the fire for cooking.
  4. Cook the shrimp: Warm the olive oil in the pan and cook the shrimp for about 1 to 2 minutes per side until barely pink. Remove to a plate and set aside. 
  5. Cook the sofrito: Add the onion, garlic, and peppers to the pan and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes are thickened and almost caramelized. 
  6. Add the remaining ingredients: Add the rice and stir it into the tomatoes, cooking for about 2 minutes. Then add the wine, smoked paprika, saffron, and salt, and stir until everything is evenly coated. Pour in the broth and stir so that rice is evenly distributed. Add the scallops and snap peas evenly over the top of the dish. 
  7. Let it cook: At this point, do not stir the dish at all! Letting the paella cook slowly without moving it allows the desirable crust to form at the bottom of the pan, called socarratTry to maintain the fire so that the paella simmers evenly across the pan without boiling (if it is boiling heavily, spread out the coals to reduce temperature). The rice should cook a total of 30 to 40 minutes after the broth has been added (including Step 8). Rotate the pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking. Make sure to maintain the fire so that it does not burn out during the cook time. 
  8. Add the snap peas and shrimp: When the top of the rice is beginning to show through the water, press the snap peas lightly into the rice using tongs. Add the shrimp to the dish, also lightly pressing them into the rice. Once the broth is mostly cooked out and the paella is slowly bubbling, rotate it more frequently. Remove it from the fire just before the last of the broth has been absorbed. You may even hear a “crack” of the socarrat forming on the bottom of the dish. Allow to rest 10 minutes to firm up before serving.


*The best paella pan for this recipe is one that is 16 to 18 inches. Do not attempt to make this recipe in a smaller pan! It is customized for this size of pan and will serve 8 people. Also, paella pans are made of carbon steel and will rust. Make sure to dry the pan completely after cleaning it, and rub it with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Open Fire
  • Cuisine: Spanish

Looking for more healthy seafood recipes?

Outside of this open fire seafood paella, here are a few more healthy seafood recipes and fish recipes:

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Robert Schlegel says:

    After my wife purchased a monster paella pan the challenge was on. Alex walked me through an almost quadrupling of the recipe and the outcome was fantastic. Huge hit with a dinner party. Use this recipe.

    We found that leveling the pan and monitoring the heat we’re really critical. We cooked a little slower as opposed to risking high heat. Substituted lobster and mussels for the scallops and used chicken stock instead of fish broth.

    I love your narrative guys and wish you all the best. Alex, once again thank you for all the emails back-and-forth and your support. Anyone who wants pictures of a 36 inch paella pan, chime in.

  2. Rhonda VanPembrook says:

    Wish me luck. Gonna try this over a backyard firepit with friends this evening. (Although a vegetarian version but sticking pretty close to your liquids to solids ratio.) It’s a slightly chilly September evening here in Wisconsin and as we try to stay outside and distanced due to Covid, this cooking adventure provides a perfect, safe, socializing opportunity. Thanks for the guidance!

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      That sounds wonderful! Just make sure that it’s not boiling so fast that the broth disappears before the rice is cooked. Better to go low and slow if necessary. Enjoy!

  3. Amanda says:

    Ahhh, this paella looks & sounds amazing, Sonja!! And all of these tips are SUPER helpful! I’m bookmarking this post & will definitely be referring to it the next time I make paella! And I totally want to try making it over an open fire! Thanks for such a thorough post! You guys ROCK! :)

    1. Sonja says:

      Oh thank you so much! There’s a little learning curve to get the right equipment, but once you read through our (long) instructions, we’re confident you’ll have a delicious paella at the end. GOOD LUCK!

      1. Amanda says:

        Oh, I’m sure! Your instructions are very thorough! I will keep you posted… although our “outdoor cooking” days are numbered here in New England! Hopefully I will get to make this before the cold weather arrives! :) (And if not, I’m sure your tips will come in handy the next time I make paella *indoors*! :) )