Here’s how to make the best shrimp boil! This easy meal of corn, potatoes and shrimp is perfect for a crowd. No plates required!
Here’s a meal that’s special every time you serve it: a Shrimp Boil! This classic American seafood boil is one of our favorite meals to serve to a crowd because everyone always loves it. Boil up potatoes, corn, onions and shrimp in a flavorful broth, then dump them out onto a table lined with parchment paper. No plates, no silverware: just you, your hands and a can of Old Bay seasoning. There’s something magical about the experience: and it’s a hit every time. We make it at the lake house in the summer, and camping in the fall. It’s perfect for eating outdoors as the light gets low and the fire is crackling. But you can make it in your kitchen too! Here’s everything you need to know about making a shrimp boil.
First of all: what’s a shrimp boil?
A shrimp boil also known as a seafood boil: an American tradition that comes from the South and Northeast. Seafood boils can have all sorts of seafood: crab, crawfish, clams, etc. Usually corn and red potatoes are boiled along with the seafood in a broth flavored with lemon and bay leaves. The best part? There are no plates or silverware for a shrimp boil. It’s traditionally served on a table lined with paper, often with Old Bay seasoning (more on that, below!).
What you need for a shrimp boil
It’s easy to make a shrimp boil at home! If you’ve never done it, we’ll break down the method for you. You can make a shrimp boil on your stovetop as the main method, but we’ve got a campfire variation too. Here’s what you need to make a shrimp boil:
- Large pot: Size matters, here! Use a 8 quart pot for the standard method, the large kind you use for pasta. You can also use a 4 to 5 gallon pot and double the recipe.
- Shell on shrimp: Cooking shrimp in the shell makes them beautifully tender and juicy.
- Red potatoes: The most common is the red potato: use other waxy potatoes like Yukon gold if desired. Avoid russet potatoes: they come out too mealy.
- Corn on the cob: Make sure to find fresh sweet corn.
- Yellow onion: This backup character steals the show with its tender, sweet flavor.
- Kielbasa sausage (optional): Typically we don’t include sausage because we eat a pescatarian diet. If desired, substitute 1 pound sausage for the second pound of shrimp.
How to make a shrimp boil on the stove
The method for a shrimp boil is this: you’ll make a flavorful broth with water and spices, then boil each of the components separately. Why separately? Here’s the important thing to note. The largest pot most cooks have is an 8 quart pot. You have to cook each component on its own because you can’t fit the volume of all the food and broth in the pot at once. This makes enough for 4 to 6 servings. (Now if you have a very large 5 gallon pot, you can cook everything at once: go to the section below!) Here are the basic steps for a shrimp boil in an 8 quart pot:
- Simmer the broth: Simmer water to make a broth with the shrimp boil seasonings: coriander seeds, celery seeds, Old Bay, bay leaves, a whole garlic head, and lemons.
- Add the potatoes and onions: Cook for about 20 minutes, until tender.
- Remove and add the corn: Cook the corn for 5 minutes.
- Remove and add the shrimp: Cook the shrimp for 2 minutes.
Alternative method: use a 5 gallon pot!
Got a huge 5 gallon pot? You can use it to make the basic recipe for 4 and boil everything at one time. Or, you can use it to make a shrimp boil for a crowd! Double this recipe to serve 8 to 12 people. This method works on the stovetop or even on a campfire. This is how we do a shrimp boil on the open fire! Here are the alterative instructions for a shrimp boil in a large 5 gallon pot:
- Boil the broth as noted above.
- Cook the potatoes and onions for 8 minutes.
- Add the sausage and cook for 6 minutes (if using).
- Add the corn and cook for 4 minutes
- Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes.
What is Old Bay? What’s a substitute?
The best part of a shrimp boil is the Old Bay seasoning (in our humble opinion, at least!). This tasty seasoning is famous for its use in seafood boils. Don’t even think about leaving it out when making this shrimp boil! It brings the classic flavor that’s traditional for this special dish. Here’s what to know:
- Old Bay is an American seasoning blend invented in Maryland that’s used to season shrimp, crab, clam chowder, and other seafood dishes. The main ingredients in Old Bay are paprika, celery salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Of course, you can use it on just about anything!
- Where to find Old Bay? In the US, you can find Old Bay in your grocery store in the spices aisle. Or, buy Old Bay online.
- What’s a substitute for Old Bay? You can make it at home! Try our Homemade Old Bay Seasoning.
Serving a shrimp boil!
The best part about making a shrimp boil is serving it! Here’s what to know:
- Line a table with parchment paper or white paper. No plates allowed! Throw the drained veggies and shrimp onto the table and let everyone go at it. You may want a bowl for discarded shrimp shells.
- Season with Old Bay. Keep your Old Bay container on the table so that everyone can shake it on.
- Bonus: it makes the dishes easy! Cleanup for a shrimp boil is so easy: just pull the paper off the table and throw everything in the trash.
Side dishes to serve with a shrimp boil
A shrimp boil is such a unique meal, it can be hard to figure out what to serve with it. You’re not eating on plates, so it doesn’t quite make sense to eat a salad or coleslaw. But you can pull out small side plates if you’d like to serve traditional side dishes! Here’s what we suggest serving with a shrimp boil:
- Cornbread: Try Homemade Cornbread, Cornbread Muffins or Vegan Cornbread.
- Popovers: These Popovers are easy and always a winner. Serve with butter.
- Coleslaw: This Best Coleslaw is a crunchy, fresh counterpoint.
- Broccoli salad: This Broccoli Salad or Broccoli Slaw are homey ways to add more vegetables.
- Mac and cheese: Go all out and make a pan of Homemade Mac and Cheese.
This shrimp boil recipe is…
Pescatarian, dairy free and gluten-free.Print
Here’s the best shrimp boil recipe! This easy meal of corn, potatoes and shrimp is perfect for a crowd. No plates required!
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons celery seeds
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay, purchased or homemade, plus more for serving (required!)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 garlic bulb, with top cut off
- 4 lemons, washed and cut in half
- 3 pounds red potatoes, cut in half
- 3 yellow onions, quartered with root attached
- 6 ears corn, cut in half
- 2 pounds shrimp, shell on*
- Simmer the broth*: In a large 8 quart pot, add 5 quarts water. Stir in the kosher salt, coriander seeds, celery seeds, Old Bay, cayenne, bay leaves, and entire garlic head (with top cut off). Cut the lemons in half and add them to the pot, squeezing in some juice as you add them. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the water for 15 minutes (taste, it should taste like a seasoned soup).
- Cook the potatoes: Pull out the lemons with a slotted spoon and discard them. Add the onions and potatoes to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 18 to 22 minutes total, until potatoes are tender.
- Cook the corn: Remove the potatoes and onions with a slotted spoon and place them in a very large bowl: cover it with aluminum foil to keep them warm. Add the corn to the broth and cook 5 to 6 minutes until bright yellow.
- Cook the shrimp: Remove the corn with a slotted spoon and add it to the bowl with the potatoes (cover it again with the foil). Add the shrimp to the broth and cook for about 2 minutes until bright pink and just cooked.
- Drain and serve: Drain the pot and shrimp. Return the drained potatoes, onions, corn and shrimp to the pot. Line the table with butcher paper or newspaper, then pour everything on top. Serve with Old Bay seasoning.
*If desired, replace 1 pound shrimp with 1 pound kielbasa sausage. Boil the sliced sausage for 12 minutes with the potatoes and onions.
**Large pot method (works for open fire or stovetop): This method cooks everything separately because the largest pot most cooks have is 8 quart. If you have a very large pot that’s 4 to 5 gallons, you can double the recipe and cook it all in one pot. Cook the potatoes and onions for 8 minutes, add the sausage and cook for 6 minutes (if using), add the corn and cook for 4 minutes, then add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes.
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Boiled
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Shrimp boil
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.