Virginia Willis’ Stovetop Low Country Boil

Southern Kitchen

Serves: 6

Hands On Time: 1 hour and 0 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 0 minutes


1 (12-ounce can) beer, such as a pale ale or summer wheat

2 sweet onions, quartered

4 lemons, quartered

1/2 cup seafood boil seasoning

2 bay leaves, preferably fresh

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, plus additional ground pepper for seasoning

Coarse kosher salt

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 finely chopped fresh red chile (or chiles, to taste)

2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

3 pounds new potatoes, each about the size of golf balls

1 1/2 pounds smoked spicy sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, each cut into 6 pieces

6 ears fresh corn, shucked and broken into 3- to 4-inch pieces

3 pounds shell-on large shrimp

Hot sauce, for serving


Fill a large pot with 5 quarts of water. (Add more if needed; the volume will depend on the size and shape of your pot.) Add the beer, onions, two of the lemons, seafood boil, bay leaves, peppercorns and 2 tablespoons salt. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to a lazy simmer and let cook until the flavors marry, about 15 minutes. The liquid should be highly seasoned and aromatic.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic sauce: Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Let simmer until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Once the cooking broth is flavorful, add the potatoes and cook, covered, until just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the sausage and corn, and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink, about 3 minutes. Drain through a large colander.

Transfer the shrimp, sausage and vegetables to a large platter or tray. Serve immediately with hot sauce, remaining lemon quarters, and the warm garlic butter sauce.

About the recipe

Now eaten by everyone seemingly everywhere — at restaurants by hordes of visiting tourists, believers at church dinners, patrons of school fundraisers, and families, both black and white, at annual get-togethers — a Low Country boil is the perfect relaxed summer meal for a crowd. At home or at these larger functions, it is traditionally prepared in a big pot on an outdoor gas cooker. It usually contains sausage, shrimp, sometimes blue or stone crab, potatoes and corn for an all-in-one-pot, all-you-can-eat buffet traditionally served outside on tables lined with newspapers.

Virginia Willis’ slightly scaled down version brings the party indoors for every night cooking. The recipe serves about six, but it’s easy to adjust. Just allow about a half pound of shrimp, roughly a quarter pound of sausage, a potato or two, plus a few pieces of corn, per person. It is very important not to overcook the shrimp; they will get rubbery and tough. Basically, add the shrimp at the end and cook them until they just turn pink. It just takes a few minutes.