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Stovetop Low Country Boil

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Where is the Low Country?

Stretching from the northern reaches of the Atlantic coast of Florida to north of Charleston, the Low Country is part of the largest saltwater marsh in the world. For centuries, men and women have made their livelihoods harvesting fish and shellfish from Low Country estuaries, those magical places where the meandering ocean tide flows in, mixing the seawater and fresh together. There, islands are separated from the mainland by tidal marshes, some as long as six miles wide. When flying overhead, the coast looks like intricate lace with long black curving lines of rivers and creeks running through the green wiregrass marsh.

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Gold Coast

We sometimes vacation at Jekyll and St. Simons Islands, part of a region that Georgians call the “Golden Isles” or “Gold Coast.” For many years, it was the vacation retreat of very wealthy families from the Northeast. But it was another sort of gold that inspired the name: according to a local historian, it was named centuries ago by the first settlers, who were dazzled by the golden glow of the marshes at dusk. These marshes, the clear estuaries, and the surrounding waters are also home to sweet wild Atlantic shrimp.

The region has a distinct culture, geography, architecture, economy, and cuisine all its own. The Low Country teems with aquatic life, and for centuries local cooks have turned to the water for culinary inspiration. Crabs, shrimp, fish, and oysters form the basis of any traditional menu, and seafood dishes are offered at every meal.

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Frogmore Stew

With a long list of dishes famous to the area, the Low Country is especially renowned for a seafood dish known as both Low Country boil and Frogmore stew. Some food lore states the dish was created by Richard Gay, of the Gay Seafood Company, who was on National Guard duty in Beaufort in the 1960s, but my instinct tells me that this is one of those rustic dishes of that simply came into being many, many years ago. There’s a long history of Southerners of all races harvesting from the ocean, creeks, rivers, forests, and woods in the South, mostly driven from need. The Low Country boil may grace fancy restaurant menus in Charleston and Savannah, but it is at its core a simple country recipe.

low country boil

Gullah and Geechee

According to The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina 1541-1861, Frogmore was the largest plantation on St. Helena Island, a barrier island near Beaufort and Hilton Head during the colonial and antebellum eras. It also held the most enslaved Africans. Slaves were first brought to the region in the early part of the 18th century to grow indigo. After the American Revolution, the planters turned to cotton, which came to be called Sea Island cotton, and rice. The descendants of these early enslaved Africans who live in the Low Country region of South Carolina and Georgia are known as Gullah or Geechee. (Geechee is a term some historians consider to be related to the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia.) The Gullah Geechie tradition has had one of the largest and lasting influences on how Low Country citizens eat today, and the Low Country boil is but one example.

raw georgia shrimp
What to Cook This Weekend?

My slightly scaled-down version brings the party indoors for every night cooking. This 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.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Virginia Willis 

PS Need a few more shrimp recipes? Check out my Shrimp and Grits recipe on Food Network or my Smoky Shrimp Étoufée

Low Country Shrimp on

Stovetop Low Country Boil

Servings: 6


  • 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
  • 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 and melted butter, 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.
  • 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 and melted butter on the side.

If you are interested in hosting me for a speaking engagement, event, cooking class, or a book signing, let me know! Send an email to jona@virginiawillis.comand we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

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photo of moss by Ashley Knedler
photo of marsh by Angie Mosier. Food photos by Virginia Willis

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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