Shrimp Boil
Shrimp Boil
  • 3 to 4 pounds headless shrimp, any size, or 4 to 5 pounds head-on shrimp
  • 2 to 3 gallons water
  • 1⁄2 cup vinegar
  • 3-ounce bag Zatarain’s Crab Boil, or 1 tablespoon Zatarain’s liquid concentrate
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cayenne (omit if using Zatarain’s concentrate)
  • 1⁄3 cup kosher salt
  • 2 lemons, quartered
  • 2 pounds red potatoes, left whole if tiny, otherwise cut into 1 1⁄2-inch chunks
  • 2 pounds onions, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 8 to 10 ears sweet corn, halved
Time Estimates

Prep time: 15 min  

Cook time: 25 min  

Total time: 40 min  


  1. Devein the shrimp through the shells, if desired (see Technique Note).
  2. Fill a large stockpot (preferably not aluminum) with 2 to 2 1⁄2 gallons of water.
  3. Add the vinegar, crab boil, cayenne, salt, and lemons and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the potatoes, onions, and garlic to the pot and return to a boil.
  5. Cook 15 minutes, then add the shrimp and corn and cook 5 minutes, or until the shrimp meat is opaque.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes, then drain through a colander (or lift everything out of the water with a large skimmer).
  7. Discard the lemons and spice bag and heap the shellfish and vegetables in a bowl or on a platter.


Serves 8-10.


Check the shrimp before cooking to see if they need deveining. In some batches of shrimp, the “vein” (actually the intestinal tube) is nearly empty, while in others it is full and dark and should be removed. To get at the vein while leaving the shell intact, run the tip of a paring knife in under the shell along the dorsal (outer) curve, so it cuts outward through the shell, and slit the shell open almost to the tail.


  1. If you can’t find Zatarain’s, tie 1⁄2 cup (about 2 ounces) pickling spices, 1 teaspoon cloves, and 6 whole cardamom pods together in cheesecloth. Or for a Chesapeake flavor, omit the crab boil, add 1⁄4 cup Old Bay or other Chesapeake seafood seasoning to the water, and reduce the salt to 2 tablespoons.
  2. Substitute 7 to 10 pounds live crawfish or 18 live blue crabs for the shrimp, adding them to the pot after the potatoes have cooked 10 minutes. Cook 15 minutes, adding the corn for the last 5 minutes. Of course, you can mix different types of shellfish, bearing in mind the timing differences. To eat boiled crawfish, grab the curled- under tail in one hand and the head in the other and twist them apart. The tail meat should come out with a good-sized dab of tasty orange fat on the exposed end; if not, or if you want to savor every bit of the crawfish flavor, the official method is to suck the juices out of the head. Crack open the underside of the tail, grasp the exposed meat in your teeth, and give the tip of the tail a pinch; the tail meat should come out in one piece.
Good to know

You can give your boil a Gulf Coast or a mid-Atlantic flavor depending on how you flavor the water. Cooks around Chesapeake Bay would use Old Bay Seasoning or one of its imitators, while in Louisiana the classic seasoning is Zatarain’s Crab Boil, made in New Orleans. Both are variations on a typical “pickling spice” blend, which also works as a substitute with some tweaking (see Variation). The dry version of Zatarain’s comes in a mesh bag that works like a tea bag and makes for easy retrieval from the pot. There is also a liquid version, which is pretty similar in taste and even more convenient.

Whatever spice base you use, the “boil” needs some form of ground red pepper—straight cayenne if you want it really hot, pure ground chile or hot paprika for a mellower taste. Don’t skimp here; it takes at least a tablespoon of cayenne to flavor a couple of gallons of water, and 2 to 3 tablespoons is not too much for those who like hot flavors. Much of the pepper flavor ends up clinging to the shells rather than penetrating the meat, so you taste it more from the inevitable licking of fingers than in the shellfish meat itself. The potatoes, corn, and especially the onions catch a lot of the pepper heat as well. By the end of the meal, everyone should have a good red-pepper glow.

Which beer should I drink with this?

If there were ever a dish made for lawnmower beer, this is it. But feel free to serve hefeweizen or a maltier-tasting amber ale or dunkel; just avoid anything too hoppy.

The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook 

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.


Photo: szlea/Flickr

Shrimp Boil
By the end of the meal, everyone should have a good red-pepper glow.