A low country boil, also known as a Frogmore Stew, is a seafood dish that originated in the coastal “low country” region of South Carolina and Georgia. It consists of shrimp, smoked sausage, corn on the cob, and potatoes all boiled together in a pot with crab boil seasoning. The cuisine has strong roots in Gullah-Geechee culture and is a popular dish at gatherings and festivals in the Southeastern U.S. While the dish has humble origins, it has become a signature of Southern hospitality and seaside culture.
What Does “Low Country” Refer to?
The “low country” region is a coastal area along the Atlantic Ocean in the southeastern U.S. that spans parts of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida. It includes coastlines, marshlands, islands, and inland areas near the coast. The terrain is relatively flat and low-lying, hence the name “low country.” This region was home to the Gullah people, descendants of enslaved Africans who created a unique dialect and preserved much of their African heritage there. The Gullah people contributed greatly to low country cuisine with dishes like Frogmore Stew that blended African, Caribbean, and Southern food traditions.
Origins of the Dish
While the exact origins are unclear, low country boil emerged in the early 20th century among the Gullah communities of the South Carolina and Georgia coast. According to some accounts, enslaved Africans working on rice plantations would gather shrimp, crabs, oysters, corn, and potatoes and boil them together in pots over open fires. This one-pot, communal style meal was efficient for feeding large groups. The dish evolved over the years as availability of ingredients changed. By the 1950s, recipes incorporated sausage and called for commercial crab boil seasoning. It became popular at gatherings like church picnics and family events. The dish was colloquially named Frogmore Stew after the community of Frogmore, SC.
Ingredients in Low Country Boil
Traditional low country boils feature:
- Shrimp – The star ingredient, usually bought shell-on.
- Smoked sausage or kielbasa – Andouille sausage is a popular option.
- Corn on the cob – Whole ears, cut in half.
- Potatoes – Usually small, red potatoes.
- Seasonings – Crab boil packets or Old Bay seasoning.
Some variations may also include:
- Crab legs
- Lobster tails
- Crawfish or clams
- Onions, garlic, lemon
- Butter for dipping
The combination of fresh seafood, smoky sausage, sweet corn, and starchy potatoes makes for a hearty, savory feast.
How Low Country Boil is Cooked
While recipes vary slightly, the traditional cooking method is straightforward:
- In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil.
- Add crab boil packets or seasoning (about 1/2 cup per gallon).
- Add potatoes and cook 5 minutes.
- Add corn and sausage, cook 5 minutes more.
- Add shrimp and cook until pink, about 3-5 minutes.
- Drain and pour onto newspaper or a table lined with butcher paper.
- Gather family and friends and peel, eat, and enjoy!
The ingredients are added in stages to account for different cooking times. The corn and sausage cook faster than the potatoes and shrimp.
How to Eat Low Country Boil
Low country boils are meant for sharing. The drained ingredients are dumped onto a table covered in paper so everyone can dig in family style. First the corn and potatoes are shucked or peeled. Then people peel and eat the shrimp, cutting the sausage into slices. Having a bowl for shells and corncobs helps keep the table tidy.
The traditional way to eat a Frogmore Stew is by hand, without utensils. Grab shrimp with your fingers, peel off the shells, and squeeze lemon juice over them. Take bites of sausage slices along with corn on the cob. Make sure to dip potatoes in the seasoned boiling broth still left in the bottom of the pot.
Some like to provide small bowls for melted butter, cocktail sauce, or other dipping sauces. You can also supply crackers, bread, or hushpuppies to soak up the juices. Cold beer or sweet tea make great beverage pairings.
While the basic ingredients are consistent, low country boils feature some regional differences:
|South Carolina||More shrimp than sausage|
|Georgia||Adds whole peeled onions|
|Florida||Uses more citrus and spices|
|Louisiana||Uses crawfish instead of shrimp|
Some cooks may also add smoked turkey legs, keilbasa, mangos, or other twists. Old Bay seasoning and crab boil packets from Zatarain’s or Beau Monde are popular with cooks across the South.
Popularity and Culture
While low country boils were once an obscure regional dish, they have exploded in popularity nationwide over recent decades. Their casual, communal nature makes them ideal for gatherings like:
- Church picnics
- Family reunions
- Neighborhood parties
- Seafood festivals
- Summer backyard cookouts
- Beach vacations
The dish appears on menus at seafood restaurants throughout the South. Locals and tourists alike flock to low country boils for a taste of authentic coastal culture. Some tour companies even offer low country boil cooking classes and experiences.
The dish represents a unique food tradition blending West African, French, Caribbean, and Scottish influences. It exemplifies the creativity of enslaved cooks and the rich cultural interchange that occurred in the colonial South. From humble beginnings, low country boil has become a signature Southern foodway symbolic of hospitality, the coast, and cultural heritage.
A low country boil symbolizes the essence of coastal life and culture in the American South. While recipes vary across South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the traditional one-pot dish features shrimp, smoked sausage, corn, and potatoes boiled in seasoned broth. It originated among Gullah communities of freed slaves who cleverly stretched simple ingredients to feed large groups. The informal, hands-on eating style reflects the dish’s communal roots. Low country boil has become a staple menu item at seafood restaurants and backyard gatherings across the South, loved for its rustic abundance and zesty coastal flavors. More than just a meal, it represents Southern hospitality, resilience, and a melting pot of cultural influences at the water’s edge.