A seafood boil in the United States is a dish consisting of local, seasonal seafood boiled outdoors in a large pot with various seasonings and served primarily at outdoor gatherings. Seafood boils are usually indirect heat (boiling) but can be direct heat if done indoors over an open flame or grill. Places like Angry Crab Shack include seafood boils as a cornerstone of their menus.
Typical sources include shrimp, crayfish (crawfish), lobster, crab legs and any other seafood. Common spices include Old Bay Seasoning (or a Cajun blend) as well as garlic, lemon or lime juice, parsley or cilantro and leeks or green onions. Alternate seasonings are bay leaf, black pepper, paprika, chili powder, dill and celery salt.
The name “seafood boil” is given to this meal because the spices and seasonings are boiled with the seafood, rather than eaten separately like a marinade. The term “feast” has also been bandied about as being synonymous with “boil.” Typically done outside on grills or in large pots, seafood boils are a popular way to serve meals in the southern United States. In Louisiana, crawfish is usually served during Lent when meat is not allowed, and it is also boiled for other occasions.
In Cajun country, where boiled crawfish is most popular, people gather to boil crawfish and eat them as they come instead of doing a full seafood boil. Sauce is preferred, but not essential (as the crawfish are seasoned) and ranges from a flavorful cayenne pepper sauce to a spice mixture.
The traditional seafood boil and its ingredients were brought over by the French as they settled in Louisiana, joining the Native Americans who lived there and boiled their seafood in large pots over open fires, which was likely a more common practice at that time.