How to Cook an East Coast Seafood Boil

Here in the Maritimes, nothing quite says summertime celebration like a good old East Coast seafood boil.

Whether you’re serving it up on the beach or in the backyard, this shellfish feast is always memorable for all the right reasons.

A seafood boil is relatively simple to pull off – really! It’s all cooked in one giant pot and served up on newspaper for easy clean-up. It’s a great way to feed a crowd (and impress them, too).

Summertime feasts are back, so invite your friends, set the table and make up for lost time with an epic East Coast Seafood Boil.

An East Coast Seafood Boil

When a particular meal seems daunting to a home cook, I like to simplify it down to to the very basics. This seafood boil ‘recipe’ could be summarized in two points:

  1. Source the freshest shellfish you can find.
  2. Don’t overcook it.

That’s all you need for a memorable seafood feast. But of course we’ll cover more than that in this post. I’ll get into cooking times, serving, and best accompaniments. Also, don’t throw away that broth!

Danny celebrates his birthday on July 1st, Canada Day, and it’s always a great excuse to throw a party. Last year we invited our Nova Scotia family over for a lake swim and backyard seafood boil.

Oh what fun! Both the lobster and the corn were fresh as fresh can be. I set up and cooked everything outside — (Danny’s beer brewing propane stove came in handy for the boil) then jumped in the lake to cool off.

Ingredients for a Seafood Boil

I’ve found that everyone has a different opinion on what goes into a seafood boil. To me, lobster and corn are the essentials. I also adore Littleneck clams and the kids love shrimp, so those go in as well. I round the pot out with PEI mussels and small potatoes.

Most recipes call for kielbasa or andouille sausage, but I’m a seafood purest, I guess. Like with the best recipes, use what you love and what is fresh.

Depending on where you are in the world, the ingredients will all ways differ. In Louisiana, expect crawfish, in New England, clams, and in Cape Breton, heaps and heaps of snow crab.

The method is more or less the same, however: everything layered up in a huge pot, steamed to perfection and served with butter. Are you hungry yet?

Cooking a Seafood Boil

Tip: Try to set up your cooking station in the shade if you can. And only bring out the fresh shellfish minutes before you cook it.

Use scissors to snip off the rubber bands on the fresh lobsters. I missed one in the photo above! Oops.

In my method, the lobster, mussels and clams are steamed first for about 10 minutes. the shrimp is added in the final minutes of cooking time so they stay tender and not rubbery.

The lobster will be bright red when your seafood boil is ready. The clams and mussels should have opened, and the shrimp will be pink.

TO SERVE: Newspaper spread on a table is traditional for serving up this feast. I spread a reusable plastic picnic tablecloth.

Best Accompaniments for a Seafood Boil

The lobster is always going to steal the show, but here are a few suggestions for sides and accompaniments to round-out the feast.

  • Crusty bread and herb butter
  • Small pot of melted butter
  • Light green salad
  • Chilled white wine or light beer
  • Lemon wedges

Now that’s East Coast living!

Zero Waste Tip: After the feast, you’ll be left with a fragrant seafood broth. Don’t waste it. Let the stock cool completely, then strain it and transfer it into jars or freezer containers. The stock can freeze for 3-6 months and is delicious for making seafood chowder, risotto or Simple Cioppino.

East Coast Seafood Boil

A traditional summer shellfish feast.
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Gluten-free
Essential Ingredient: lobster
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 486kcal


  • 2 lbs small, new potatoes
  • 2 large white onions cut in 8ths
  • 1 head garlic halved
  • 2 ribs celery roughly chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bottle white wine
  • 4 ears corn shucked, halved
  • 4 live lobsters elastics removed
  • 1 lb fresh Littleneck clams
  • 1 lb fresh mussels
  • 24 large shrimp unpeeled
  • 1 cup salted butter melted
  • 2 lemons quartered


  • Prepare the serving table with newspaper or brown paper. Gather lobster cracking tools. Have plenty of napkins on hand. Pour a glass of wine.
  • In a large stock pot, place the potatoes, onion, garlic and celery. Sprinkle in the Old Bay and salt. Drop in the bay leaf and thyme.
  • Pour the bottle of wine into the pot, as well as an additional 2 quarts (8 cups) of water. Bring everything to a boil over high heat. Then reduce heat slightly and simmer for about 12-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork tender.
  • Meanwhile, run clams and mussels under cool water, scrub them and remove any 'beard'. Discard any that are cracked or broken.
  • I choose to kill the lobsters quickly, instead of boiling them alive. The point of a chef's knife straight through the brain renders them brain dead. Do this only JUST before cooking.
  • Carefully lower the corn into the pot, followed by the lobsters. Tip the clams and mussels on top. Cover tightly with the lid and steam for 12 minutes.
  • Scatter the shrimp over the top of the shellfish in the pot. Replace lid and steam for 3 minutes, or until the shrimp is bright pink. You are ready to serve!
  • Have a friend help you remove the pot from heat. Remove the lid. Use a colander or 'spider' to scoop all the contents of your seafood boil out and place it on the table. Serve at once with melted butter and lemon wedges.
  • Zero Waste Tip: let the seafood stock cool, then strain and transfer to jars. Keep for seafood chowder, risotto or Simple Cioppino.


Add more corn if you like. Sometimes I will do 8 whole ears if I have a hungry crowd to feed.


Calories: 486kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 155mg | Sodium: 2387mg | Potassium: 924mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 909IU | Vitamin C: 44mg | Calcium: 138mg | Iron: 4mg
About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. love all of these shellfish, tougher to find where I am, but love the inspiration and maybe even a few substitutions where necessary but thank you for this, a great reminder of a perfect summer dish, or boil

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