Life Beyond SweetBay

Throwing the Perfect Bay Boil

If you’re thinking about throwing a party, there’s no better way to indulge in what SweetBay has to offer than a seafood boil by the bay. Or a bay boil, for short.

In the backyard, around sunset, gathered with friends, a pot of fresh seafood set to boil. You hear the sounds – a lid clanging, water boiling, the crumble of ice in a cooler, people chatting, shells cracking, birds on the bay. Then, there are the smells – saltwater, fresh-cut grass, spices percolating, a whiff of tea olive. We won’t get into the taste, or the feel; not yet at least. For a bay boil is something to be experienced.

A big part of life in SweetBay revolves around the water. And that includes eating. Just below the surface of the surrounding bays are a bounty of edible saltwater creatures, which are perhaps as accessible as anywhere in the state of Florida and are delivered daily to area markets. So, if you’re looking to throw a party at your new home, there’s no better way to indulge in what the Sunshine State has to offer than a seafood boil. So how do you turn a regular boil into an authentic bay boil?

What to Cook

A bay boil is not to be confused with a lowcountry boil, the main ingredient of which is typically crawfish. While you will find the mudbugs sporadically in the Florida Panhandle, we’re more interested in what comes directly from the bay, such as shrimp and crabs. Of course the usual fixings, like red potatoes, corn on the cob, Conecuh or other link sausage, mushrooms, heads of garlic, can all be there too, if you’d like.

Where to Get Ingredients

Of course you’re going to go out in the bay and catch your crabs and shrimp, right? Well, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend putting that kind of pressure on yourself at first. In time, when you learn where to set traps and toss cast nets, then you may consider getting your main ingredients from the bay.

For now, let’s just stick with one of the many, many fantastic seafood markets in the area. Let the pros do the work for you. Because if you’re hosting this party, you have plenty to prepare for, not to mention cooking everything. There are numerous seafood markets just miles from SweetBay, and there’s always word-of-mouth, Yelp and Google.

How Much to Get

One pound of shrimp and two pounds of blue crab per person is about right, if not a little too much. Especially considering the loads of the aforementioned fixings that will also come out of the pot. But better to err on the high side if you want repeat guests. Depending on the size of your pot, five pounds of potatoes, five pounds of corn, five heads of garlic and three packs of Conecuh sausage should suffice for a group of 12-15 people. And since you’re supplying the food, suggest to your friends that they bring the beverages.

Required Tools

  • Propane burner
  • Propane tank
  • Pot and basket (50 – 120 quart, depending on how much you cook and how many people you’d typically invite)
  • Wooden paddle or extra-long stirring spoon
  • Access to fresh water (like a hose)
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Lighter
  • Stand-up tables (if you don’t have a table, lay 2×8 boards or an old door across two sawhorses)
  • Newspaper
  • Shell crackers
  • Ice cold beer

List of Ingredients (12-15 people in 120-quart pot)

  • 12 pounds shrimp
  • 24 pounds blue crab
  • 5 pounds red potatoes, halved
  • 5 pounds corn on the cob, halved
  • 5 heads of garlic
  • 3 yellow or white onions, quartered
  • 1 pound of mushrooms, halved
  • 3 packs Conecuh (or other link) sausage, sliced about bite size
  • 1 pack dry crab boil
  • 16 ounces liquid shrimp & crab boil
  • 10 lemons, halved
  • 15 pounds of ice
  • Several jars of cocktail sauce

Cooking Directions

  1. Put the basket and pot on the burner and fill it about two-thirds full with water
  2. Add both dry and liquid crab boil
  3. Light the burner and bring water to a rolling boil, stirring in the spices
  4. Add garlic, onions, and potatoes and bring back to a boil; let cook for five minutes
  5. Add crabs and corn and bring back to a boil; cook for four minutes at a boil
  6. At the four-minute mark, add the shrimp and boil for one minute then shut off burners
  7. Squeeze in the lemon juice and drop in the rinds
  8. Dump three bags of ice into the pot (this keeps the shrimp from overcooking and helps the spices finish absorbing), put the top on, and let soak for 20 minutes. Soak for longer to increase the spice level.
  9. Pull basket and dump all ingredients on a newspaper-covered table and enjoy
  10. Repeat process if you couldn’t fit everything into your pot

You may already be able to acquire your main ingredients from the bay. If so, that’s terrific. But again, there are many terrific seafood markets close by – that’s just one of the many benefits to living on the water.

Don’t Waste the Water

Take this as a mere suggestion. The water that remains in the pot is typically discarded pretty quickly. However, what you have is a concentration of seasonings not only from the spices you used, but also from the shrimp, crabs, and various sides. Instead of dumping it right away, you might consider getting one more use out of it.

Take a Boston butt or pork shoulder out of the pack and drop it into the pot of seasoned water. Fire the burner back up and bring the water to a boil. Once you’ve got a good rolling boil, shut off the burner and set the top on the pot. Let the meat sit in the water until the next morning.

Start your grill (charcoal preferred) or wood smoker. Cook the meat over medium heat for about four hours. Then, wrap it in aluminum foil and let rest for another hour. What you have is a tender, juicy, delicious piece of meat that you won’t find replicated in hardly a BBQ restaurant across the country. Again, just a suggestion…