What Is the Difference Between a New England Lobster Boil and One Down South?
Seafood boils have been a significant part of cultures up and down the coasts of the US for several generations, especially in the Carolinas, the Gulf region, Louisiana, and New England. Whether a boil includes a huge variety of seafood like oysters, shrimp, crab, and crawfish or just one (like lobster), they are true communal celebrations worthy of respect (and repetition)!
The terms “boil” and “bake” have become umbrella terms for all kinds of meals served at large gatherings, festivals, and events where seafood is the main course. As you can imagine, seafood bakes and boils are different from one region to another. Even though there’s no exact point of origin or date that can be attributed to inventing the New England lobster boil, it is known that the arrival of Cajun people from Canadian regions in the 1700s brought seafood boils down this way. The earliest written account of an actual seafood boil as we know it today took place in San Antonio, Texas, in 1916. It was at an event called the Fiesta Oyster Bake, which was a fundraiser for a local university. This original seafood celebration still continues each year and draws crowds of more than 70,000 people annually.
What Is a New England Lobster Boil?There are many similarities between lobster and seafood boils from New England to the southern states, but there are some distinct differences, too. When talking about seafood boils in general, what differentiates them from one region to another includes things like:
- The types of seafood used in the boil
- The way the food is prepared
- The seasonings used
- The side dishes and additions included
The Regional Differences in Seafood BoilsAlthough seafood can be prepared differently in separate regions and variations of seafood can be used, the single factor that differentiates New England boils from those down south the most is the seasoning that is used. You might have guessed that the seasonings are spicy down south while the New England fare is less fiery. In the southern Gulf region, including Louisiana, seafood boil seasonings often include lemons, bay leaves, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper. In other locales, a mix of ketchup and Italian salad dressing is used. In New England, few seasonings are used, but beer is often included in the boiling liquid. In the Mid-Atlantic area, Old Bay Seasoning is the go-to choice for lobster and seafood boils.
Mid-Atlantic and New England Lobster BoilsBoils in the Mid-Atlantic and New England often contain plenty of oysters, clams, and blue crab. There are tons of crab shacks and crab houses along the Chesapeake Bay area, and Chincoteague oysters and clams are the seafood boil ingredients of choice. In the Mid-Atlantic region, instead of the seafood actually being boiled, it’s often steamed instead. Huge pots are filled with a few inches of water (and beer) mixed with vinegar, and the seafood is placed in a fitted basket over the steaming liquid until they’re cooked to perfection. Coleslaw and corn on the cob are popular side dishes, and in any area where a New England lobster boil is served, you’ll find tables dressed in disposable table cloths and adorned with serrated knives, crackers, and wooden mallets. New England includes the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The New England lobster boils in this region are sometimes called clambakes. A clambake is usually held on a beach, where people scoop out sand from a hollowed area to make a pit. The sand pit is lined with rocks and stones. A fire is lit in the pit using driftwood. The fire is left to burn itself down, at which point the hot stones and rocks are covered with canvas and seaweed. The lobster (or whatever seafood is being used) is placed on top of that canvas and seaweed tarp where it cooks. You’ll almost always find lobster in a New England seafood boil. A New England lobster boil (instead of a bake) usually includes corn, potatoes, beer, and sausage for boiling.
Southern Gulf Coast, Louisiana, and South Carolina BoilsIn many of the southern gulf coastal areas of the country, especially in South Carolina, the seafood boil traditions hail from Charleston, where a local specialty is Frogmore Stew. This stew is also known as Beaufort Boil, Lowcountry Boil, and Beaufort Stew. In this area, boils feature shrimp, corn, sausage, and potatoes. A wide variety of seasonings are added. Generally, this region’s boils revolve around shellfish more than anything else. The ingredients are often similar to those commonly used in Louisiana boils, along with ham, which is sometimes added. The biggest difference between South Carolina and Louisiana boils is the heat; South Carolina boils aren’t usually nearly as spicy. In addition, South Carolina’s boils are likely to include flavor influences from the Caribbean, Spain, France, and African countries. Louisiana seafood boils, in particular, are steeped in Cajun cooking traditions that go back hundreds of years. The boils include crawfish, crab, and shrimp, which are in ample supply along the southern gulf region. Crawfish boils are the most popular in Louisiana and are often held as fundraisers for organizations during the spring and summer. Crawfish boils in parks and backyards pop up all over the place, and local tradition often calls for eating the shellfish without using any tools, making the entire experience a fun (and messy) ordeal.
New England Lobster Boils vs. Southern Seafood Boils: The Bottom LineIn a (lobster) shell, the basic differences between New England lobster boils and Southern region seafood boils are the following:
- New England lobster boils are not as spicy
- Louisiana Cajun boils are often mega spicy
- New England boils are often bakes on the beach
- Southern seafood boils use crawfish more often
- New England boils more often feature lobster