Door County Fish Boils: A Tradition Like No Other

On your first visit to our peninsula, you’ll quickly learn that there are many experiences that are difficult to find anywhere else – chief among them are Door County Fish Boils.

A tradition that reaches back over several generations to 19th century Swedish and Norwegian settlers, this method of cooking delicious whitefish began as the most efficient way to feed scores of lumberjacks and other local workers.

For over 100 years, this beloved practice was passed down and kept alive by local residents and churchgoers on the Door Peninsula. Ideal for preparing large meals for community events and picnics, this time-honored ritual remains a sight to behold!

Door County Fish Boils | Traditional Preparation Method

One of the most incredible aspects of Door County fish boils is how pure the methods and ingredients have remained. The settlers who first began cooking this way were laborers (untrained in the culinary arts), so they used what they had and cooked as simply as possible.

The traditional process of boiling the fish requires several materials, utensils, and ingredients, such as:

  • A large cauldron
  • A large ladle
  • A large fryer basket
  • Pail of kerosene
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Fresh whitefish (cleaned and scaled)

From the time the water is boiled to when the food is removed from the cauldron, it takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The cook, or Boil Master as they’ve come to be known, walks onlookers through each stage in the process.

First, a fire must be built about an hour in advance to heat up the pot and ensure the target cooking temperature is met. The cauldron is filled with water, and salt is mixed in until it’s brought to a boil.

Next on the agenda is adding potatoes, more salt, and then onions. This may seem like a lot of salt, but it’s worth noting that sodium is the only seasoning added throughout the boiling process – not to mention it’s mixed with many gallons of water.

After this step, it’s time to throw in the fresh, Lake Michigan whitefish and (of course) more salt! As the heat and briny water continue to work their bubbly magic on the submerged food, a film of fish oil gathers at the top of the pot. That doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it?

This is why the most thrilling, dare we say EPIC, step in the process – known as the boil over – was incorporated. Your boil master will toss kerosene at the base of the cauldron, resulting in a magnificent display of engulfing flames and billowing, black smoke – a true fan favorite for people of all ages!

Meanwhile, the oily film is burnt away, and the subsequent mixture becomes a tasty concoction of fish, potatoes, and onions ready to be buttered up, served, and devoured.

Why You’ll Love It

Not only are Door County fish boils educational and entertaining, but they are one-of-a-kind culturally-immersive experiences.

Visitors and locals alike can partake and share in a true Door County tradition. As your boil master prepares the massive meal, he/she will explain the transformative process and provide excellent insight into its humble beginnings.

Sharing a fish boil with a mixed bag of strangers, friends, or family members helps build a collective sense of awe and intrigue – not to mention a full stomach.

The whole experience channels what Door County is all about: indulging in culture, engaging with history, and delighting in our relaxing, maritime atmosphere.

Where to Find Door County Fish Boils 

As it pans out, there are a great number of terrific restaurants and events on the peninsula where you can take part in a fish boil – each with their own quirky style and arrangement.

A few places nearby that we would recommend are:

Stay in Sturgeon Bay, and Experience a Fish Boil

Once you’ve had your fill of scrumptious fish, tasty sides, and maybe even some cherry pie, feel free to come back and rest at Bay Shore Inn! We’re known for our lovely amenities, private beach and bonfire pit, and home away from home atmosphere.

Embark on a Door County getaway, this year, and book a relaxing stay with us by calling 1-800-556-4551!