As you’ve been researching your Door County vacation, undoubtedly you’ve read about fish boils. This article will tell you everything you need to know about Door County fish boil. Here is what we’ll cover:
- What is a Door County fish boil?
- What to expect at a Door County fish boil.
- Door County fish boil locations.
- How to make your own Door County fish boil, including a Door County fish boil recipe.
- Door County fish boil FAQs.
Fish boils are just one of the many popular places to eat in Door County. Check out all our posts on this topic.
What is a Door County fish boil?
Fish boils are a popular culinary tradition in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in which a fish is boiled over an open flame with potatoes and onions to serve a large group of people.
An oily fish is used, most commonly whitefish or lake trout but potentially also brown trout, rainbow trout, or salmon. The fish, potatoes, and onions are typically served with rye bread and cole slaw.
Originally meant to feed large groups of lumberjacks and sailors, the tradition was kept alive by churches and civic organizations, and they have become a popular tourist attraction in Door County, Wisconsin.
In a way, written words cannot justly describe a fish boil. Like so many of the things that make Door County great, it is an experience that combines tradition, togetherness, earthiness, and the peninsula’s unique geography and culture.
While Door County is famous for its fish boils, they can be found in many other locales as well. The origins of fish boils in this region are a little unclear, but it seems that Scandinavian immigrants introduced the custom, and they were adopted to feed large numbers of workers during the period of large logging operations and when the land was being converted from forest to farmland.
While fish boils have become a tourist attraction in Door County, they are still an authentic part of the area’s culture. You can find churches and civic organizations putting them on for fellowship and fundraisers, and families will enjoy them for their big gatherings as well.
What To Expect at a Door County Fish Boil
Door County fish boils are about more than just the food, although the food is excellent. They have a festive, earthy atmosphere. Fellowship and spectacle are integral parts of them. Come early to a fish boil to enjoy friends, meet new people, take in the earthy and primitive cooking process involving wood fire, cast iron, and water, and to enjoy the entertainment that many fish boils provide.
The typical menu at a fish boil is steaked whitefish, unskinned and still on the bone, potatoes, onions, rye bread, and cole slaw.
Commercial fish boils will usually feature a “boil over,” an impressive spectacle when a jar of kerosene is tossed on the fire, resulting in flames shooting up about a dozen feet, and water and steam pouring out of the cauldron. Some claim that this aids the flavor of the fish boil by removing the fish oil from the cauldron. Whether or not this is true, it’s still a sight to see.
8 Best Door County Fish Boils
Fish boils are done all over the county and throughout the week during prime tourist season. Several restaurants offer fish boils, but this is not the only way to experience one. Churches and civic organizations will put them on. And, with a little bit of luck and some friendliness, you just might find yourself invited to someone’s backyard to join their family and friends for a private fish boil with fish they caught themselves.
Churches and Civic Organizations
If you have a chance to visit a fish boil at a church or civic organization, you should go. These fish boils often won’t feature the same level of showmanship as a fish boil at a restaurant, but the food will be no less delicious.
Keep an eye on community bulletin boards, Facebook pages, and newspapers to find a fish boil put on by a church or civic organization
1. Saints Peter and Paul Parish
Saints Peter and Paul parish in Institute has put on fish boils through the years. Saints Peter and Paul is a Roman Catholic congregation just north of Sturgeon Bay. You do not need to be a member to come to one of their fish boils. They’re glad for visitors!
2. Liberty Grove Historical Society
The Liberty Grove Historical Society has also put on fish boils regularly as a fundraiser. The Town of Liberty Grove is a municipality that covers the northern reaches of the Door Peninsula.
Door County Fish Boil Restaurants
Restaurants up and down the peninsula offer fish boils, each with their own unique take on the recipe and process, and some offer entertainment such as live music during the boiling process. The fish boil is more than just a meal. It is an experience, so make sure that you arrive early to enjoy the ambiance. About a half hour to forty minutes ahead of the boil-over will get you a good spot to take in the cooking process.
Fish boils are popular events, so most restaurants require that you call ahead for a reservation.
3. Pelletier’s Restaurant
With the most consistent boiling schedule, Pelletier’s is a sure-fire place to experience a Door County fish boil. Pelletier’s is located in Fish Creek’s historic Founders Square. Classic, white clapboard buildings, old trees, and nearby parkside access to the bay make this a picturesque place to spend an evening.
- Nightly boilovers at 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00
- Reservations requested
- Arrival 45 to 60 minutes ahead of boilover requested
- A full menu, including a children’s menu, is available for those who would prefer not to eat fish.
4. White Gull Inn Restaurant
Like Pelletiers, White Gull Inn is located in the historic heart of Fish Creek. Located in a lovely old bed and breakfast, you’ll get a great feel for Door County’s timeless charm at this fish boil.
- May-October: Seatings on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturday, and Sundays at 5:00, 6:30, and 8:00.
- Winter: Seatings on Fridays at 7:00.
- Baked chicken is available for those who do not like fish.
5. Old Post Office Restaurant
Due to its dramatic location on the shore of Eagle Harbor, many people consider Old Post Office the best fish boil in Door County. Delicious food will melt in your mouth, and a stunning setting will delight your eyes at the Old Post Office . Located on the grounds of Ephraim’s Edgewater Resort, the Old Post Office Restaurant offers waterfront dining, a surprisingly rare treat in Door County. You will also enjoy the historic building, at one time Ephraim’s post office, that hosts this event.
- Boilovers Monday-Saturday evenings and Sunday evenings on holiday weekends.
- Call ahead for boilover times.
- Reservations requested
- Chicken or ribs are available for those who do not like fish
- Hot dogs or chicken tender are available for children.
6. Waterfront Mary’s
Waterfront Mary’s offers a unique fish boil experience. First, instead of Lake Michigan whitefish or trout, they use cod in their boils. Second, Waterfront Mary’s is a popular haunt for Door County locals and has a fun, party atmosphere.
True to their name, Waterfront Mary’s fish boils are held on the waterfront of the bay of Sturgeon Bay from their location near Potawatomi State Park.
- Boil-overs at 5:30 and 7:30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday, and Sundays
- Arrival 30 minutes prior to boil-over requested
- Reservations required
- Full menu available for those who do not like fish.
7. Kettle Black Fish Boil
On the harbor at Fish Creek, Kettle Black offers a waterfront fish boil experience. Something that sets Kettle Black apart from other fish boils is that in addition to a traditional Door County fish boil, they also offer a Cajun Boil that includes shrimp, sausage, and corn.
- Boil-overs Monday- Saturday evenings, May through October
- Reservations requested
- Chicken and ribs are available for those who do not like fish.
- Chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs are available for kids.
8. The Koyen Collection: K.K. Fiske Restaurant, Granary Saloon & Coop Hangout
A funky establishment on Washington Island, The Koyen Collection: K.K. Fiske Restaurant, Granary Saloon & Coop Hangout boasts to having “the only friesh caught, boneless, skinless fish boil in all of Door County.”
True to Washington Island’s mystique, finding information for this establishment, including a schedule of fish boils, is not particularly easy. You can check their Facebook page for updates, or just give them a call at 920-847-2121.
How To Make Your Own Door County Fish Boil
Perhaps you would like to take the fish boil experience home, or you can’t make it up to Door County to partake in a fish boil. Hello Door County has you covered. Here’s how you can make your own Door County fish boil:
If you are making a small boil for a few people, standard kitchen equipment such as a stock pot, colander, and kitchen stove is all you need. However, if you are feeding a larger group, you will need to scale up. The traditional equipment is a cast iron cauldron heated by a wood fire; however, most churches, civic organizations, and families cook their fish boils over outdoor propane burners and with steel or aluminum pots. Also, if cooking a large amount of food, two wire baskets will come in handy, a larger one for the potatoes and onions, and a smaller one for the fish.
Door County Fish Boil Recipe
- 3/4 pound dressed oily fish (whitefish, trout, or salmon with heads, tails, fins, and scales removed) per person
- 2 new red potatoes per person. If the potatoes are being cooked whole, cut a slice off of each end.
- 1 medium onion per person
- 1/4 cup salt per pound of fish
- 3/4 gallon water per pound of fish
- Seasoning packet (bay leaves, allspice, peppercorns, and other spices as desired, tied up in a cheesecloth pouch)
- Melted butter
- Rye bread
- Cole slaw
- Cut fish into steaks, leaving the skin and bone. The skin and bone help to keep the fish from falling apart in the cooking process, and are easily removed on the plate.
- Add half of the salt to the water. Bring to a boil.
- Add potatoes and seasoning packet. If using wire baskets, place the large basket in the cauldron or pot before adding the ingredients. Boil for 8 minutes.
- Add onions. Boil for four minutes.
- Add the remaining salt.
- Add fish. If using a wire basket, place them in the smaller basket, and lower them into and on top of the larger basket and other ingredients. Boil for 10 to 12 minutes. Fish is done when it flakes easily.
- Remove the oily residue from the water either by skimming the froth with a spoon or through the “boil over” if cooking over a wood fire. To perform a boil over, toss a pint of kerosene on the fire.
- Drain all ingredients.
- Serve with melted butter, lemon slices, rye bread, and cole slaw.
Commercial boils will charge about $22 to $35 for adults and $12 to $20 for children. Boils offered by churches and civic organizations will typically charge less.
Most commercial fish boils use Great Lakes whitefish. Lake trout used to be the most common fish used in boils, and this can still be found at boils offered by churches and civic organizations. Brown trout, rainbow trout, and salmon can also be found.
Most fish boils serve fish, potatoes, onions, rye bread, and cole slaw. Melted butter and lemon slices are offered along with the dinner. A dessert of cherry pie is typical at a commercial fish boil.
Lake whitefish is a cool water fish native to the Great Lakes, silvery in appearance and growing from 12 to 22 inches long and 1.5 to 4 pounds in weight. It is an important commercial fish to the region.
More information can be found by clicking here.
The fish at a fish boil is typically tender and mild-flavored.
All we can say is that you should definitely give this meal and experience a try. While we cannot guarantee that you will like boiled fish, there’s a reason why people keep coming back to these year after year and that they pack the fish boil restaurants so tightly.
Door County Fish Boil Videos
We hope this post has inspired you to give a Door County fish boil a try!
But, this isn’t the only way to eat fresh, delicious fish in Door County. Check out our post on the best Door County fish fry restaurants to find a place to enjoy this classic Wisconsin experience.
Also, to learn about ways to burn off those calories consumed at a Door County fish boil, click over to our category on things to do in Door County.
Finally, if you are in the planning stages for your vacation, Hello Door County is the best place to learn about lodging in Door County.