Plan your boil to run a smoothly as possible: prep all of your ingredients in advance. Allow enough time to get your liquid up to a full boil (this can take a while), then add another 30 minutes cook time before everything is ready for your guests. Make sure you have someone to help you when the time comes to lift the steamer basket out of the pot and get it to the table (make sure you have potholders on hand). The traditional way of serving is to dump the contents of the boil onto newspapers spread out on a table.
Now I’ll break the process down into steps (pay careful attention to what goes in when):
STEP 1: Prep your liquid. Don’t fill your pot more than halfway, as you’ll be putting a lot of stuff in there once it gets to a boil. It’s better to have to add a little more water than have to remove boiling liquid during the process. I buy a cheap case of beer then make up the difference with water once it’s all in the pot (get some helpers to assist you with this step!).
* A note about safety: You are boiling a lot of liquid over an open fire, so play it safe. Make sure kids aren't allowed anywhere near the setup and make sure everyone stays clear when you transfer the steamer pot to the newspaper.
STEP 2: Light the burner and start heating the pot. You can add the Old Bay while you’re waiting for the liquid to boil.
STEP 3: Once your liquid has come to a full boil, here is the order you will add your ingredients and how long to boil at each stage (have a timer handy). Everything stays in the pot until it’s done. Stir occasionally with the paddle:
1) Potatoes (and optional lemons and onions):
cook for 15 minutes, then add:
2) Sausage: cook for 5 minutes, then add:
3) Corn: cook for 5 minutes, then add:
4) Shrimp: cook until pink, around 3 minutes (don’t overcook them!)
Turn off the burner and have your assistant help you lift the steamer basket out of the liquid (hold it over the pot and let it drain a bit before moving it). Carefully move the basket to your table and, using potholder mitts, dump the food onto the newspapers you spread out on the table.