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How to Cook Shrimp

Created August 2, 2017
Don’t be intimidated by cooking shrimp. This delicious protein is easy to prepare if you follow a few basic guidelines.

If you’ve never cooked shrimp before, it can seem like a daunting task. But we’ll show you that with a few simple tips along with the answers to several common questions, you’ll be ready to tackle it in no time.

What is Shrimp?

Shrimp are crustaceans, which have long bodies with soft, jointed shells and include lobsters, crayfish and crabs as relatives.

Shrimp are sold in a variety of ways: raw (“green”) with the heads on; raw in the shell without the heads; raw, peeled and deveined; cooked in the shell; or cooked peeled and deveined.

A few kinds of shrimp that may end up on your dinner plate. Fresh and frozen shrimp are sold by a descriptive size name like jumbo or large, and by “count,” or number per pound. The larger the shrimp, the lower the count. Size and count vary throughout the United States.

Common Shrimp Size Market Name

Count (Approximate Number) per Pound


Fewer than 10


11 to 15

Extra Large

16 to 20


21 to 30


31 to 35


36 to 45

Miniature or Tiny

About 100

What shrimp should you buy? Frozen is probably the best bet as oftentimes seafood that has been labeled “fresh” has actually been frozen for transit anyway, so frozen is typically fresher. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has some handy tips for buying fresh seafood.

To help you choose the most sustainable shrimp, you can check recommendations on the best shrimp to buy from guides such as one put out by Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Good shrimp should should have a clean sea odor and the flesh should be shiny and translucent. If they smell like ammonia, they’re spoiled and should be discarded.

How to Prepare Shrimp

We’ll assume you took our recommendation to purchase frozen shrimp. If that’s the case, keep it frozen until you’re ready to use it. To safely thaw frozen shrimp, defrost it in the fridge overnight.

If you purchased fresh shrimp, keep it in the fridge in a leakproof bag or plastic container with a lid until it’s time to cook and be sure to use it within two days.

The easiest way to use shrimp in a recipe is to purchase shrimp that has already been prepared. You can buy shrimp that’s already peeled and deveined with tails attached, or already removed. If you want the entire experience, you’ll need to remove the heads first with your hands or a kitchen knife. Then remove the legs and shell (if you plan to cook shrimp without the shells. This is personal preference. You can also remove the shell after cooking.) Leave the tails on or off—also your preference or based on the recipe you’re following.

To devein peeled shrimp, run a sharp knife down the back of the shrimp and lift the sandy-colored vein from the shrimp. Rinse to remove any excess vein. Keep prepared shrimp in a bowl of ice water until you’re ready to cook them.

Cooked shellfish should be moist and slightly chewy; overcooking makes it tough and rubbery. Raw shrimp turns pink and gets firm. Below, is a handy table for determining how long to cook your shrimp.

Timetable for Cooking Shellfish

Type of Shrimp

Amount in Pounds (about 4 servings)

Method & Cook Time

Shrimp in the Shell


Boil 4-6 minutes

Microwave on high 5-7 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes. Let stand 3 minutes.

Shrimp, peeled & deveined


Panfry 3-6 minutes

Boil 2-3 minutes

Broil 3-5 minutes

Microwave on high 6-8 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes. Let stand 3 minutes.

Note on microwaving shrimp, rinse shrimp before. Arrange in circle in shallow microwavable dish that’s large enough to hold shellfish in a single layer. Cover but leave one corner open about ¼ inch to vent steam. Shrimp will be pink and firm when done. Let stand as directed before serving.

What to Make with Shrimp

There’s so many different ways to cook shrimp as it’s quite a versatile protein. In the words of shrimp expert Benjamin Buford Blue (Bubba of “Forrest Gump”),

“Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fry, deep fry, stir fry. There’s pineapple shrimp and lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp. Shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That’s about it.”

In other words, there’s a style of shrimp and a shrimp dish for everyone’s tastes. Here, we’ll show you how to make our popular Coconut Shrimp recipe.

How to Cook Shrimp

Crunchy shrimp with a sweet and sour dipping sauce—a favorite restaurant appetizer you can make at home!

What You’ll Need:

  • Ingredients for Coconut Shrimp with Dipping Sauce
  • Bamboo or wooden skewers (4 to 6 inch)
  • 15x10-inch baking pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cooking spray
  • Paper towels
  • 3 shallow dishes



1.  Soak skewers in water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400°F. Line 15x10-inch baking pan with sides with foil; lightly spray foil with cooking spray.


2.  In shallow dish, stir together flour, curry powder, salt and ground red pepper. In another shallow dish, beat egg and water until blended. In another shallow dish, mix bread crumbs and coconut.


3.  Pat shrimp dry with paper towels. Coat shrimp with flour mixture. Dip into egg mixture; coat well with crumb mixture.Thread 2 shrimp on each skewer, leaving space between each. Place in pan.


4.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until shrimp are pink and coating begins to brown. To ensure food safety, the FDA recommends cooking seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F or, for shrimp, until “the flesh becomes pearly and opaque.” Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix 1/2 cup apricot or peach preserves, 1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.


5.  Serve shrimp with sauce for dipping. For a tropical main dish, serve shrimp on a salad of baby greens with tropical fruit and a citrus vinaigrette.

What to Serve with Shrimp

Shrimp has a mild salty flavor that goes well with many sides. It’s perfect on top of or alongside a fresh salad or served with grits or pasta. It’s great in tacos, fried rice or served with steamed or roasted veggies. Even if you serve with just some lemon wedges for drizzling, you won’t be disappointed.

How to Eat Shrimp

The question is: are the tails on or off? If they were left on, simply pinch the base of the tail while you bite into the shrimp, and when you pull the tail away, the shrimp should easily come off into your mouth. If the tails have been removed, you can eat like any other protein—with your hands if it’s shrimp cocktail, or a knife and fork if it’s plated.

How to Store Shrimp

After it’s been prepared or cooked, tightly cover and refrigerate shrimp and be sure to eat it within a day or two.

So you’ve conquered shrimp. Ready to tackle ribs?