Use these test kitchen-approved methods and recipes for buying, prepping, and cooking shrimp, whether on the stove or grill, in the oven, or boiled, to juicy, succulent perfection—every time.

By Mary Tomlinson
July 26, 2019
Photo: Jennifer Davick

Coastal cooks need no convincing when it comes to cooking shrimp. The difficult part lies in deciding how to prepare this delicious shellfish. Skewered and sizzled on the grill for a SoCal staple? Seared in a cast iron skillet for topping off a bowl of Lowcountry grits? Boiled in your favorite aromatics for serving with a trio of dips? (We know—we’re only making this harder!)

Here we answer all your pressing questions about buying, thawing, peeling, and cooking shrimp—plus our easiest shrimp recipes for a foolproof feast of this fan-fave seafood.

How To Buy Fresh Shrimp

If you live near the coast or frequent a reputable fishmonger, buying fresh shrimp can’t be beat. Seek out shrimp with a firm texture and a briny odor—they should smell like the ocean, not fishy. Avoid shells with blackened edges or black s, as these point to quality loss. Ask the person at the fish counter to pack your haul on ice for the ride home, then store immediately in the fridge. Fresh shrimp keeps approximately two to three days, but for peak freshness we recommend buying shrimp on the day you plan to prepare them. (Shown here: Greek Bulgur Salad with Shrimp)

Related: Delicious Shrimp Recipes You Can Make in Under 30 Minutes

How To Buy and Thaw Frozen Shrimp

No need to knock frozen shrimp—they actually freeze well compared to other seafood. Look for IQF (individually quick-frozen) when you peruse the freezer aisle, as this denotes shrimp frozen at sea, thus locking in freshness. Wild-caught shrimp are ideal because they’re minimally processed and boast both a sweeter flavor and a firmer texture; their higher price compared to farm-raised alternatives (often from regions where regulations are limited) is worth it. Finally, steer clear of bags listing anything other than “shrimp” on the label. Ingredients such as STPP (sodium tripolyphosphate) indicates salt-treating and a potentially unpleasant underlying taste of your shrimp.

Thawing frozen shrimp properly is essential. Extreme changes in temperature can negatively affect the texture of your final dish. Your best bet is to thaw them overnight in the fridge in a colander with a bowl beneath to catch water, but if you’re in a hurry you can submerge the bag in a bowl of cold water for about 45 minutes. Once all of the ice crystals are gone, pat shrimp completely dry and prep for peeling.

Related: You've Probably Never Heard of This Delicious Shrimp (It Tastes Like Lobster)


How To Peel and Devein Shrimp

If you buy fresh shrimp, you can ask the person at the seafood counter to peel and devein them for you—done and done. You can also buy EZ-peel shrimp; a little pricier, but can save you precious prep time. But if you go the frozen route, or you want the shells for your next bisque, here’s our foolproof four-step method for peeling and deveining shrimp:

Step 1. Pull or chop off the head and pull off the legs.

Step 2. Slide your thumb under the shell from the bottom and pull the shell off in one piece.

Step 3. If you’re prepping for a handheld appetizer, like coconut shrimp, keep the tail on. For all other dishes, go ahead and pinch the tail and pull it off.

Step 4. To devein, skim a paring knife along the dark vein on the shrimp's back, making a shallow cut. Pull at the vein with the knife, starting at the top, and remove with your fingers.

Related: This Is the Right Way To Peel Shrimp

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