Learning how to grill shrimp is easy. You can add a variety of seasonings, and it's a great way to add seafood to your cookout. Perfectly grilled shrimp begins with the prep, from selecting to skewering and seasoning the tasty crustaceans. Once ready for the grill, the shrimp need just a few minutes to cook. Let's walk through each step and discover the secrets to cooking great barbecued shrimp every time.
Selecting the Best Shrimp
At the store, you will find a variety of shrimp ranging in size from extra small to extra colossal. Large and jumbo shrimp are the most common and economical and a great size for the grill.
When determining how much shrimp you'll need, keep the count per pound in mind. You will get around 30 large shrimp per pound and about 20 jumbo shrimp per pound. If shrimp is your main dish, plan on 1/3- to 1/2-pound per person. If you choose to leave the shells on, make it 3/4-pound per person.
Raw shrimp is the best choice for the grill, though precooked shrimp will work. Due to safety and flavor concerns, do not refreeze shrimp that have been thawed out. Most likely, the shrimp on display in the grocer's case was previously frozen. Unless you have live shrimp available, you're better off with individually quick frozen (IQF) shrimp.
Check the Freshness
It's important to ensure that your shrimp is fresh, even if it has been frozen. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is safe to eat thawed shrimp if they have translucent and shiny flesh. The smell can often be a better indicator of freshness.
Shrimp that are okay to eat will have a light saltwater smell. Any strong, rancid odors—especially an extreme fishiness or the smell of ammonia (rotten eggs)—indicate that they need to be thrown away. Don't eat shrimp that smells like chlorine or gasoline, which they could have picked up when caught or frozen.
Sometimes shrimp can smell a bit like iodine, and this does not pose a health risk. It's likely due to all the plankton that shrimp eat, so it's perfectly natural. Though it's not necessary, there's a simple way to draw out the iodine odor and taste:
In a large bowl, combine two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of water.
Add the shrimp and let them soak for 10 minutes.
Rinse with cold water.
Prepping Shrimp for the Grill
There are two great debates when cooking shrimp: shell or no shell and vein or no vein. Each has its advantages, and there is no right or wrong answer. Depending on the shrimp you buy, they may already be deveined and shelled with only the tail left.
While most Americans prefer shelled shrimp without the vein, whole shrimp are preferred in much of the world. Leaving the shrimp in the shell makes preparing them fast and prevents them from drying out on the grill. Your guests will have to remove the shells while eating.
Without the shell and vein, shrimp are easier to skewer. This is also the better choice if you're going to use a marinade because it allows the extra flavor to get inside the shrimp, which will have more impact.
You must remove the shell to devein a shrimp. When shelling the shrimp, leave the tail because it makes them easier to eat by hand—it's sort of a small handle. To devein shrimp, use a small pairing knife or deveiner to cut a slit along the back and remove the black, stringy vein.
Seasoning shrimp can be as simple or complex as you like and there are many delicious grilled shrimp recipes to choose from. If you're looking for something simple, coat them in olive oil, flavored butter, or barbecue sauce. These can be brushed on while the shrimp are on the grill, but you'll have to work fast because they cook quickly.
You can also add a variety of herbs and spices to create a custom marinade. Garlic, paprika, or cayenne will create spicier shrimp that are great with melted butter. A marinade of lemon juice with cilantro, basil, garlic, and cilantro gives it a tangy, herbal taste. In general, marinating raw shrimp should take no more than 30 minutes.
Skewering the Shrimp
While you can simply toss individual shrimp onto the grate, skewers make the job easier. They eliminate the risk of a shrimp falling beneath the grate, and you can remove and flip a skewer faster than individual shrimp.
Soak wooden skewers to prevent the wood from burning and reduce the chance of eating splinters. If you use metal skewers, a small amount of cooking spray will make getting the shrimp on and off easier.
There are three ways to skewer the shrimp on your prepared skewers:
Straight down the middle: This is used more often for prawns because they have a straighter body, but you can skewer shrimp lengthwise as well. This may be easier if you choose to keep the shell on.
Top and bottom curve: The most common method for shrimp is to skewer them in two places to accentuate their tight curve. Simply stick each shrimp once through the top and again near the tail.
Double skewer: To reinforce your shrimp skewers and ensure no shrimp falls off, use two skewers. Stick each shrimp in the head and tail, and do it again with another skewer near the curve. This method makes flipping the skewers super easy.
However you choose to skewer them, don't overcrowd your shrimp. Leave a little space between each so they cook evenly. Since they cook faster than vegetables, it's best to keep shrimp on separate skewers rather than mixing the two as you would with a traditional kebab.
The last secret to great grilled shrimp is to avoid high heat. It cooks them too fast, and you run the risk of overcooked, rubbery shrimp. Instead, wait for the grill to get down to medium heat; you should be able to hold your hand over the grate for four seconds.
Once you get the ideal temperature, set your skewered shrimp on the grate so they are not crowded. Raw shrimp is done once the entire body turns a different color—usually from gray to pink—and it has a pearly, opaque appearance. This should take around three to five minutes, and you'll want to flip them halfway through.
If you're grilling precooked shrimp, your goal is to heat them up and impart a little barbecue flavor. This should only take 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side. They're already pink, so you can't tell by the color and will have to use your best judgment. In total, the shrimp should not be on the grill for longer than two minutes.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving It Safely. 2017.