8 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Shrimp

Don't Commit These Cooking Faux Pas

Add shrimp to the garlic

The Spruce 

Shrimp is America's favorite seafood. The crustaceans have a mild flavor, meaty texture, and are easy to prepare in just a few minutes in a variety of ways. For the best results when cooking shrimp at home, make sure you're not committing one of these culinary faux pas.

illustration featuring tips for cooking shrimp

The Spruce / Tim Liedtke

  • 01 of 08

    You Bought "Fresh" Shrimp

    ingredients for grilled jumbo shrimp

     The Spruce

    Sure, if you're buying live shrimp from a tank or off a boat, then those are indeed fresh and better than frozen. But the shrimp sitting atop a pile of ice in the seafood case are not, in fact, truly fresh. They've been previously frozen and have now been thawed for who knows how long. For best results, buy IQF (individually quick frozen) shrimp in the shell and defrost them yourself.

    This goes double for whole shrimp (i.e. with heads still attached). The heads contain an enzyme that can quickly turn the flesh mushy if not separated from the body immediately after harvesting. 

  • 02 of 08

    You Thawed Shrimp Improperly

    Rinse the shrimp

    ​The Spruce 

    You should never use a microwave for defrosting shrimp, nor leave them to thaw on the kitchen counter at room temperature. The best way to defrost frozen shrimp is in a colander in the refrigerator overnight. The next best way is to seal them tightly in a Ziploc bag with all the air pressed out and then run cold water over the bag for five to 10 minutes. Don't use warm or hot water, and don't run water over them without the bag, or the shrimp will soak up water and turn soggy. That's also why we recommend a colander in the preferred method—so the shrimp don't end up waterlogged. 

  • 03 of 08

    You Forgot to Skewer Them

    Australian shrimp on the barbie recipe

    ​The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck 

    Because shrimp cooks quickly with high heat, grilling is a terrific way to cook the seafood. But because of their quick cook time, two minutes per side is generally about right. That means you don't want to waste time flipping them one at a time. By the time you get to the last ones, they're already overcooked.

    Skewering the shrimp makes it easier to turn them and makes it harder for one or two to fall through the grate while helping them keep their shape. But take note: a single skewer may not be enough. Try flipping a row of shrimp on a single skewer and they'll likely just spin around. A double skewer will prevent that and makes flipping shrimp a snap.

  • 04 of 08

    You Didn't Clean Them

    Peel off entire shell

    ​The Spruce

    When recipes call for deveining shrimp, its actually telling you to remove the digestive tract. And while it sounds gross, there's nothing intrinsically bad about eating a shrimp digestive tract. But the shrimp gut can contain sand and mud, and while you might not taste it, the gritty texture is none too pleasant.

    The easiest way to devein shrimp is with a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife. Simply snip or cut a shallow ridge along the top of the shrimp from the wide end toward the tail and scrape out the little black strip. The beauty of this method is that you can also peel the shells off right then (or leave them on, depending on how you're using them).

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    You Left the Shells On

    Ingredients

    The Spruce Eats / Nita West

    People in many parts of the world eat shrimp with the shells on—they're crunchy and flavorful! But in North America it's customary to remove the shells before eating, so your decision is: Will you remove the shells before cooking? Or after? Or will you serve them with shells on and leave the task of removing to your guests?

    This is a tricky question, but most people find it messy and a hassle to peel every shrimp before eating it—especially if they're being served as hors d'oeuvres at a cocktail party. Or in a pasta dish or stew, where you have to pick the shrimp up and get sauce all over your fingers.

  • 06 of 08

    You Took the Shells Off

    shrimp with shells off

    The Spruce 

    Notwithstanding everything you just read above, one time when it is not only acceptable but also preferable to leave the shells on your shrimp is when quick cooking, like grilling. That's because the shells protect them from the intense, dry heat, so you're less likely to overcook them and they'll still be juicy when you bite into them. It also helps them keep their shape instead of curling up as they're prone to do.

  • 07 of 08

    You Threw Away the Shells

    Cornmeal Fried Shrimp Recipe

    The Spruce 

    If you peeled your shrimp before cooking or serving, don't just throw the shells in the trash. The shells of crustaceans (that means shrimp as well as lobster, crayfish, and crab) are loaded with flavor. They're the key to making a flavorful bisque or seafood stock. Store the shrimp shells in a zip-top bag in the freezer until you're ready to use them.

  • 08 of 08

    You Overcooked Shrimp

    Grilling jumbo shrimp.

     The Spruce

    Like meat and poultry, the muscles in seafood are made up of bundles of fiberlike protein cells. In fish and seafood, however, the bundles are much shorter, and the connective tissue that holds them together is much thinner. Thus, fish and seafood cook much faster than meat and poultry. Shimp are also small, so it doesn't take much time for heat to penetrate them.

    Unlike meat, which is cooked through at around 160 F, shrimp are fully cooked when their little interiors reach 120 F. They'll go from a translucent bluish-green (depending on what type of shrimp you're cooking) to an opaque pink. If they curl up into tight little O's, they're overcooked.