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
Updated July 26, 2019
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 spots, 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)

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.

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.

The Best Ways To Cook Shrimp

How To Cook Shrimp on the Stove

Two words: High heat. This gives you the juiciest shrimp and most tender texture while avoiding any undesirable chewiness. Add a small amount of butter or olive oil to your pan (we recommend cast iron) and bring it up to a high, sizzling heat. Spread your shrimp out evenly in the pan and sear quickly and without moving them—just one to two minutes. Once you can move them around easily, give the shellfish a flip and cook for another minute or two. Remove them from the pan immediately (they’ll continue to cook in the heat of the pan even after you remove it from the stove), then toss into a bowl of vibrant poke or pecorino-coated pasta.

How To Cook Shrimp in the Oven

When you want a more hands-off cooking method for shrimp, baking in the oven can’t be beat. Once again, make sure to spread shrimp evenly throughout the pan, and toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for six to eight minutes or until done. Oven-roasted shrimp are the perfect opportunity for a one-sheet meal; add your favorite veggies and you’ve got a meal in a tight 15 minutes, or try our recipe for Beer-Braised BBQ Shrimp, shown here.

How To Cook Shrimp on the Grill

Shrimp lend themselves well to grilling—a smoky char complements their natural sweetness. Prep shrimp (the larger, the better for grilling) by threading them onto bamboo or metal skewers, going through both the tail and the body for an extra secure hold. Make sure to soak bamboo skewers in water beforehand to prevent them from burning up. A marinade imparts tons of flavor (check out our Asian (shown here), Jamaican jerk, Key lime, Mexican-influenced, or Sweet and Spicy iterations), but a simple brushing of olive oil will do the trick, too. Once the grill is heated, cleaned, oiled, and ready, cook for a quick one to two minutes per side.

How To Boil Shrimp

We love a simple preparation of boiled shrimp for shrimp cocktail, other grab-and-go appetizers, such as chilled shrimp served with this smoky remoulade, or a classic shrimp boil with all the accoutrements. To prepare, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add your favorite blend of spices or herbs to impart a particular flavor, but salt alone works as well. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add shrimp and cook until they turn pink, about one to two minutes. Chill the shrimp on a bed of ice, then serve immediately.

Easiest Shrimp Recipes

With their quick-cooking nature, shrimp make for an easy dinner or crowd-pleasing appetizer. Put your shrimp culinary knowledge to use and enjoy these simple shrimp recipes.

Shrimp Scampi Linguine: As decadent as it is simple, our Shrimp Scampi Linguine goes from prep to platter in a tight 15 minutes—a go-to for both weeknight dinners and last-minute entertaining. This Italian-American classic gets its easy decadence from a buttery-garlic shrimp preparation, and is then layered atop a tangle of pasta, chopped parsley, and lemon zest.

Coconut (Un-)Fried Shrimp: We gave this seafood dive classic a healthy makeover. Shrimp are dipped in egg whites (instead of whole eggs), breaded, and then baked rather than deep-fried.

SoCal Shrimp Tacos: Chargrilled shrimp hot off the grill, a swoosh of creamy guacamole, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese, all cradled in a warm corn tortilla. This piece of handheld SoCal dinner perfection not only tastes best when enjoyed beachside (and with a Mexican lager in hand), but comes together faster than you can say, “Pass the salsa verde.”

This Story Originally Appeared On Coastal Living