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Your One-Stop Shop for Cooking Shrimp

Shrimp cooks conveniently fast, but it can turn rubbery in a flash. These four core methods teach you how to not overcook shrimp when pan searing, grilling, roasting, or poaching.  
By Published Jan. 12, 2023

Shrimp—America’s most popular seafood—cooks quickly, which makes it both convenient and exacting: You have to be strategic if you want plump, well-seasoned meat that browns deeply before it crosses the line and turns rubbery. 

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When preparing shrimp, consult these road maps to four of our favorite shrimp-cooking techniques. Each one includes unique steps to maximize flavorful browning (when applicable) while ensuring that the shrimp cook as gently as possible: These include pretreatments that help the flesh hold on to moisture; seasonings that accelerate browning; and tricks such as starting in a cold pan, searing only one side, and finishing off heat. 

The cooked shrimp can be served as is—perhaps with a squeeze of lemon or lime—and they make a great addition to salads, noodles, or other preparations that would benefit from a savory but neutral protein. 

Or they can be boldly seasoned with a sauce, dressing, or flavored butter, such as the suggestions below each technique.

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Shrimp Cooked Four Foolproof Ways 

Yield: Each of the following methods are calibrated for 1½ to 2 lbs of extra-large or jumbo shrimp and serve 4 to 6. All but one technique calls for shelled and deveined shrimp.

Start with 15 Minutes of Pretreatment: Before cooking, it pays to toss shrimp with a little salt and baking soda. The pretreatment alters the protein structure of the flesh, helping it retain moisture when it’s exposed to high heat. It also seasons the flesh deeply and evenly. All you do is toss the shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda and refrigerate them for 15 to 30 minutes. Be sure to thoroughly dry them before cooking. 

Pan-Seared 

Shrimp being seared in a skillet, some of them browned, with tongs flipping the shrimp.

1. Lightly Oil Shrimp (Not Skillet). Toss the shrimp in 1 tablespoon of oil in a bowl. This coats the shrimp evenly and encourages contact with the cooking surface so that browning is uniform, not spotty.

2. Season with Sugar. Sprinkle ⅛ teaspoon sugar on the shrimp to boost browning and underscore sweetness.

3. Start Cold in a Slick Pan. Add shrimp in a single layer (tightly packed is OK) to a cold nonstick or carbon-steel skillet. A cold start means the shrimp will heat up gradually, so the muscle won’t contract and buckle, and the shrimp will be less likely to overcook. The slick surface ensures that flavorful browning sticks to the food and not to the pan.

4. Flip and Finish Off Heat. Once the shrimp are spotty brown and pink at the edges on the first side (3 to 4 minutes), cut the heat and quickly turn each piece, letting residual heat gently cook the shrimp the rest of the way.

Try It With: Fermented Black Beans, Ginger, and Garlic. Saute whites of 2 thin-sliced scallions; 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped coarse; 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger; and 2 minced cloves garlic in 1 teaspoon oil until mixture is fragrant and ginger is just beginning to brown, about 45 seconds. Off heat, toss with cooked shrimp, greens of 2 thin-sliced scallions, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons sesame oil.

Grilled

Shrimp tightly packed on skewers being flipped on a grill with metal tongs.

1. Pack Tightly on Skewers. Divide shrimp among three skewers, alternating the direction of the heads and tails so that they can be pressed tightly together. That way, they’ll insulate one another from the grill’s heat.

2. Brush with Oil; Sprinkle with Sugar. Coat both sides of the shrimp with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to lubricate the flesh and encourage contact with the grates. Lightly sprinkle one side with ¼ teaspoon of sugar to boost browning.

3. Sear Sugared Side. Place the skewers on a well-oiled grate, sugared side down, over a hot fire until lightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Flip and Briefly Grill Second Side. To avoid overcooking the shrimp, grill the second side for just a minute or two—long enough for it to just cook through but not brown.

Try It With: Chermoula Sauce. Before grilling shrimp, combine ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ½ cup finely diced red bell pepper, ⅓ cup minced red onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon table salt in a disposable aluminum pan. Place on hot side of grill, stirring occasionally until vegetables soften, 2 to 5 minutes. Move to cool side of grill while cooking shrimp. Add cooked shrimp to sauce and toss to coat with ⅓ cup minced fresh cilantro and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

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Roasted 

Garlicky roasted shrimp on a cooling rack set within a baking sheet being placed there by tongs.

1. Go for Jumbo. Bigger shrimp are less likely to dry out. Plus, there are fewer pieces to crowd the baking sheet and thwart browning.

2. Leave the Shells On. Using kitchen shears or seafood scissors, cut through the shell and devein, but don’t remove the shell. Not only does it protect the flesh as it cooks, but it’s rich in proteins, sugars, and umami-rich glutamates and nucleotides that get absorbed into the flesh during cooking. The shell also easily undergoes the Maillard reaction, producing deep roasted flavor. (Try eating it along with the roasted meat; it tastes great!)

3. Butterfly the Flesh. Using a paring knife, cut the shrimp ½ inch deep without severing it; that way, it can be coated with fat (see next step) to encourage browning.

4. Toss in Melted Butter. Its rich flavor pairs naturally with briny seafood, and its milk proteins encourage browning. Use 4 tablespoons to thoroughly coat the shrimp.

5. Broil on Rack. Position the rack about 4 inches from the element and preheat the broiler. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer on a wire rack set in a baking sheet so that the hot air can circulate around them for deep, even color.

6. Flip and Rotate. Once shrimp are opaque and beginning to brown (2 to 4 minutes), rotate the baking sheet, flip shrimp, and cook until the second side browns.

Try It With: Garlic, Parsley, And Anise. When tossing shrimp with butter, add ¼ cup vegetable oil, 6 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, 1 teaspoon anise seeds, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.

Poached 

Shrimp being poached in liquid in a stainless steel stock pot on a stovetop.

1. Use Residual Heat. Add the shrimp to 3 cups boiling water, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let stand 5 minutes, shaking the pot halfway through. The cold seafood will drop the water temperature to about 155 degrees—ideal for poaching without overcooking the delicate flesh.

2. Shock Briefly. Transfer the cooked shrimp to an ice bath for 3 to 5 minutes, which will prevent any carryover cooking.

Try It With: Cocktail Sauce. Whisk together 1 cup ketchup, ¼ cup prepared horseradish, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, and ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.