Guide to Shrimp

If you ask my husband what is favorite food is, he will without a doubt tell you shrimp. This means I’ve become quite the shrimp expert through the years. And while it seems pretty straightforward, I can almost guarantee that you are only scratching the surface.

cooked shrimp in a bowl


What are shrimp?

Shrimp are decapod shelled invertebrates (crustaceans). There are thousands of species, but only 20 that are seen sold commercially.

They can live in freshwater, salt water and even mixed habitats. Shrimp come in many sizes and also several colors when raw, but mostly all pink hues when cooked.

Are Shrimp Good For You?

I hate the word healthy these days; it means so many things to so many people. This is what I do know about shrimp.

  • high protein
  • low fat
  • high iron
  • low calorie

But, they do have higher amounts of cholesterol per pound.

How To Cook Shrimp

Shrimp are so verstile and can be prepared in SO many different variations. They can be fried, sautéed, boiled, baked, ceviched and grilled. They are seen through nearly every ethnic cuisine, many of which have unique ways of making shrimp.

In general you’ll want to cook until tails start to curl (but aren’t fully curled) and they are a taunt pinkish opaque. They cook fast, so be mindful to not overcook when they can get mushy or rubbery.

Types of Shrimp

Shrimp are put into four categories: white, pink, brown and red. Chances are the stuff you are buying at the store is white or pink, but then there are several types of both white and pink.

One of the biggest determinants is where they were sourced.

  • White shrimp: Either caught wild or farmed, white shrimp tend to have less flavor than pink. The flavor they do have has been described as nutty or sweet. They are better with rich and flavor-forward sauces and spices. Their raw shells are a greyish-white and the while the shell turns pink when cooked, the actual shrimp stays white.
  • Pink shrimp: Most come from the gulf and these have a shrimp-ier flavor. They are mild and sweet and do best with mild and delicate sauces so you can actually taste the shrimp. When raw they have pink shells and both the shell and meat will be even more pink when cooked.
  • Brown shrimp: Another contender for shrimp flavor, these are sometimes mislabeled as white shrimp because the shells tend to be greyish as well. They are usually smaller and darker because of iodine content. They do turn pink when cooked and do best in hearty sauces because of their firm texture.
  • Royal red shrimp: They have a bright red shell and often look like little lobsters. They have sweet, tender meat and can be subbed for recipes calling for chopped lobster or langostinos.
  • Tiger shrimp: These are the big boys of shrimp and are sometimes called prawns. They have sweet, buttery meat and best served by themselves for a shrimp cocktail or with a light sauce. They are also ideal for grilling because they are large enough to not fall through the grates.
  • Rock shrimp: They have a spiny shell that is rough instead of smooth. The are smaller, but their meat is also comparable to lobster and great as a substitute.

How to Buy Shrimp

The seafood counter can be a little misleading. The names colossal, large and extra large can vary from counter to counter and there aren’t any hard and steady rules.

Prawns are also shrimp, but the largest with several names.

Baby (bay)70+ per pound
Small51-60 per pound
Medium43-50 per pound
Medium-Large36-42 per pound
Large31-35 per pound
Extra-Large26-30 per pound
Jumbo21-25 per pound
Extra-Jumbo 16-20 per pound
Colossal/Giant/Prawns/U1510-15 per pound

Shrimp can be purchased peeled, deveined or head-on. Depending on what recipe you are using them in, you might need to buy one or the other. I prefer to buy head off, only because I don’t eat the head and I am still paying by the pound.

However I do recommend purchasing them with the shell on and cooking them in the shell whenever possible. The shell actually holds most of the flavor, so cooking it with shell imparts flavor.

It also protects the delicate meat from overcooking. If marinating, working the marinade into the shell literally holds it up close to meat to help keep it moist and flavorful.

Look for shrimp that don’t look limp, are free from black spots and don’t smell overly fishy. Some fish smell will be there- they are seafood.

chart of shrimp sizes

Prawns vs Shrimp

What is the difference between prawns and shrimp? Most people assume they are the crustacean, just different sizes. That is FALSE!

Both shrimp and prawns are crustaceans that have ten legs and possess external skeletons. However,  shrimp belong to the sub-order Pleocyemata, while prawns belong to the sub-order Dendrobranchiata.

Try to say that 10 times fast! In fact, just try to pronounce it once. I dare ya!

In layman’s terms…

Prawns have branching gills, claws on three pairs of their legs and second pincers that are larger than their front ones.

Prawns lack the distinct bend in their bodies that is seen with shrimp and each of their body segments overlaps the one behind it in succession.

Shrimp have plate-like gills and claws on two pairs of their legs with their front pincers being the largest. Shrimp also have a distinct bend in their bodies and their second segments overlap the first and third segments.

Use that as a little pre-dinner discussion or JEOPARDY… here you come!

Storage & Freezing

Shrimp are high perishable, so if buying fresh, only buy as much as you need and try to use it within 24 hours.

I always ask if it was previously frozen (and in most commercial grocery stores it was) so I know if freezing it is an option if I don’t use them right away. Do not freeze previously frozen shrimp.

You can also buy frozen shrimp. I like to grab a bag when they are on sale. I buy both cooked and raw. Cooked are great for defrosting and throwing on a salad or topping a plate of pasta, which raw can be used for nearly anything.

Best Shrimp Recipes

close up of garlic butter shrimp with tomatoes

Garlic Butter Shrimp Recipe

Garlic Butter Shrimp is a quick and easy meal solution that takes only 10 minutes to prepare! Top over rice, pasta or quinoa.
See The Recipe!
angled shot of shrimp scampi in a bowl

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp Scampi is a traditional Italian dish made with a garlic butter sauce and shrimp with al dente pasta and fresh lemon juice.
See The Recipe!
hibachi shrimp on a plate

Hibachi Shrimp

If you love hibachi, now you can make it at home! This Hibachi Shrimp recipes is the BEST, and there is even a homemade yum yum sauce!
See The Recipe!
angled shot of shrimp rangoon on plate

Shrimp Rangoon

Succulent shrimp mixed with cream cheese and wrapped in a crispy wonton wrapper, Shrimp Rangoon is sure to be your new favorite appetizer.
See The Recipe!
overhead of shrimp alfredo in a large skillet

Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Recipe

Garlicky alfredo sauce paired with pasta, shrimp, plump peas, juicy roasted red pepper stripes and nutty parmesan cheese.
See The Recipe!
overhead of honey walnut shrimp with rice

Honey Walnut Shrimp

This quick & easy Honey Walnut Shrimp recipe makes the best weeknight dinner. The shrimp is crisp and coated in a sweet honey glaze sauce!
See The Recipe!
shrimp tacos with jalapeno

Shrimp Tacos with Slaw

Easy shrimp tacos don't get any better than these Shrimp Tacos with Cabbage Slaw! Taco Tuesday will never be the same! Full of fresh flavor and seasoning!
See The Recipe!
cream cheese shrimp spread

Mexican Cream Cheese Shrimp Dip

Take your usual cocktail sauce shrimp dip up a notch with this Mexican Cream Cheese Shrimp Dip recipe. It's perfect for any get together or party!
See The Recipe!
overhead shot of tray of garlic shrimp kabobs

Garlic Shrimp Kabobs

Looking for the perfect summer BBQ Recipe? Garlic Shrimp Kabobs with white cooking wine, garlic and fresh veggies are the perfect choice!
See The Recipe!
Angled close up of Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail is an easy recipe made with shrimp, fresh vegetables, tomato juice and hot sauce for a spicy version of your favorite classic. Top with avocado and serve with tortillas chips or saltine crackers. 
See The Recipe!
Tomato Basil Shrimp Pasta is an easy and healthy shrimp pasta recipe. It's great for busy weeknights but full of flavor and sure to impress guests! #shrimppasta #shrimpmeals #shrimppastarecipe

Tomato Basil Shrimp Pasta

Tomato Basil Shrimp Pasta is a deliciously easy and healthy shrimp pasta recipe. It’s full of flavor but quick and simple to make!
See The Recipe!
Shrimp Cocktail on a white plate with a small bowl of cocktail sauce

How To Make Shrimp Cocktail

This Classic Shrimp Cocktail recipe goes back to the basics to result in the best shrimp cocktail. Prepared with just lemon and salt, this Classic Shrimp Cocktail will be the hit appetizer at all celebrations!
See The Recipe!
Teriyaki Shrimp Stir Fry in a black bowl

Teriyaki Shrimp Stir Fry

Skip the takeout and make this easy Teriyaki Shrimp Stir Fry in only 30 minutes! This Shrimp Stir Fry is an easy weeknight meal that the whole family will love!
See The Recipe!
Healthy meal idea, easy dinner recipe with only 4 ingredients!

Thai Grilled Shrimp

Thai Grilled Shrimp is an easy and healthy dinner idea, using light coconut milk, Thai seasoning and lime juice, it comes together in a snap!
See The Recipe!
buttered shrimp in a tomato sauce in a cooking vessel

Beer Buttered Shrimp Recipe

Beer Buttered Shrimp is a tomato based sauce infused with your choice of beer, spices and simmered with shrimp. Serve as an appetizer or over rice as an entree.
See The Recipe!
overhead of ginger shrimp lettuce wraps

Ginger Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Ginger Shrimp Lettuce Wraps, made with sherry, ginger and garlic, are the perfect appetizer or entrée. Ready in just 15 minutes!
See The Recipe!
Chipotle Lime Buttered Shrimp is a delicious, spicy shrimp recipe! The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with lime juice, make this recipe the perfect appetizer! #spicyshrimprecipe #sauteedshrimp

Chipotle Shrimp

Chipotle Lime Buttered Shrimp is a delicious, spicy shrimp recipe! The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with lime juice, make this recipe the perfect appetizer!
See The Recipe!
spaghetti squash marinara for pinterest

Spaghetti Squash Marinara with Shrimp

Spaghetti Squash with Chunky Roasted Marinara and Shrimp is a healthy way to eat pasta and tomato sauce.
See The Recipe!
platter of steamed shrimp with beer and old bay

Old Bay Steamed Shrimp Recipe

Steamed shrimp with seasoned onions, potatoes and good ole Maryland seasonings of Old Bay, garlic and BEER! Great for a cookout!
See The Recipe!
angle view of seafood fra diavolo recipe on a black serving plate

Seafood Fra Diavolo Recipe

Sweet and spicy tomato-based sauce simmered with tender seafood like shrimp, scallops, calamari and more.
See The Recipe!
close up of cooked shrimp with text overlay
Jessica Formicola in her ktichen

About the Author

Jessica Formicola

Jessica the mom, wife and chef behind Savory Experiments. You might see her on the Emmy- nominated TV show Plate It! or on bookshelves as a cookbook author. Jessica is a Le Cordon Bleu certified recipe developer and regularly contributed to Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, The Daily Meal and more!

Read More About Jessica

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Questions and Reviews

  1. Wow! Such a detailed and informative post with some seriously delicious recipes to try! Excited to give these a try; looks too good to pass up, indeed!

  2. Thank you for all the information on shrimp. Very useful when at the seafood counter. All of these recipes look incredible and I can’t wait to get started making them.