How to Tell When Shrimp Is Perfectly Cooked

Figuring out when shrimp is cooked is complicated, but we've broken it down for you so you get perfectly cooked shrimp every time.

Shrimp risotto, shrimp scampi, shrimp on the barbie — the list of shrimp recipes is endless because shrimp is a crustacean for celebration! But cooking shrimp is tricky and if you don't get it right, it can be... disappointing. Overcooked shrimp is chewy or rubbery; if you undercook them, you run the risk of slimy shrimp which, in some situations, can be dangerous. But shrimp cooks very quickly, so there's a fine line between poorly cooked and properly cooked and we're here to make sure you don't cross that line.

Buying Shrimp

Most of us aren’t lucky enough to buy fresh fish from a fish market. Unless someone lives on the coast, frozen shrimp from the grocery store is what’s available — which is not bad. They’re flash frozen (or IQF — individually quick-frozen) which preserves the integrity of the raw shrimp. However, some frozen shrimp have preservatives — steer clear of those. Shrimp should be the only ingredient listed on the package. You should also look for shrimp that is sold by the number per pound. For instance, you’ll see something like "16-20/lb." That just means you’ll get about 16 to 20 shrimp for every pound you buy rather than the size of the shrimp (i.e. “jumbo shrimp”).
Another thing to note is how to thaw them. Like other raw meat, the safest way to thaw shrimp is to leave it in the refrigerator overnight. But if you do have the opportunity to buy fresh shrimp, use your nose to tell if shrimp are still good. Shrimp and other seafood should not smell fishy if they're fresh. If your shrimp smells fishy, you should toss them.

How To Tell If Shrimp Is Cooked

There are several ways to cook shrimp, so how you determine whether the shrimp is done will be different. That said, there are a couple of general ideas to keep in mind to make the call as to whether or not the shrimp is cooked well:

Temperature: The internal temperature of a fully cooked shrimp is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That is really just for reference — few home cooks will be using a thermometer on these tiny decapods and it’s really not neccessary, either. But issues of shrimp doneness can be a bit confusing. While it's safe to eat raw shrimp that is sushi grade, undercooked shrimp may not be safe to eat because at its fully cooked state, it's technically within the USDA's definition of "temperature danger zone." That's between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit when bacteria grows the fastest. It's unlikely you'll come across this, but it's good to make a mental note of it.

Color: Raw shrimp is a translucent gray (raw frozen shrimp is gray as well). When it’s cooked, it should be an opaque white with some pink and bright red accents. This is the best indicator of whether or not shrimp is fully cooked. Do not eat the shrimp if it is gray or translucent after cooking.

*Note On Shape: When shrimp cooks, the muscle contracts, so the shrimp shrinks and curls. Some cooks say it’s perfectly cooked when it reaches a c-shape and it’s overcooked if it continues to curl to an o-shape, but you’ll find that almost all shrimp — even shrimp cooked by the best chefs — yields an o-shape, so it is not the best indicator of overcooked shrimp. All that said, it is safe to eat overcooked shrimp.

Shrimp Cooking Tips:

Boiling: If you’re boiling shrimp for something like shrimp cocktail, you want to bring your water to a boil before adding the shrimp. Once you add the shrimp, watch the pot and just before it returns to a boil, remove the shrimp and plunge them in ice water.

Sometime a dish calls for adding the raw shrimp to a hot liquid like as part of the preperation. This is the case with shrimp étouffée, where you're really just lightly poaching (or braising) the little guys. In this case and the case of soups and stews (shrimp gumbo or shrimp bisque), add the shrimp at the very end of cooking and remove the soup from the heat. The shrimp will reach its optimal temperature by cooking in the residual heat of the soup or broth you've put it into; this reduces the risk of overcooking the shrimp.

Grilling: If you’re doing kebabs, the best way to do it is to make your shrimp kebabs separate from the other meats and vegetables you plan to skewer because the cooking times for each item varies greatly. You don’t want undercooked mushrooms with your overcooked shrimp. It’s a bummer and workarounds are a lot of… work. Shrimp kebabs on the grill are easy: They only take about two minutes to cook on each side.

Sautéing: If you’re sautéing shrimp to top pasta or a salad, it’s best to cook the shrimp over medium-high heat for about one minute to a minute and a half before taking it off the heat to let it finish cooking on its own. That's known as carryover cooking — when the item continues to cook after it's removed from heat. For this method, just make sure not to overcrowd the pan. If you’re stir-frying shrimp with vegetables, the shrimp should go in last when the vegetables are very hot so they can help cook the shrimp — the shrimp should be done in one to two minutes.

Good To Know Tips:

Brining: Brining shrimp is an excellent way to enhance their flavor. Shrimp does, after all, live in salty sea water. The other option for maintaining the flavor of the shrimp is to cook them with the shells on, but that’s not ideal for every recipe.

Shells: Most of the time it’s best to devein and peel shrimp before it’s cooked. We are all for that, but we encourage you not to throw away the shells. Instead, they can be poached in a liquid (white wine, for instance) to make a sauce. The shells hold a lot of flavor that we don’t want you to miss out on, so when you’re peeling your shrimp, keep sauce possibilities in mind.

Baking Soda: Tossing the raw shrimp in baking soda before cooking gives the shrimp a firm, snappy texture — Serious Eats evangelizes this method, but if you want to know why this is practiced in Chinese restaurants, Rasa Malaysia has an excellent explanation on why this works.

Are you ready to whip up some delicious shrimp recipes? Check out some of our favorite shrimp recipes:

Succulent Shrimp Scampi

Succulent Shrimp Scampi

It's a classic. A flavorful olive oil sauce, fresh herbs, and perfectly cooked shrimp. Serve over angel hair pasta or dip with fresh bread.

Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail

Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail

This appetizer is perfect for any meal, or a great side dish at a dinner party. Enjoy a spicy twist on the traditional shrimp cocktail. Serve shrimp along the rim of a fancy cocktail glass. Your guests will be asking for your recipe.

Szechuan Shrimp Stir Fry With Fried Rice

Szechuan Shrimp Stir Fry With Fried Rice

Bring your vegetables to life with savory shrimp and bold flavors stir-fried in classic fried rice. A great dinner staple for the entire family!

Air Fryer Crunchy Panko Coconut Shrimp

Air Fryer Crunchy Panko Coconut Shrimp

Delectable coconut shrimp doesn't have to be unhealthy and friend. This air fryer recipe allows you to enjoy a classic shrimp favorite without the guilt.

Shrimp Salad in a Fresh Pineapple With Fall Fruit

Shrimp Salad in a Fresh Pineapple With Fall Fruit

The flavors of old bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and shrimp pair delightfully with sweet pineapple making it a surefire summer treat.

Summer Shrimp Etoufee

Summer Shrimp Etoufee

Fresh, simple flavors make this shrimp recipe a crowd pleaser. If you're having a Cajun or Creole themed party, this is a go-to!