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How to Clean and Prepare Raw Shrimp

This post was written by my foodie sister Robin, who is now sharing all of her favorite recipes and kitchen tips regularly on the new “Make It and Love It – in the KITCHEN” portion of this blog. Try a few of her recipes…your belly will thank you! -Ashley

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Hey guys…it’s Robin!

Today I’m going to share a few tips that involves something you either love or hate — SHRIMP!  I think one thing that turns people off the most from using shrimp in their recipes, is that they’re unsure of how to properly clean it before cooking it.  Because let’s be real…it ain’t pretty! 

I remember the first time my dad brought home a load of shrimp for dinner, that was neither de-shelled or de-veined. My sister April and I (she’s the sister just older than Ashley and I) were given the task to clean them up and we had no clue what to do. I don’t think we were even in high school yet and we had never made shrimp before since it was expensive and we lived in Arizona, where shrimp isn’t plentiful.

I remember having a hard time cleaning it up and my dad mentioned the fact that the “vein” is where their waste was contained.  If you’re not familiar with preparing shrimp, maybe you didn’t know that either.  And maybe you have no clue what to do with the tail, the shell, the head, etc.

Because sometimes you get uncooked and frozen shrimp that looks like this…

Other times (more often when you live near water like I do up in Alaska) you have an abundance of shrimp that looks like this.  (I know, this sucker isn’t winning any beauty pageants!)




I want to help you so that you aren’t positioned like a deer in the headlights (like my sister and I were all those years ago) and can actually turn your shrimp into something delicious!




Okay, let’s “git ‘er done”!



If you are lucky enough to get really fresh whole shrimp with the head attached, you must live near an ocean or have traveled somewhere and have brought it home with you.  If so, don’t be scared of that whole shrimp.


First, you want to cut the head off. And to do that, you want to find the first hinge positioned below the eyeballs.




Once you find it, you can cut right through it.




This brings us to this picture, which is a more common way to purchase shrimp.  And generally, it’s frozen.





The nice thing about shrimp, is that it defrosts quickly. You can sit your shrimp in a bowl with COLD water and then leave the faucet on with an itty bitty stream (to get some circulation going) and leave it sitting for about ten minutes.  Likely after that amount of time, your shrimp will be completely defrosted.  You DON’T EVER want to microwave frozen shrimp because they cook so fast and will become an unevenly cooked rubbery mess. Yuck.





Now, grab a sharp knife and let’s get to work.


First, you want to remove the shell by pulling at the legs and then pulling the shell around and off the meat.




Sometimes I can pry my finger between the shell and the meat along the outer curve and then pull the shell off from along the back. If you do it that way, you will just have to come back and pull the legs off.




Now, you can either cut the flipper fin off with your kife or if you are like me and want as much meat as possible, you can pull off the rest of the shell and leave behind the flipper meat.




Next, use your knife to slice along the outer curve of the shrimp, almost to the depth of the vein and cut all the way to the tail.  (Since raw shrimp is pretty transparent, you should be able to slightly see the vein because it’s usually pretty dark in color.  If not, make a cut and look around.) Pry that cut open a little bit further to expose the vein. Dig under the vein with your knife and and pull it up and out.  If it breaks as you’re pulling, just keep digging and pulling until it’s removed.  Some people choose to leave the vein in…but I always remove mine, because afterall, it’s animal waste.


(I’m not sure where my image is for this…..but once you have that shrimp in your hand you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about!)


After you have all your shrimp deveined and de-shelled, give them one last rinse with cold water.




At this point, you can either store your shrimp in a sealed container and use them later (in the fridge for 3-5 days or freeze them) OR use them right away and sautee, roast, grill, or boil them.  All cooking methods are delicious!!!  And remember, shrimp cooks fast… don’t overcook these precious shrimp that you just spent time cleaning up!


If you have other questions or some tips to add, be sure and leave a comment below!



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  1. Anonymous says:

    In addition to the salt add beer during your thawing process to see if that enhances or keeps the flavor I think it does.Let me know.

  2. Trish says:

    This was very helpful! Cooked shrimp for the first time this week and didn’t take the shell or legs off and hate that I have to do it now that I’m ready to eat my yummy sauteed shrimp. So this will be really helpful next time around. Thanks!

  3. Katie says:

    Hi! This was quite helpful. I live in SE Alaska, just moved here a few months ago, and found out a shrimp boat came in and was selling whole shrimp for $3/lb. We bought a lot, they guy showed us how to get the head off. When I got home most of them have eggs. All of the heads are off now (took 2 1/2 hours by myself) and this is giving me a good idea on how to get the eggs off. I can’t wait to eat them. Thank you!

  4. cindy says:

    This is the best guide to cleaning and preparing shrimp that I’ve ever seen! You covered every possibility, and it’s so well-written with humor and photos. I pinned it, but also shared on my daily recipe page: Seasonal and Holiday Recipe Exchange * ** Thanks!

  5. JessieMomma says:

    Don’t forget, the heads boil up nicely for shrimp stock. It’s wonderful flavoring for chowders!!!

  6. Jessica says:

    Rather than cutting the heads off, you can pinch the shrimp right at that joint you mentioned and the head should pop right off. It is also easier to peel shrimp after they have been frozen.

    In the fall, when shrimp are plentiful here on the North Carolina coast, we catch lots, pop their heads off, and freeze them in a little bit of water in a ziploc bag. Then, when we want shrimp for supper, we thaw them out and peel them.

  7. Kristen says:

    Question – what about the vein-y thing on the underside? I never know whether to cut it out or not. Sometimes I do, sometimes I just do the top one. I am interested to hear what other people do!
    We love shrimp around here! We moved from AZ to CA and I cannot get enough shrimp.

    1. Serena says:

      The vein-y thing on the underside is actually a sand sack. I always clean it by making a slit on the underside and removing it. I am very particular about how my fish is cleaned. I always ordered shrimp with lobster from my take-out place, until I saw that the sand sack had not been removed. I dumped it and have not ordered it for over two years. When I order shrimp in a restaurant, I ask them if they cleaned both sides of the shrimp. It’s amazing, I watch all of the cooking shows, and none of the TV chefs clean out the sand sack. They only de-vein them. Hope this helps you.

  8. swetha says:

    That is exactly how we do it at home in South India! Great tutorial!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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