Rarely overlooked but often overcooked, shrimp are the shellfish that home cooks love to screw up. Despite the pitfalls that often come with this beloved protein, there are tricks that can help make shrimping on the barbie a smash hit, every time. Chief Ashley Lonsdale of ButcherBox offers essential tips for grilling the perfect shrimp.
There are, to hear Lonsdale say, more than 300 species of shrimp, most of which are classified by color. “Gulf white shrimp, the most ubiquitous variety in North America, can be fished from New Jersey all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,” she says. Shrimp are also classified by size. “A label that says 21/25 means there are 21 to 25 individual shrimp per pound,” says Lonsdale. This information can help determine the appropriate cooking time, she notes.
The time it takes to grill the shrimp depends on their size and whether you prefer to cook them with the head and shells on, which she says adds about a minute, sometimes a little less, to the overall cooking time. “The large shrimp (16/20) should take about two to three minutes per side on a hot grill,” says Lonsdale. (THE The USDA recommends shrimp reach an internal cooking temperature of 145 degrees before eating.)
To avoid overcooking, Lonsdale recommends using a grill. “Because shrimp cook quickly, it’s crucial to develop good Arctic char as quickly as possible,” she says. She also suggests drying the shellfish well before grilling them. “If I’m not camping and I have access to a kitchen, I’ll use J. Kenji López-Alt’s refrigerator technique,” she says. This technique involves uncovering the shrimp and refrigerating them for an hour to promote browning and allow them to dry out before they reach the hot grill.
Another useful tip for keeping the interior of shrimp super soft: skewers. “Shrimp nestled on skewers protect the interior flesh from overcooking, allowing a little more time on the grill to develop color and texture,” says Lonsdale. “Before grilling, brush your seasoned shrimp skewers with olive oil to increase charring and prevent sticking.” Also, make sure the grill grates are clean, she advises, as shrimp are especially prone to sticking to the grates if they aren’t properly seasoned and cleaned from previous grilling sessions.
And, of course, another way to promote best grilling practices is to start by choosing a quality product. The better the shrimp, the better the result, and that extends to moisture retention at the end. “Choose wild-caught shrimp for the best flavor and durability,” says Lonsdale. “And don’t be afraid of frozen shrimp. It may be of higher quality than fresh options and is easy to thaw quickly.