How to Tell if Shrimp is Cooked: How to Perfectly Cook Shrimp Every Time

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“Anyway, like I was saying, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it…” Forrest Gump (1994)

Shrimp and their cousin prawns are the kings of seafood. Sure, lobster seems fancier, but the humble shrimp takes the crown for me. They taste great no matter how they are cooked, and can be found in almost every kind of cuisine.

But all this is only true if the shrimp is cooked correctly. This can be quite a conundrum for those who aren’t used to cooking. Novices often wonder how to tell if shrimp is cooked through properly.

That’s what I’ll be discussing today, so keep reading to discover everything about cooking shrimps.

What are the Different Ways to Cook Shrimp?

Before we start going into cooking shrimp the right way, let’s take a quick peek at all the awesome ways to cook shrimp.

Sauteing shrimp, or cooking shrimp in a pan with some olive oil, butter, seasoning, and garlic may be the easiest way to make a knock-out dish. To pan cook shrimp, simply sear them on each side for a minute, before deglazing the pan with stock or white wine. Pan sear shrimp goes amazingly well as a wide with pasta, rice, noodles, and bread.

However, you can also grill shrimp on skewers, broil it in the oven, cook it into seafood soups and stews. Shrimp can also be grilled on the stove if you don’t have a BBQ grill.

How to grill shrimp on the stove? Use a grill pan or cast-iron skillet, or just hold the skewers over the flame.

Meanwhile, there are other ways to cook shrimp as well. Shrimp can be cooked into a curry, used to make fillings for dumplings, and included in salads, shrimp toast, and countless other dishes.

If you have a steamer basket, you can even steam whole shrimp on the stove for a slightly healthier alternative. And of course, you can make things like shrimp alfredo, shrimp-based noodles and ramen, and even shrimp pilaf and fried rice.

How to Tell When Shrimp is Cooked

how to tell if shrimp is cooked

So, how can you tell if shrimp is cooked through? When is shrimp done, and will this differ depending on the cooking method? How can you identify perfectly cooked shrimp while it is still cooking?

Appearance:

Well, for starters, you can tell by the color. Raw shrimp is grayish-white when raw, and when cooked becomes pink with red accents. Once the opaque grayness is all gone, you will know that your shrimp is ready.

Internal Temperature:

Shrimp temperature is another way to gauge doneness. The internal temp of shrimp when cooked perfectly is 120F, so you can check with a probe thermometer or infrared thermometer to see if the shrimp is ready.

Cooking Time:

You can also use time as a way to estimate when your shrimp is ready. Shrimp takes anywhere from two to five minutes to be cooked completely. This applies to all cooking methods. 

However, size will generally determine the cooking length. Smaller shrimp will be ready in 2 minutes, but cooking jumbo shrimp will take up to 4/5 minutes.

Shape:

However, the shape of your shrimp is the best way to identify the perfect doneness. Raw shrimp is mostly straight, with just the faintest hint of a curl. But as the shrimp cooks, it contracts and curls up. 

Shrimp that is cooked through perfectly is shaped like a C. On the other hand, if your shrimp are curled completely, and is O-shaped, it is overcooked.

The Pitfalls of Ill-Cooked Shrimp

Before we go any further, let’s step back and look at what happens if your shrimp isn’t cooked to the perfect doneness. There’s a good chance that you already know what happens if you eat undercooked shrimp.

The same thing that happens when eating any non-sushi-grade seafood: food poisoning. Undercooked shrimp can give you an upset stomach, nausea/vomiting, a fever, and other symptoms that can put you out of commission for a week.

So eating undercooked shrimp is a big no-no. But what about overcooked shrimp? The good news is that overcooked shrimp won’t make you sick. But the texture of shrimp cooked too long is just disappointing.

Perfectly cooked shrimp has a firm, yet soft texture, almost al dente. On the other hand, the overcooked shrimp texture is rubbery and chewy. Tough shrimp isn’t fun to eat, and overcooked shrimp means you miss out on juicy, meaty shrimp that absorbs other flavors very well.

Cooking Shrimp the Right Way

cooking shrimp in a pan

Regardless of your cooking method, there are a few things you can do to make sure you end up with fully cooked shrimp that is flavorful and soft. To begin with, cook fresh raw shrimp and devein and clean them.

You can snip off the heads (but save them for stocks), trim off the feet, and deshell and get rid of the vein. What happens if you don’t devein shrimp? 

Nothing really, as the bacteria in the shrimps’ gut are killed during the cooking process. However, the vein can muddy your dish and come off as ‘unclean’ to your dinner guests.

To avoid overcooking shrimp, simply wait until they are C-shaped and bright red. This will take no longer than 2-3 minutes, so don’t cook them for longer than this time, unless the shrimp are very large.

Make sure your pot or pan is nice and hot before adding in your shrimp. When boiling shrimp, leave the shells on as they contain crazy amounts of flavor. Season the cooking liquid with things like garlic salt, pepper, paprika, and dried herbs.

Dunk your shrimp into boiling water, and simmer them for 2-3 minutes. After this time, you can use a spider strainer to remove them from the pot and shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process.

When grilling shrimp on skewers, do not add vegetables like onions, mushrooms, or bell peppers to the skewers. They take longer to cook, so while your shrimp are cooked through, they will remain raw. Use only shrimp on your skewers and grill for 2 minutes.

The best way to season cooked shrimp is to use flavorful melted butter. Season the hot melted butter with black pepper, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, or Italian seasoning. Allow them to cool a little, before spooning over your shrimp.

Still Have Questions?

Here you will find answers to questions people have about cooking shrimp.

01. How Do I Cook Shrimp Correctly?

Since shrimp is plenty flavorful on its own, the best way to make sure it is cooked right is to not overcook it. As soon as their color changes, and the shrimp curls into a C-shape, take it off the heat.

02. What is the Best Method for Cooking Shrimp?

Pan searing shrimp on high for a minute on each side is the best way to preserve the flavor and texture of this shellfish. You can then add veggies, or use the shrimp as a side for rice or noodles.

03. Which Seasonings Go Well with Shrimp?

Lemon juice, butter, and black pepper are a simple, yet classic addition to shrimp. Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning, crushed chili flakes, garlic powder, dill, and capers are all great flavors that go with shrimp and other seafood.

Final Word

It goes without saying that overcooking your shrimp is a surefire way to wreck the delicacy of these amazing shellfish. Since you now know 4 ways how to tell if shrimp is cooked, there is no risk of under or overcooking shrimp. 

So go ahead- bake them, boil them, sauté them, or grill them─ they’ll be tender, juicy, and delicious no matter how they are prepared.

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