A quick and easy method for how to clean and devein fresh shrimp that answers all your questions about leaving the tail on, saving shrimp shells, and more!
Cleaning shrimp is easy to do and can save you a few dollars as an alternative to buying deveined and cleaned shrimp.
We’ve all seen the EZ-peel, pre-peeled, or cleaned shrimp in the store, but with this easy kitchen skill, you can buy better quality shrimp for the same amount of money or less!
Is cleaning shrimp really necessary?
Some people will say absolutely and some people will say no. Technically speaking, you don’t HAVE to clean your shrimp, but should you clean your shrimp? Yes!
When looking at a piece of uncleaned shrimp, you may have noticed a black line running down the back of the shrimp. Some people call it a vein and removing it is called deveining shrimp.
However, that vein is also the shrimp’s digestive tract. Now, is it safe to eat? Technically, also yes, but many people are grossed out by it and I think it looks better and is cleaner to remove before cooking.
When do you clean shrimp?
While you can clean shrimp after they’ve been cooked, I find it easier to clean them when raw. In some cases, you may want to cook the raw shrimp with their shells on or leave the tails on when making certain recipes.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Clean shrimp before cooking when making Shrimp Spaghetti, Bang Bang Shrimp, or Air Fryer Shrimp.
- Clean shrimp after cooking when making something like shrimp salad. Since it’s served cold, you can poach the shrimp in their shells to produce more flavor.
- Leave the tails on when making shrimp cocktail, grilled shrimp, or coconut shrimp. Leaving the tails on the shrimp makes a nice presentation and can also double as a “handle” when eating with your hands.
Did you know you can eat the shell?! I have never done it, but I do know some people enjoy eating the shrimp shell.
What is the best way to clean shrimp?
Cleaning shrimp is easy. You don’t need any special tools, just a pairing knife or a pair of kitchen sheers. This is the easiest way to clean shrimp:
1. Start with buying shrimp. Fresh or frozen shrimp are great. I always go for the largest size I can find. If they are wild caught in the US, even better! Those can be hard to find if you aren’t shopping at one of your local fish markets.
2. Slice into the shell. Using a sharp pairing knife and starting from the top of the shrimp (where the head was), make a shallow slice right through the shell on the shrimp’s back, all the way to the tail.
You can also use your kitchen shears to cut right through the shell.
3. Devein shrimp. Remove the black vein that runs along the back of the shrimp (where you made the cut). This is the shrimp’s digestive track, so you can discard it. You can use your fingers to do this or the tip of a pairing knife.
4. Remove the shell. Gently peel back the shell, starting at the opening you made on the back of the shrimp. Work your way down to the tail, then give the tail a pinch to remove.
If you want to leave the tails on, break the shell at the base where it meets the tail.
5. Rinse the shrimp. Once the shells are removed and the shrimp are deveined, rinse them under cold running water. Lay the shrimp on a paper towel to dry.
How do you get the poop line off shrimp?
I recommend using a sharp paring knife and holding the shrimp firmly in one hand while gently making a shallow cut down the backside of the shrimp.
Once that cut has been made, use the tip of that same knife and pull out or gently scrape out the vein.
How to thaw frozen shrimp
If you are using frozen shrimp, place the shrimp you want to use in a medium or large bowl (depending how many shrimp you have). Fill the bowl with cool (not warm) water. You may need to refill the bowl a few times until the shrimp are completely thawed.
Do I wash shrimp before cooking?
I recommend rinsing your shrimp in cold water to remove any broken shell pieces from the shrimp or leftover vein.
Don’t forget to pat your shrimp dry with paper towels to remove excess water.
Is the vein in shrimp poop?
The dark vein in shrimp is an intestinal tract that is brown or black in color depending on when the shrimp was caught.
The track could possibly contain poop, but it is also a filter for grit and sand. Personally, I don’t advise eating it, but it’s also not harmful to your body if consumed.
What to do with shrimp shells
There are several sustainable options to repurpose shrimp shells. You can use the shells to make seafood stock for soup (it’s perfect for Shrimp Pho) or you can toss them in your garden to enrich the soil.
Shrimp Sizes Broken Down
Did you know shrimp comes in seven different sizes?
The two most popular sizes are large and jumbo shrimp, however, you have so many options when it comes to shrimp sizing and how many come in a pound.
It’s best to shop for shrimp by the number of shrimp their are per pound, rather than “small, medium, large” because each vendor might have a different idea of what large shrimp are.
Miniature Shrimp. These are great for egg rolls and recipes with many ingredients. In 1 pound, you will get about 100 mini shrimp.
Small Shrimp. If you are making DIY sushi or other delicate recipes then smaller shrimp are perfect. In a 1 pound bag, you will find anywhere between 36-45 shrimp.
Medium Shrimp. Best for pasta salads or topping a nice green salad. Per pound you will get 31-35 medium shrimp.
Large Shrimp. A great option for appetizers or meaty shrimp fajitas and shrimp tacos, large shrimp offer 21-30 shrimp per one-pound bag.
Extra Large Shrimp. A great size for shrimp skewers or shrimp kabobs, extra large shrimp typically come with 16-20 shrimp per 1 pound bag.
Jumbo Shrimp. One of the largest sizes of shrimp available and a great option for recipes where shrimp are the star, jumbo shrimp offer 11-15 pieces of shrimp per pound. This is what I typically buy because I prefer larger shrimp.
Colossal Shrimp. Perfect for meaty appetizers or impressing guests. With a 1 pound bag of colossal shrimp, you will find about 10 or fewer pieces of shrimp.
Best Shrimp Recipes
There are many different ways to prepare shrimp. In fact, shrimp are one of my favorite things to cook! Here are some of my favorite shrimp recipes:
How To Clean Shrimp
- Using a sharp pairing knife and starting from the top of the shrimp (where the head was), make a shallow slice right through the shell on the shrimp’s back, all the way to the tail. Alternatively, you can also use your kitchen shears to cut right through the shell.
- Remove the black vein that runs along the back of the shrimp and discard (where you made the cut).
- Rinse the shrimp under cold water and lay on a paper towel to dry.
- Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and season with garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Toss to coat.
- Melt butter in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, place the shrimp in the pan in a single layer. Cook for 3-4 minutes then flip and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp are fully cooked.