How to Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

Shrimp is a favorite seafood for many people, and these tasty little crustaceans can be cooked in many different ways. For this recipe, we’re going to show you how to cook shrimp in a heavy skillet on your stovetop. Before long, you’ll be a pro at cooking shrimp. 

The secret to cooking these stovetop shrimp is that you can’t walk away from them. They cook in just a few minutes, and they can easily become overcooked.

What’s so special about shrimp? These bite-sized little treats have a briny and sweet flavor, but one of the things we love most about shrimp (besides the taste!) is that they’re so quick and easy to cook.

how long to cook shrimp on stove

Cooking shrimp is a great way to add some variety to your main dish dinner rotation recipe options, and there are just a few special nuances you need to look for when you’re sizzling them in a cast iron skillet. Don’t leave your shrimp’s side. They need you to keep them from overcooking.

Skillet cooking with this shrimp recipe. With just a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, you’ll have dinner ready to eat in minutes. Are you ready to hear how to cook shrimp and how long to cook shrimp? Let’s dive in and learn how to quickly defrost frozen shrimp, get it ready to cook, and serve it up to your family.

The Benefits of Frozen Shrimp

Is fresh really always best? Not really. When it comes to shrimp, frozen is the best to buy. If grocery stores are selling raw shrimp, farmed shrimp, or precooked shrimp in their seafood department that’s not frozen, there’s a good chance that it came to them frozen, and they’ve defrosted and cooked it. The problem with this is that once shrimp isn’t frozen anymore, the texture and quality begin to decline.

cooking shrimp

After shrimp sits for a few days in the ice in the seafood display, the shrimp becomes mushy. When you buy frozen shrimp, you’re in control of this process.

We like to buy shrimp that has been individually quick frozen (IQF). These shrimp have been laid out individually and frozen that way so that they don’t stick together when they’re bagged up.

IQF shrimp are typically sold in 1-pound or 2-pound bags shortly after they’ve been harvested, and they have the freshest taste.

To thaw frozen shrimp, you have two options to thaw shrimp.

  • Allow the shrimp to sit in the bag overnight in the refrigerator. You can leave them in the bag they come in.
  • Place shrimp in a colander in the kitchen sink. Run the shrimp under cold water until they’re defrosted. This will take just about 3 minutes.

Devein Shrimp and Clean

Once you’ve defrosted your shrimp, it’s time to devein and clean them if they’ve not already been cleaned and deveined. To clean the shrimp and remove the crustacean’s digestive tract, it’s pretty easy. You can leave the shells on the shrimp if you want to do that, but be sure you devein them.

How to Devein and Peel Shrimp

Peeling Shrimp

When you peel and devein your shrimp, you get butterfly shrimp, which is one of the most desirable ways to enjoy this delicious seafood. The digestive tract of shrimp looks like a black vein that runs down the back. For many people, this is unappealing.

First, remove the shrimp’s shell. To do this, use kitchen shears for cutting along the back of the shrimp. Starting just below the shrimp’s head, cut down to the tail. If you want to leave the shrimp’s tail on, that’s fine. For some recipes, this enhances the flavor of your finished dish.

To peel your shrimp, flip it over. Start gently pulling the shell away from the shrimp and open it at the bottom by the legs. Then, hold the body of the shrimp firmly as you pull off the entire tail. If you’re going to keep your shrimp’s tail on, tear the outer shell away carefully from where the shell joins the leg juncture.

Deveining Shrimp

With a paring knife, make a shallow, extended cut down the entire length of the shrimp. Stop at the tail. You can usually see the vein under the shrimp’s muscle and use this as a guide. Pull the vein out using your fingers or the tip of a wooden toothpick.

One tip we like is to place the vein onto a wet, folded paper town at the corner of the cutting board you’re using. This way, the vein sticks to the paper towel and won’t disappear on you.

Deveining Shrimp

Once you have cleaned and deveined fresh shrimp, you can cook them in your skillet or air fryer, or you can make baked shrimp. You can also boil shrimp or steam shrimp. Other recipes include Cajun shrimp, grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce, shrimp ceviche, coconut shrimp, garlic butter shrimp over pasta, sautéed shrimp, a shrimp boil, pan fried shrimp, honey garlic shrimp, shrimp scampi, and baked shrimp.

Thoroughly Dry the Shrimp’s Surface

Once you’ve washed, cleaned, and deveined your shrimp, you need to dry your deveined shrimp before you cook them in a skillet on the stovetop. While the shrimp is raw, place it in layers on a baking sheet that’s lined with dry paper towels. Using more paper towels, pay the shrimp dry until the surface of the shrimp is no longer wet.

Drying the surface of the shrimp is important because a dry surface allows for proper searing in the hot olive oil. Searing dry shrimp creates an even more delicious browning flavor. If the shrimp is still wet before searing, the shrimp will steam, and that inhibits the browning and searing.

Add Seasonings for Flavor Enhancement

Another idea is to sprinkle fresh herbs, garlic powder, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, soy sauce, or Old Bay Seasoning on your cooked shrimp. This can include chopped fresh parsley. Be sure to serve your cooked shrimp with lemon wedges or lemon slices and squeeze the lemon juice on top. Lime juice is great, too.

You can also add some fresh minced garlic, smoked paprika, or crushed red pepper flakes.

How to Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

Are you ready to start cooking your delicious pan seared shrimp? Heat your 12-inch cast iron skillet or another heavy skillet on the stovetop over medium high heat. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the skillet. Once the oil starts shimmering, you’ll know it’s nice and hot. Don’t allow the oil to reach a smoke level.

Add the shrimp to the skillet in a single layer. This will ensure that they’re evenly cooked. You need to add the shrimp to the skillet fairly quickly so that they all cook evenly and are ready to be flipped at approximately the same time.

how long to cook shrimp

The shrimp are ready to be flipped when they begin to change color. How long to cook shrimp on stove? The bottoms will start to turn pink after approximately 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, flip the shrimp over quickly. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until they’re pink on both sides. The cooked shrimp will be loosely curled in a “C” shape, and they’ll be opaque.

Remove the Shrimp from the Skillet Immediately

It’s easy to make the common mistake of leaving the shrimp in the skillet after you cook them. After all, if you feed your family buffet style, everyone may fix their plates right at the stove. However, you can’t do this with shrimp.

If the shrimp stay in the skillet for even an additional minute, they’re at risk of becoming overcooked shrimp. The skillet will stay hot, especially if you use a cast iron pan.

When your shrimp is finished cooking, transfer them to a serving platter, plate, or bowl immediately.

How to Know When Your Shrimp is Finished Cooking

Here are some ways to know when your shrimp is finished cooking. Large shrimp, jumbo shrimp, or colossal shrimp will take just a few seconds longer to cook.

  • The area closest to the head of the shrimp is the thickest part. This will turn opaque when the shrimp is ready to eat.
  • The shrimp will change colors. Raw shrimp is translucent, and cooked shrimp becomes opaque.
  • The muscle of the shrimp will curl into a “C” shape that’s loose. When the shape of the shrimp becomes like a tight “O,” the shrimp is overcooked.
  • Depending on the shrimp type, most raw shrimp is gray in color. Fully cooked shrimp will turn pinkish.
  • You can use an instant-read thermometer to test the shrimp’s temperature. Fully cooked shrimp should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit when measured at the thickest part.

Look for Color Changes

The best way to know if shrimp is ready to eat is to rely on visual cues. The shrimp’s color will change from whitish gray to a pinkish color in just seconds in the skillet.

Food science is what causes these changes to occur as shrimp is cooked. The proteins in the shrimp’s muscles are denatured because of the heat. At this point, a pigmentation called astaxanthin becomes released. Astaxanthin transforms until it becomes pink. This occurs when the shrimp’s internal temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

how to cook shrimp on the stovetop

How to Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

Cooking shrimp on the stovetop is quick and easy! The secret to this delicious recipe is not walking away from the shrimp. Because they cook so quickly, these crustaceans need your close attention.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 18 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 181 kcal

Equipment

  • Colander
  • Skillet
  • Instant-Read Thermometer

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. 16/20 count size shrimp deveined and peeled
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. minced parsley
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • Lemon wedges

Instructions
 

  • If you use frozen shrimp, allow the shrimp to defrost overnight in the refrigerator. If you need to quick-defrost your shrimp for same-day cooking, put the shrimp in a colander and place the colander in the sink. Then, run cold tap water over the shrimp for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp aren't icy anymore. If you're using peeled shrimp, you're good to go.
  • Drain the shrimp thoroughly, then pat them dry with paper towels.
  • Combine 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, the shrimp, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper in a medium bowl. Toss to mix all of the ingredients well.
  • Heat a cast iron pan or other heavy 12-inch skillet on the stovetop over medium high heat.
  • When the skillet is heated, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When the olive oil is hot (before it starts to smoke), add shrimp to the skillet in a single layer.
  • Watch the shrimp closely and cook them without moving until they start to turn pink on the bottom. The shrimp will start curling, and in about 2 minutes, they're ready to be flipped.
  • Flip the shrimp quickly and cook just until their pink. They will curl into a loose "C" shape. This cook time is just 1 minute.
  • Transfer the shrimp to a serving dish immediately. Don't allow them to remain in the skillet because they will keep cooking and become overcooked.
  • Garnish the cooked shrimp with fresh parsley and serve them with a lemon wedge.

Nutrition

Calories: 181kcalFat: 9gCholesterol: 289mg
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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