How to Grill Shrimp 101: Light My Fire

They might be tiny, but they’re mighty! Something magic happens when shrimp are kissed by fire. This guide will walk you through how to grill shrimp and have you clicking your tongs eagerly as you plan your next cook out.

Grilled shrimp skewers
Grilled shrimp skewers over hot coals

With the average American eating over four pounds of shrimp annually, shrimp are a popular choice when it comes to picking what to throw on the grill. Whether you’re looking to pair them up for a surf and turf feast or letting them shine on their own, these quick cooking crustaceans are always a crowd pleaser.

Regardless of how you plan on serving them, it always starts with the freshest shrimp. As self-proclaimed shrimp snobs, we only source flavor-rich species. Our sustainably sourced shrimp are free of additives and Individually Quick-Frozen. When you start with the best, it doesn’t take much to allow them to shine.

Why Grill Shrimp?

There is nothing more primal than cooking food over fire. Regardless of what type of grill you call your own, it’s a full sensory experience. From lighting your grill and minding the flames to watching them lap at your food creating that irresistible aromatic char, grilling is always an event.

Due to their lean meat and size, shrimp take only minutes to grill making them a fun appetizer or perfect weeknight meal. Cooking them at high heat allows them to cook quickly while retaining their snappy texture and intensifying their natural sweetness.

When you grill shrimp, you are opened to endless opportunities to add flavors, from marinating to basting, or just keeping it simple with a little seasoning and squeeze of charred citrus. However you serve them up, this guide will cover everything from what size shrimp is best for grilling to different methods of grilling shrimp. So get out your tongs, pour a cold brew, and let’s dive in.

Black tiger grilled shrimp recipe
Smoke Doctor BBQ uses organic chili lime sea salt, pepper, and lemon on our black tiger shrimp before hitting the grill.

What Size Shrimp are Best for Grilling?

While all size shrimp are suited for grilling, some methods of cooking them on your grill are better suited to different sizes. Here at LobsterAnywhere we carry both 8-12 per pound and 16-20 per pound shrimp. These colossal sizes are the most versatile. From creating the ultimate shrimp kabobs to cooking up a shrimp skillet on the grill, they stand up to both the high heat and also different marinades. Learn more about how shrimp are sized.

Smaller shrimp aren’t always the best option for skewering but do work well in quick cooking cast iron or In addition to the size of shrimp, learn more about the different kinds of shrimp.

Shrimp on a Stick

It has to be a proven fact somewhere that food on a stick is just more fun. As soon as the skewers come out, the party begins. These hand held fiesta ready treats allow you to cook multiple shrimp at a time and flip them easily. There’s no chasing tail with this method to grill shrimp.

There are tips though to creating the ultimate shrimp skewer.

To begin with, it starts with the skewers themselves. Metal skewers are always optimal. There’s no need to soak them and no worry of them catching fire or getting singed. However, wood skewers are readily available, make for easy cleanup, and are budget friendly. We recommend using flat skewers to prevent the shrimp from spinning too much over round skewers. With just a little prep these classic grilling accessories will have you being the star of your next backyard barbecue.

  • Always presoak your wood/bamboo skewers. You can either slow soak them by submerging them in cool water for an hour, or quick soak them by pouring hot water over the skewers and letting them sit for 15 minutes.
  • In addition to soaking them in water, you can also add a little salt to the water, stirring to dissolve before adding your skewers. The salt helps in both preventing the skewers from singing, and also lightly seasons the shrimp.

Shrimp Sidekicks

In addition to what type of skewers you use, it’s always good to be mindful of what you add to your skewers. The idea of a surf and turf kabob might seem fun, but different proteins cook at different rates. Pair shrimp with chicken and you might be left with raw chicken or overcooked shrimp. There’s nothing like raw meat or rubbery shrimp to instantly put the fizzle in your shrimp sizzle.

Pick foods with similar cook times, and also similar sizes. We love pairing shrimp with smoked sausage for an appetizer with a kick. Here are a few more protein pairings.

  • Pancetta
  • Steak tips (bite size pieces)
  • Sirloin
  • Filet Mignon Bites
  • Ribeye

Many vegetable options also pair perfectly with the quick cook time of shrimp. Stick with seasonal vegetables. Have fun playing with fresh flavors and different flavor profiles!

  • Baby peppers
  • Onions
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Baby Artichokes
  • Baby Bok chow
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Pineapple chunks or rings
  • Mango
  • Blood Oranges
  • Fennel
  • Button Mushrooms
  • Baby or mini potatoes

Chili marinted  grilled shrimp
Smoke Doctor BBQ grilled up a surf and turf dream wtih citrus, chili marinted shrimp and sirloin.

To Marinate, or not to Marinate?

Have you ever bitten into a shrimp and instantly cringed at the slightly mushy texture? Chances are that the shrimp was left too long in a marinade. Unlike other proteins such as beef that can benefit from long spa soaks in a marinade, shrimp don’t require that much time.

When using a marinade that contains any type of acid such as citrus or vinegar, it only takes 15 minutes up to an hour to reap the benefits of the flavors. The larger your shrimp, the more time you have to marinate.

However oil based marinades are a great option that will allow you to use the prep it and forget it approach. You can easily create a flavor packed oil based marinade by adding your favorite herbs, spices, and aromatics such as garlic or shallots to olive oil or a neutral flavored oil. In addition you can still infuse that kiss of citrus without using any acid simply by adding citrus zest.

Basting is always a good option when you grill shrimp. The same flavors that you might put in your favorite marinade can easily be added while grilling. For extra flavor swap out your favorite basting brush for hearty herbs such as rosemary or sprigs of thyme.

Wok this Way

Some things are timelessly classic, and cast-iron cooking over fire is one of them. Cast iron skillets are perfectly suited to the intense heat of live fire while still evenly distributing that heat. If you’re looking to get a little saucy, cast iron is the way to go. This is a great way to grill shrimp if you’re adding them to something else such as pasta and also a fun grill to table readymade appetizer. Throw on some crusty bread to get a little charred, give those shrimps a splash of wine as you pour a glass for yourself, and you’re on your way to an effortless and easy happy hour at home.

Besides cooking shrimp evenly and quickly on the grill while allowing you to create layers of flavors and different sauces, the cast iron skillet will ensure your food stays warm while you prepare the rest of your grill feast. Simply move it over to the indirect side of your grill.

In addition to cast iron cooking on the grill, wok cooking has become a popular way of getting outside and creating a complete meal over fire in a hurry. From the Big Green Egg to the classic Weber kettle, many of today’s grills have wok accessories. Skip the takeout and have fun creating your favorite shrimp fried rice, shrimp Pad Thai, or shrimp lo mein.

All that Sizzles

Closely related to cast iron cooking is cooking with a griddle or plancha. These flat top surfaces that can either be an insert to your grill or a thing unto themselves allow you to get that caramelized crust all over your shrimp. If you’re thinking about making shrimp tacos or fajitas, this might be a great option to grill shrimp.

Just like cast iron cooking the heat is evenly distributed and the flat surface helps build a charred crust on the outside while still giving the shrimp that snappy bite. The flat surface combined with a spatula also makes it easy to flip multiple shrimp at once, until the regular grates of a grill when shrimp aren’t skewered.

What Time and Temperature Should I Grill Shrimp?

It doesn’t matter if you getting your charcoal going in your chimney or turning on your gas grill, two things remain the same when it comes to how you grill shrimp. You want to cook them hot and fast, and you want to always make sure you don’t overcook them. Just like other methods for cooking shrimp, when you get the time and temperature right, you will have perfect shrimp every time.

Shrimp are a great protein to cook at a high heat, but you don’t want the heat so high that they burn. Always aim to keep your grill at between 350-450 degrees. The cook time will vary slightly depending on the size of your shrimp, but the average time is no more than two minutes per side. The opaque will turn while, and they will deepen to a pinkish-orange with a light char.

An instant read thermometer is a handy tool to have just to ensure you lock in on that magic number. When it doubt, temp check. For succulent shrimp that are perfectly cooked with the best texture we recommend cooking them to 120 degrees.

BBQ grilled shrimp
Smoke Doctor BBQ grilled up our black tiger shrimp with a Spanish rub.

How to Grill Shrimp

Time needed: 4 minutes

With just a few easy tips you will be grilling up the ultimate surf celebration!

  1. Prepare your shrimp

    Make sure your shrimp are fully defrosted and patted dry. Whether you prefer to grill them with their shell on is completely up to you but we like to peel them and devein them.

  2. Season your shrimp

    After you have dried off your shrimp you can add them to a marinade or simply season them with your favorite rub.

  3. Prepare Your Skewers

    If using bamboo skewers, soak them in advance to help prevent them from charring too quickly.

  4. Preheat Your Grill

    Prepare your charcoal or preheat your gas grill to 350-450 degrees, leaving yourself a cool zone. This will allow you to transfer your shrimp over to a cooler side if they get too hot. If you are going to be using a wok, cast iron skillet, plancha, or griddle preheat it also.

  5. Time Matters

    Cook your shrimp approximately 2 minutes per side. They will darken in color, begin to curl, and their tails will get slightly charred. The internal temperature should be 120 degrees. If it looks like your shrimp is cooking too quickly transfer them over to your cool zone for indirect cooking.

  6. Finishing Touch

    Serve your grilled shrimp with your favorite sauce, give them a squeeze of charred citrus, or pair them with your favorite turf to this grilled surf. The possibilities are endless!

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Grill Shrimp

How long do I grill shrimp for?

Shrimp cook quickly, especially at the high heat of grilling. They only need about 2 minutes per side.

What temperature do I heat my grill to?

You want to heat your grill to 350-450 degrees. This will allow the shrimp to cook at a high heat without burning.

How long do I marinate shrimp for?

If using a marinade with acid in it you want to marinate your shrimp for 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon the size.

Why should I skewer shrimp?

Shrimp cook extremely fast. Skewering shrimp will allow you to flip multiple shrimp at a time. In addition it’s a great way to add other components to the dish.

When should I use a cast iron skillet on the grill?

Using a cast iron skillet is a great way to cook shrimp on the grill it they are smaller, or if you plan on making a sauce with them.

When should I use a plancha or griddle on the grill?

Cooking on a griddle or plancha is a fantastic way to create a beautiful crust on both sides of the shrimp and get more caramelization. If you’re wanting to cook shrimp tacos or shrimp fajitas this is a great option.

How long should I soak wood skewers for when I grill shrimp?

If soaking your skewers in cold water soak them for an hour. You can speed up the process by pouring hot water over the wooden skewers.

Fire It Up!

With 7 out of 10 adults owning a grill in the United States, grilling is both a popular past time and popular way to cook. Grilling shrimp is a great way to expand your grilling repertoire while adding lean protein rich in nutrients to your diet. In addition it’s quick cooking time makes it ideal for weeknight meals, and it’s versatility allows it to be the star of the show or companion to any of your favorite proteins for a surf and turf feast.

However you decide to fire it up, always start with the best shrimp. You will be the family hero and talk of the neighborhood when your shrimp from LobsterAnywhere hit the grill. To see more ways to cook up shrimp, please see all the best cooking methods for shrimp.

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