How to Make Classic Shrimp Cocktail

Channel your inner George Costanza and double dip with this snappy, fresh, easy, and savory Shrimp Cocktail Recipe that celebrates the pure flavor of one of our favorite gifts from the sea. This classic appetizer always gets a party started and is ideal for any occasion.

Part of what is in a shrimp cocktail is what makes it so appealing as a dish to entertain with. At its very core it’s simply gently poach shrimp served with a dipping sauce which is often the tangy ketchup based cocktail sauce. It can be as effortless as shrimp poached in lightly salted water or as elaborate as shrimp cooked in a court bouillon with plenty of aromatics, sunny lemons, and herbs.

Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

What is Shrimp Cocktail?

All of us seafood lovers have at one time or another indulged in sweet and succulent shrimp draped over a cocktail glass or sitting pertly in a plastic container from the grocery store. Whether high brow and classy at a steak house or quick and easy while shopping, shrimp cocktail is a beloved dish enjoyed around the world. But what exactly is shrimp cocktail?

Shrimp cocktail, or prawn cocktail, is a seafood dish that can be traced back to ancient times in many forms. Its popularity grew during the 1920s along with its name. With Prohibition in full effect in America, the shrimp began being served in cocktail glasses. The popularity of this seafood cocktail took off in Las Vegas during the 1950s when casinos began selling this dish at cheap prices in large volumes.

The Perfect Shrimp for Your Cocktail

Not all shrimp are created equal and suited to making shrimp cocktail. different species of shrimp and certain sizes are more ideal for creating the perfect shrimp cocktail recipe. There’s nothing more magnificent than diving into jumbo shrimp cocktail. Larger shrimp not only make for a more impressive presentation, but also have the ideal texture for poaching and boiling shrimp for shrimp cocktail. These are the two most common methods for how to cook shrimp cocktail.

Size matters when purchasing shrimp to create your shrimp cocktail. For the best flavor and texture, look for shrimp that are at least 16/20, or colossal. This means that there will be 16/20 shrimp per pound. Our super colossal shrimp that are 8-12 shrimp per pound will truly wow friends and family.

Selecting the Right Shrimp

Aside from size, there are more things you should consider when purchasing your shrimp for your shrimp cocktail recipe. Here are some tips for selecting the ideal shrimp.

Wild Caught ShrimpFarm Raised Shrimp
Not all wild caught shrimp recommended. Always make sure that your wild caught shrimp is sustainably sourced. In addition, Argentine red shrimp caught in Argentina isn’t recommended at all because of fishing practices.Always look for farm raised shrimp that are environmentally sound or wild caught shrimp that are sustainably sourced. There are pros and cons to both farm raised and wild caught shrimp.
Always avoid shrimp with preservatives, phosphates, additives, or antibiotics. Look for farm raised shrimp that is raised without chemicals or artificial feed. You can even find shrimp certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, or BAP.
Certain species of shrimp are better suited for shrimp cocktail. Tiger shrimp, pink shrimp, and white shrimp are all great options while rock shrimp is usually used for more delicate dishes like pasta. Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium has farmed tiger shrimp from Vietnam that are raised in mangroves such as our colossal shrimp rated as a best choice.
Buy brown, pink, and white shrimp except when caught by skimmer trawl vessels less than 40 feet long outside of Florida state waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Turtle bycatch is an issue when shrimp are caught by these smaller skimmer trawl vesselsAvoid white leg shrimp farmed in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, or Vietnam (intensive ponds only).

Step-by-Step Guide: Preparing Your Shrimp Cocktail

Knowing how to make shrimp cocktail is an easy cooking skill that will make you feel like a rockstar for any occasion. With just a few simple steps and tips you can easily throw together this classic appetizer. Boiling shrimp for shrimp cocktail requires minimal ingredients and almost no effort at all.

  • Defrost your shrimp overnight. For the best results, allow the shrimp to gently defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Peel and devein your shrimp if necessary. Feel free to leave the tails on as not only does it make for a beautiful presentation, they’re also nature’s handle.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil. You can add aromatics if desired like garlic, onions, thyme, bay leaves, lemon halves, etc. Hold off adding any salt or seasoning to the pot until the water is boiling. Allow the salt to dissolve.
  • Lower the heat and add your shrimp. Turn the heat to low and add the shrimp carefully. Use a spoon to gently keep the shrimp moving. This will slowly drop the temperature of the water and help prevent the shrimp from overcooking. Allow them to cook for 3-5 minutes until they turn pink and curve into a “C” shape. Immediately remove them from the water and allow them to drain.

How long to boil shrimp for shrimp cocktail depends on the size of the shrimp. Always go by the way the shrimp look as well as their internal temperature. You want a C shape, and not an O. The internal temperature for shrimp is 120 degrees.

How to Make Perfect Cocktail Sauce

Part of the whole experience of eating shrimp cocktail is that glorious dunk into a thick, tangy, sometimes spicy sauce. Good shrimp cocktail recipes should also include a great cocktail sauce or other type of sauce. We won’t even judge if you double dip into the best shrimp cocktail recipe.

Shrimp cocktail ingredients for the perfect sauce are easy to shop for. An easy shrimp cocktail recipe will include ingredients like ketchup, horseradish, lemon, and occasionally accents of Worcestershire sauce, seafood seasoning, or minced jalapeno or onion. It really is made up of easily accessible pantry ingredients.

Shrimp Cocktail Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2-3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash of hot sauce
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Stir ingredients together until combined. Cover and allow to refrigerate for at least an hour. This will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Have fun trying different combinations of flavors and ingredients. Take inspiration from an actual cocktail like a bloody Mary and add a splash of vodka along with celery salt. Love things spicy? Add extra horseradish or a finely diced jalapeno.

Serving Suggestions

There’s nothing complicated with how to serve shrimp cocktail. From a large party ready platter to individual shot glasses the way to display your shrimp cocktail appetizer are endless.

Anything can turn into a shrimp cocktail serving dish. If you want to serve individual shrimp cocktails, you can use small items such as shot glasses or Asian soup spoons. Place a small amount of the cocktail sauce in the vessel and then top with a shrimp or two.

For a large presentation of your shrimp cocktail recipe, pick a beautiful platter and serving bowl for the cocktail sauce. You can even opt for a tiered serving platter and add other chilled seafood like steamed lobster tails or lobster claws.

The possibilities of what to serve with shrimp cocktail are also endless. It can be part of a larger display of appetizers. Serve it up with lobster bisque, clam chowder, or lobster roll sliders for a hearty seafood experience. You can also go all out and make the shrimp cocktail part of a larger sea-cuterie board. In addition to the steamed shrimp and cocktail sauce, add seared scallops, smoked salmon, oysters with a mignonette sauce, and your favorite tinned fish.

Simply the Best Shrimp!
These shrimp were just unbelievable. We followed the directions right on the package and they turned out perfectly. I can’t wait to order again!
Coral Springs, FL 33071
Buy Colossal Shrimp

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While shrimp cocktails recipes are almost always easy and straight forward, there are a few tips and tricks to ensure that you have perfectly cooked shrimp and a tasty sauce every time.

YouTube video
Perfectly cooked Shrimp Cocktail by Beachgirlgrills
  • Once your water has come to a boil lower the heat when adding the shrimp. This will help prevent your shrimp from overcooking.
  • Shrimp only take minutes to cook, so don’t walk away from your pan. You are looking for the visual signs they’re done. They will go from slightly translucent to opaque and turn pink or orange depending upon the species. You also want them to be in a C shape. It they’re O shaped they’re over cooked.
  • Some recipes will have you add the boiled shrimp to an ice water bath after cooking. With this method you risk diluting their flavor and making the texture watery. The best way to cool down your shrimp is put them on a paper towel lined baking sheet and let the chill in the refrigerator.
  • When in doubt, temp check. The best way to ensure you cook your shrimp without over cooking the is to check their internal temperature. You want it to be 120 degrees.
  • Keep your shrimp refrigerated until you’re ready to serve. You only want the shrimp out an hour or two maximum. You can keep them chilled on ice if you like.
  • Cocktail sauce might not have a lot of ingredients but it packs a bold punch of flavor. Always allow it to refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors can meld and deepen.


  • Serve your prawns for prawn cocktail with the classic English dipping sauce Marie Rose. This is similar to cocktail sauce but with the addition of mayonnaise.
  • Add the cocktail shrimp as garnish to a Bloody Mary or Canadian Caesar cocktail for a prawn cocktail drink.
  • Instead of boiling the shrimp try roasting them in the oven or grilling them.
  • Take a trip south of the boarder and serve up a Mexican shrimp cocktail, or coctel de camarones.

How to Store Leftovers

  • Transfer the cooked shrimp to an airtight container and keep them refrigerated when not serving. They will last for up to four days refrigerated.
  • Always keep the cocktail sauce stored separately from the shrimp. You’ll also want to keep it stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will last for up to a week.

Nutrional Information and Dietary Considerations

Shrimp cocktail is actually an incredibly healthy option when it comes to picking an appetizer. Depending on the size of the shrimp and the amount of cocktail sauce served, the average cocktail shrimp will range between 100-150 calories per serving. It’s relatively low in fat and high in protein.

Unlike other heavy and fatty appetizers like fried foods, the quickly boiled crustaceans makes shrimp cocktail nutritional info a great choice for those looking for a lower fat, high protein option that still packs a ton of flavor. That said just like anything else, it needs to be consumed in moderation.

Shrimp Cocktail Nutrition Tips

  • If you’ve never had shrimp cocktail before, you might be wondering is shrimp cocktail cooked. Unlike ceviche, the shrimp in shrimp cocktail is cooked, so it’s not ideal for someone following a raw diet. Eating raw shrimp is never recommended so when ordering, you should never have to worry is shrimp cocktail raw.
  • While shrimp is low in calories and fat it is higher in cholesterol than some proteins, so it should be ejoyed in moderation.
  • Shrimp cocktail is almost always dairy free and usually gluten free. Things to consider if you are sensitive to gluten or dairy are the ingredients in the cocktail sauce. Items like soy sauce may add hidden gluten, so ask before consuming.
  • Cocktail sauce can be high in sugar because of the ketchup base. Use a sugar free or high fructose sugar free variety if this is a concern.

Recipe For Easy Shrimp Cocktail

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

How to Make Classic Shrimp Cocktail

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

No reviews

Channel your inner George Costanza and double dip with this snappy, fresh, easy, and savory Shrimp Cocktail Recipe that celebrates the pure flavor of one of our favorite gifts from the sea.

  • Total Time: 14 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • 12 lbs 16-20 count shrimp or go bigger!
  • 10 cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 23 sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • Dutch oven or large stock pot to boil your shrimp


  1. Defrost Overnight in the Refrigerator. Allow your shrimp to defrost in a colander placed inside a bowl overnight in the refrigerator. If you’re in a pinch for time you can defrost them by placing the in a bowl and running cold water over them.
  2. Peel and Devein Shrimp if necessary. Wash the shrimp and peel and devein under running cold water. Using your thumbs, split open the thin shell along the bottom between the two rows of legs. Peel the shell away. Use a small knife to make a shallow slit along the back to expose the dark, intestinal vein tract. With a knife tip or your fingers, lift up the vein and discard. Rinse shrimp.
  3. Add Thawed Shrimp to Boiling Water. Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium heat. Add your aromatics, sea salt, and black peppercorns. Once boiling add your shrimp.
    Boil Shrimp Cocktail
  4. Cook Shrimp. Use tongs or strainer to gently keep the shrimp moving. The tails will turn red first and then the bodies will turn pink and opaque. The entire process should take no more than 3-5 minutes. See more on how to tell if shrimp are done.
    Cook Shrimp Cocktail
  5. Chill Shrimp. Drain the shrimp immediately and place on a baking sheet to chill in the fridge.
  6. Serve. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and your favorite cocktail sauce.
  • Author: Lobster Louie
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 4
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Boil
  • Cuisine: American


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 150
  • Sugar: 9 g
  • Sodium: 366mg
  • Fat: 1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0
  • Protein: 16 g
  • Cholesterol: 122 g

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can I safely leave a shrimp cocktail out at a party?

Shrimp cocktail shouldn’t be left out past two hours at room temperature. If the room is warm or if it’s being served outside reduce the time to 1 hour.

How can I tell if shrimp has gone bad before preparing my cocktail?

Fresh shrimp should smell slightly briny and sweet, but never fishy. If there is any fishy odor, discoloration, or sliminess, discard the shrimp immediately.

What are some quick fixes if my shrimp cocktail has become watery after thawing?

Always make sure to properly drain shrimp when defrosting. Once defrosted whether the shrimp is raw or cooked make sure you always thoroughly pat it dry with paper towels.

Can I reuse shrimp cocktail sauce and how do I store it?

You can reuse cocktail sauce as long as it hasn’t been dipped it. You want to ensure that you prevent cross contamination. Cocktail sauce should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

My shrimp cocktail doesn’t seem flavorful enough, what can I do?

Bump up the flavor of your cocktail sauce by adding additional horseradish, a squeeze of lemon or lime, or splash of hot sauce. You can also add fresh herbs like dill or parsley.

Is there a way to prepare shrimp cocktail ahead of time for a party?

Yes. You can boil the shrimp and prepare the cocktail sauce a day in advance. Make sure you store them separately. Assemble your shrimp cocktail just before serving.

I’m out of ice, how else can I keep my shrimp cocktail chilled during serving?

As long as your shrimp are properly chilled they are safe to serve not on ice. You can also place your plate in the freezer prior to serving.

What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

Your personal data will be used to support your experience throughout this website, to manage access to your account, and for other purposes described in our privacy policy.