Seafood is one of my favorite foods ever: crab, lobster, shrimp, fish, you name it. I even like octopus! Shrimp, though, by far, is my most common seafood cuisine, because where I grew up, seafood was not common (I lived in a desert). Because of this, seafood was expensive and usually made it to us frozen. Shrimp was about the only good thing we could find, but even then it was tough and often small.
I still loved it, even so, but it did cause me to learn more creative ways to cook shrimp, and one of my favorites is to grill or BBQ the shrimp on an outdoor grill, the same outdoor grill used to cook steaks and hot dogs or burgers.
Having visited the coast for an extended stay, I’ve been able to use my shrimp grilling techniques learned at home to grill shrimp that are fresh, plump and meaty. I’m going to share my shrimp grilling techniques with you!
How to Pick Shrimp to Grill
Picking the right shrimp to put on the grill is almost as important as how you cook it, if not more so. Depending on what you want to do with the shrimp, you’ll want to purchase different sizes. If you’re looking to make a sauce with bits of shrimp in it to slather over the other meats, you can use the salad shrimp. In fact, salad shrimp with spices sealed in a foil packet with an ice cube and grilled on the coals can be very yummy, and at the end, you can open the foil packet and spritz the coals to give the salad shrimp a good charcoal smoked flavor.
For other dishes, such as shish kabobs, you want to go for the larger, plumper shrimp or prawns.
Tiger prawns are exception for grilling because they are meatier and denser. Medium shrimp are good for grilling kabobs that will have lots of other items with it, such as big chunks of meat or vegetables. Large shrimp or prawns are good for kabobs with only shrimp.
While it’s easier to eat shrimp that is already peeled and deveined, I have found from experience that the shell-on peel and eat shrimp actually cooks with a better flavor. Yes, it’s messier to eat, but if you’re grilling, it’s okay to get your fingers dirty — especially for shrimp! Plus, the peel and eat shrimp is usually much cheaper than the cleaned and deveined peeled shrimp too.
If you’re really worried about getting messy but want to save money, you can buy the peel and eat shrimp and peel it yourself before you grill it. It takes longer, but the difference in price can be almost as much as $5 per pound for some shrimp varieties!
How to Prepare Shrimp to Grill
Shrimp should be unfrozen or thawed for cooking on the grill. Rinse the shrimp well and then pat them dry to remove all excess water. If you’re going to use peel and eat shrimp without peeling it, you can now prepare your shrimp directly for grilling. Otherwise, you should peel your shrimp first. Leaving the tail on makes the shrimp easier to handle (and again, tail-on shrimp is usually less expensive).
If you are going to skewer the shrimp, the best way to do this is to put the shrimp on at the head, and skewer it through the shrimp at two locations – at the head and near the base of the tail but not quite to the tail. This will hold the shrimp more securely. Some people might only skewer it through the center, but shrimp often crumbles or dries while cooking and has been known to fall off the skewer and be forever lost in the grilling coals.
Peel and eat shrimp, peeled shrimp and salad shrimp can all also be put in foil packets to grill as well, with the spices and sauces added to the foil pouch.
How Long to Grill Shrimp
Shrimp grills very quickly, so if you’re cooking other items, you’ll likely want to cook the shrimp toward the last. Shrimp is very good at being cooked with the vegetables, unlike steak of chicken that requires longer to cook. Shrimp only needs to be on the grill for a few minutes on each side until they change color and plump up.
Larger shrimp can be placed directly on a smaller grill plate or grate, without a skewer. See the attached image to see an excellent example of what properly grilled peel and eat cracked shell shrimp looks like. You should grill your shrimp until you see the reddish change in color like in the picture, and also until you see the edges start to plump.
How to Serve Grilled Shrimp
Shrimp are wonderful with a sauce when grilled or you can just sprinkle spices directly on them. For me, I really like soaking them in a Cajun boil mix overnight before grilling. In fact, you cold even boil them in a shrimp boil of your choice and then grill them after too.
If you’re wanting to add a sauce to your shrimp and you have chosen peeled shrimp or cut peel and eat shrimp, you can use a BBQ / grill brush to brush sauce directly on the shrimp. Once you place the grilling shrimp on the grate of the grill, simply brush one side with flavor, wait a few minutes, flip and brush the other side.
You can also use a water sprayer filled with oil and spices and spritz the shrimp while it’s cooking on the grill, which will smoke the grill and give good flavor to the shrimp.
Serve with veggies or kabobs or just eat the shrimp plain. My favorite shrimp kabob is shrimp in a Cajun boil, pearl onion and avocado slices grilled just long enough to char the shrimp and add flavor.
Enjoy your outdoor shrimp grilling adventures this summer and be sure to have a bite or two for me!