How to steam shrimp perfectly every time. It's not that hard and you don't even have to shell them before you steam them!

How to Steam Shrimp Perfectly

How to Steam Shrimp: A quick and easy step-by-step guide that results in perfectly cooked shrimp every time! Plus a super easy trick for peeling them!

Betsy’s family has been going to the same beach every summer for a family reunion/vacation for 37 years. It’s an epic retreat and anywhere from 30-50 family members make it every year. We essentially rent an entire block of houses. It’s a great tradition.

Since Betsy and I live in Colorado now, we always make it a point to each as much fresh seafood as we can manage. You can actually get decent seafood in Denver these days, but it’ll cost you so it’s nice to get super fresh seafood at reasonable prices.

For happy hour every day, we’ll be sure to have a big bowl of shrimp ready for snacking. I tried a few different methods of cooking the shrimp this year and landed on what I think is the hands-down best way for how to steam shrimp.

It’s far from hard and steaming the shrimp like this will leave you with tender and wonderfully seasoned shrimp.

Steamed Shrimp

A quick and easy step-by-step guide that results in perfectly cooked shrimp every time! Plus a super easy trick for peeling them!
3.73 from 208 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Appetizers, Snack Time
Cuisine American
Servings 4 Servings
Yield 1 pound shrimp



  • 1 pound large 16-20 count shrimp
  • Old bay seasoning
  • Cajun seasoning opt.
  • Lemons
  • Cocktail sauce


  • Use kitchen shears or scissors to cut up the back of each shrimp, exposing the vein if there is one. Rinse out any dirt or vein with cold water. Leave the shell around the shrimp though.
  • When all your shrimp are cleaned, toss them in a steamer and season them well with Old Bay and optionally Cajun seasoning. I recommend using about 2 teaspoons of Old Bay per pound of shrimp. A lot of it will fall off during cooking.
  • Add steamer with shrimp to a pot of simmering water. The water shouldn’t really touch the shrimp if you can help it. Let the shrimp steam for about 6 minutes until they are cooked through and tender.
  • Serve shrimp while warm or chill over ice. Serve shrimp with lemon and cocktail sauce!


Serving: 0.25poundCalories: 181kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 2gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 11gSodium: 8mgPotassium: 550mgFiber: 8gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 166IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 14mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Shrimp Cocktail, shrimp recipes, Steamed Shrimp

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How to Steam Shrimp

To Steam or To Boil

Boiling shrimp is a common approach, especially if you are cooking a bunch of them, but I don’t like boiling shrimp for a few reasons:

1) It’s hard to season the shrimp well. You basically just end up with a huge pot of super-salty water.

2) It’s really easy to over-cook the shrimp. Even an extra minute in the water can be enough to turn your shrimp from tender to rubbery.

Steaming though, while a bit more of a set-up, solves both of these problems so it’s my preferred method these days.

Prepping the Shrimp

Please. Please don’t steam (or boil) shrimp without the shell on. The fragile little guys can’t stand that kind of direct heat.

Leave the shells on when steaming them to give them a little insulation from the direct heat. This will let them cook a bit slower and result in more tender shrimp.

How to steam shrimp - prep

BUT, many people don’t like cooking the shrimp in the shell because it means that the dirty vein of the shrimp is cooked in. To be honest, this doesn’t really bother me, but I get that it’s a bit off-putting.

Here’s my solution. I take a pair of scissors or kitchen shears and run it up the back of each shrimp. This cuts through the shell and also about halfway through the shrimp itself, exposing any vein that might be there.

You can then easily rinse the shrimp under cold water to rinse out the vein but the shell is still intact around the shrimp!

The bonus feature of this method is that the shrimp are easier to peel after they are cooked!

How to Steam Shrimp - The trick for easy shelling.
The trick for easy shelling.


Once you’ve cut and cleaned your shrimp, it’s time to season them. Even though these guys won’t be directly in the water, a lot of the seasoning will still sweat off them from the steam so feel free to use a liberal hand with the seasoning. I like to use a mix of Old Bay and cajun seasoning.

how to steam shrimp - seasoning
Use a liberal hand here…


You can use a wide variety of methods for steaming the shrimp at this point. The important part is that you want the shrimp elevated over the water.

The water should be rapidly boiling. If you have a steamer basket that’ll work fine. Personally, I just use my mesh strainer which essentially acts as a steamer once you cover the pot.

How to Steam Shrimp - a mesh strainer to steam your shrimp perfectly every time.
One steaming method…

For the large (16-20 count) shrimp, they will need to steam for 5-6 minutes to be cooked through. I like to take them out at 3 minutes and toss them lightly to make sure they are cooking evenly. If you are cooking a few pounds at a time, the ones on the bottom of the steamer might cook slightly faster.

It is possible to overcook the shrimp still, but it’s a lot harder to do than if you boiled them.

When they are done, just pull them out of the steamer and either serve them hot or chill them down over some ice!

Personally, I like mine chilled.

How to steam shrimp perfectly every time. It's not that hard and you don't even have to shell them before you steam them!

The nice thing about cutting the shells is that the shrimp are super-easy to peel. The shell just kind of unwraps around the shrimp and it’s ready for dipping!

Personally, I like to dip mine in a simple cocktail sauce that’s ketchup and a dollop of horseradish.

Lemon is always a good option also!

How to steam shrimp perfectly every time. It's not that hard and you don't even have to shell them before you steam them!
Easy to peel and delicious!

I think I tried 3-4 different shrimp cooking methods and this method for how to steam shrimp was far and away my favorite.

Buy good shrimp and cook them like this and you’ll be in for a great appetizer treat!

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81 Responses to “How to Steam Shrimp Perfectly” Leave a comment

  1. Cocktail Sauce

    1 C catsup
    1 T FINELY chopped onion
    1/4 C horseradish (Seminole is good)
    1/2 C fresh lemon juice
    3 dashes worcestershire
    Tabasco to taste
    This sauce rules and is well worth the little bit of prep required..

      1. Remember the song by Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville? One of the lyrics was, “Smell those shrimp. They’re beginning to boil” : )

    1. I use the basic Hunt’s ketchup, lemon and homemade horseradish and love it. I’m from Baltimore where Old Bay is King. So I just sprinkled my streamed shrimp when streaming and after they’re peeled. That’s where I get my heat.

  2. I have always wondered how restaurants cook shrimp for ‘shrimp cocktail’
    no mater how I cook shrimp I always remove shell and tail first and they always
    shrivel down in size large look like salad size the way I do it.

  3. Thanks for steaming method. My dad always added melted butter to that same cocktail sauce—-you willll be surprised at the good.taste.

    1. I actually do keep the lid on while they steam just to keep the steam in, but there’s no harm in lifting it every few minutes to check on the little guys!

  4. I have a two layer steamer appliance but honestly I’d rather use your method, a lot easier to get out, clean, and put back up when done. The steamer has about 6 or 7 pieces.

  5. Okay.. the jury is in.. at least for me. I live in coastal SC and have been boiling shrimp for most of my 66 years. Tonight I decided to give Nick’s method a try. The shrimp weren’t the best.. or all that fresh.. caught them yesterday in the tidal river (Pocotaligo) that runs behind my house.. but you gotta make do with what’s available. I didn’t set a timer or anything like that other than to have an occasional look and give the shrimp a stir or two. There is no doubt about it.. my boiling days are done. Thanks, Nick, for yet another education.
    Which brings me to what I’d really like to say here.. UNLIKE popular food shows, Nick’s blog is carrying on (IMHO) the grand tradition of Julia Child.. that being to teach folks to cook good groceries. If not for those such as Ms Child, Gram Kerr,Jacques Peppin and others, the hot shots wouldn’t have careers nor would home cooks like me have a place to turn for instruction and inspiration. Thank you, Nick.

      1. Great shrimp recipe. Simple. No more boiling for me. From Louisiana..M.Spears

  6. Sounds fantastic!
    How about under 10 shrimp? How long? 7-8 minutes??

    Plus I am going to have a drawn garlic butter sauce in warmers. I am going to give them a cold bath after I have steamed them so they do not continue to cook.

    1. Wow Maggie… those are big shrimp! But yea… I would say in the 7 minute range would do the trick. Check on them after five though to make sure they are steaming evenly. I’ve never steamed any that big, but that’s my best guess! Good luck!

  7. Thank you for the instructions .. just steamed up 5 pounds of shrimp and family love loved them!! We live in Maryland so Old Bay is always a must .. adding before steaming added alot of flavor .. and of course some more when they were done:) Thank you again!!

  8. Steaming shrimp has always been my fav go to recipe. Scallops and mussels as well.
    Shrimp on the Barbie excellent as well.
    steamed shrimp and a steak on grill will be tomorrow’s dinner after working.
    Have any of you experienced steamed shrimp at The Freezer in Homassa Springs? Best I have ever had any where I have traveled. And I have TRAVELED.
    On the water, their own shrimp boats, open patio.
    just good food. Menu is on an eisle. Doesn’t change.
    You go to the bar, order your food. Sometimes the staff brings it to you, sometimes not. Cold beer.
    approximately 2 hours North of Tampa. Surpasses The Cracker in Crystal River. Not much to see when googling but read reviews.
    but tomorrow will. Be steamed shrimp on my back porch

    1. By far the best at the freezer!! I keep trying to duplicate their recipe. Mmmmmm. I think they toss theirs in butter too.

    2. The best steamed shrimp I had it was in Panama City Florida at Buddy’s Seafood market.Their tuna dip is also to die for .

    3. OMG you can’t beat the steamed shrimp at The Freezer!! We have traveled a lot, even have shrimp boat captains in our family, and we all agree that those are by far the best!!!

      1. Even though I own a small shrimp boat and live by Weeki Wachee, Florida when I want to treat friends or family, I take them to The Freezer in Homosassa, just thirty minutes away. I’m blessed!!

    4. I can say that I have enjoyed the most amazing shrimp from The Freezer with an ice cold beer. So so good.

    5. To Leslie Please don’t brag It is hard enough to get in the place as it is now . Have to agree at the age of 68 summers I have never tasted better the Old Bay is hard to miss and the beer is never warm.Its about a 3 hr drive from here but me and the wife cant go without it for to long

    6. It’s been five years since you wrote this but we just ate at the freezer again and the shrimp are still the best!!! We live in Homosassa so we go all the time.
      We LOVE their shrimp!!!!

    7. Been to the Freezer several times when we lived in the Villages. You are right…best steamed shrimp we have ever gotten. 👍👏👏

  9. Today is VALINTINES day. It’s also my anniversary. Followed your instructions as good as possible. I never cook. I decided to do seafood dinner to surprise my wife. I have never cooked seafood. Every! She loved it. I decided not to taste anything until we did it together. We were amazed at how great the shrimp turned out. Actually the whole meal. So thank you.. Thank you…

  10. Although I love horseradish I prepare my cocktail sauce by adding powered mustard to taste and a little soy sauce. I leave a bottle of tabasco sauce for those who want their shrimp with a hotter taste. Tim

  11. I have some raw frozen extra large shrimp I’d like to steam. It’s a 2 lb. package. But I only intend to steam about 1 lb. of it. I do not care for overly spicy foods. It leaves my mouth so dry that no amount of liquids will clear the dryness! You use a tbsp. of Old Bay seasoning in your steaming water. Will that make the steamed shrimp taste overly spicy? I’m going to add the shrimp to a pasta dish I made the other day with alfredo sauce, chopped broccoli florets, fettuccini & leftover steamed shrimp I had from a church fundraiser.

    1. Hey Virginia!
      You will be fine adding the Old Bay to the water. It doesn’t transfer much spiciness. I would just be careful sprinkling too much on the shrimp directly if you plan on adding them to a sauce later. Good luck!

  12. I highly recommend buying an electric rice steamer. Mine is a black and decker with a steam basket in which I have steamed anything, including shrimp, tilapia, perch, salmon, and even pork chops, whether I have rice cooking in the pot below or not. Seasoning works best if added afterwards to avoid it dripping off into the water pot below or steaming off into the air above. Do not steam beneath wood kitchen cabinets or you would ruin their finish.

  13. I have a speckled-ware aluminum steamer pot w/basket, but every time I steam a pound or more of shrimp, I have to keep stirring and stirring b/c the ones on the bottom ultimately cook faster. Then by the time all are done, some are rubbery. Besides trying to fish out the done ones during the whole steaming process, and stirring and breaking up the delicate little babies, what’s a good way to ensure that all are done perfectly? Last time, I took the basket out and just boiled them in water and seasonings (and some vinegar), and they came out awesome. Don’t really want to boil, but, what to do?

    1. Hey Sherri,
      You’ve landed on the classic steaming problem for sure. In short, I’m not sure there is a great solution other than tossing them halfway through cooking to make sure they move around a bit and are cooked evenly. That works pretty well in my experience but only for 1 pound (2 pounds MAX) of shrimp. Usually I cook them in one pound batches if I’m cooking more than that, but if you have a big steamer/pot you could do more.
      Personally, I find that I have less of a chance of overcooking them with this method than boiling them, but if you have good luck with boiling them than I would just stick with what works! :)

      1. You could try using a steamer with more surface area. The smaller the pile the more evenly the shrimp will cook.

  14. Thanks Ladies: this recipe was a big help for New Year’s Eve dinner in front of football at 4 pm in Warrenton, VA Appreciate it. Hope it all works out for me. A million Thanks. Happy New Year! MARE 703-624-6542

  15. Ice-cold steamed shrimp is one of my favorite things to eat. I’ve sauteed shrimp many times but never tried steaming them. Hosted a NYE party last night and wanted to serve chilled shrimp. When I googled “how to steam raw shrimp”, found your link. They were fantastic!! I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I can’t wait to try other recipes from here. Thank you!!

      1. Hi! I’m not sure if it’s too late to ask this question. I have a built-in steamer by Thermador…would I steam them the same amount of time? Do I turn them after 5 minutes? Does it depend on the size of the shrimp? I’m still learning how to operate the steamer. Thank you!

      2. Hmmm… I’m not 100% familiar with that product. I think I’d start with 3-4 minutes and see how they are doing and then go longer. The worst is over-cooked shrimp and it can happen fast in a steam environment. Good luck!

  16. For large shrimp: I left the peels on but de-veined them, doused them with Old Bays, one cup of water in my electric pressure cooker, (Instant Pot) high pressure 1 minute, released pressure. They were perfect!

  17. I am from the South Carolina coast and I love seafood. I tried your steaming method and loved how the shrimp came out.. Thanks for such a simple delicious recipe

  18. Born and raised in Baltimore, Md. Your steaming method is normal, except it was not un ommon to see a few quartered onions mixed in with the shrimp. This was especially normal in the bars on free shrimp ninght, as the bars depended on beer sales, there was no limit on the Old Bay!

  19. I tried this. The bubbles just stacked up on each other and washed seasonings off. If I used much less water, there would not have even been any in the pan. What did I do wrong?

    1. Hey Michael, once you get the water boiling you can turn the heat down a bit so it isn’t such a rapid boil. The shrimp shouldn’t really be touching the water… hope that helps!

  20. Well done Nick. This is how I was raised to do it and I was raised in Old Bay territory, but we only used Old Bay.

    Once again great job.

  21. Most stores carry easy shrimp which are frozen nothing to do but steam themI’ve been cooking shrimp for over 40 years steaming is the best unless you’re going to sauté it and eat it right away Easy shrimp mean it’s already dvine and also get the real flavor of a shrimp when it’s steam jewel sell it fore7.00$ A pound

  22. This is awesome and so easy. I love cutting the shrimp with the scissors. I’ll never fix shrimp any other way. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Can’t wait to try this method as I have always boiled mine in a pot with the seafood spice bags and there just isn’t any spice to them. Got 2 lbs fresh large shrimp for my small family gathering for the 4th. While 2lbs I could eat by myself it’s just as an appetizer before the huge amounts of meat and potato salad that will follow.thabks for the recipe and instructions. Happy 4th everyone!!

  24. Exactly the way I do it. Learned in Baltimore Md. Have a question though, sometimes the shell is hard to get off, after steaming, could I be over or under cooking?

    1. You are overcooking them. Shrimp cook in a very short time and should be removed from the cooker as soon as done.

  25. Just bought raw Shrimp for Christmas Eve. Will definitely try your recipe. BTW. The Freezer in Homossasa has excellent shrimp. Needed stop when family comes to visit. Thank you.

  26. I learned to steam shrimp, crawfish (we call them crawdads) & blue crabs in Baltimore, Maryland. We always used water, beer & vinegar for the steaming liquid & Old Bay mixed with pretzel or sea salt for seasoning on any & all of them. I have lived in nearly every state east of the Mississippi River, except the New England states but have been in 31 states total, so I have tried seafood in a lot of places. You can’t beat Baltimore, Maryland seafood, in my opinion.

    1. Diana, I completely agree with you!! There is NO place like Baltimore when it comes to crabs!!! Im in NC and there is only one place here to get steamed crabs (other than on the coast but I’m 4 hours from the water) and the owner is from Baltimore. They are pretty good but his prices are almost double what it would be in Baltimore which I understand, he owns the market and people love it there!

  27. I want to also have onions and peppers with the shrimp. How would you go about cooking them? In Baltimore resturants they include everything, even potatoes and corn on the cob, together. I’ve never made it myself…

    1. Hey Robin, that sounds like more of a boil situation where you toss everything together. That’s good and can be done, but just add the shrimp near the end so they don’t overcook. This is a method for just steaming shrimp for cocktails or whatever. I wouldn’t add other stuff to the steamed shrimp.

      1. Thank you, Nick. I have a double steaming pot. I ended up putting the veggies (sweet potatoes, onions and peppers) in the bottom part (twice the size of the top one) and once they were pretty much done I put the shrimp in the top for 8 minutes following your recipe and it was perfect!!

    1. Hey Judi! It doesn’t matter how much water… just make sure it is simmering in the pot (to create steam) and that the water doesn’t directly touch the shrimp. Good luck!

  28. Thank you Nick. I had roughly 2lb shrimp and being from Maryland, I went with my instincts. But couldn’t remember the liquid measurements
    1 cup apple cider vinegar( or divide with beer)
    1 cup H2O
    A pleathera (huge helping) of Old Bayseasoning.
    I loved your tip on cutting down the vein line.

  29. Thanks Nick. Great recipe. I used the steaming basket I’ve had for years. Did a pound of large to use with Fettuccine Alfredo. A home run.
    Sold on steaming.

  30. Don’t “bathe” shrimp in ice water. Put hot shrimp in a colander and cover with ice. Allow melting ice to collect in a bowl or drain out into sink so shrimp isn’t submerged.

  31. Hi nick I have 6 pounds of shrimp to steam tonight. Should I defrost them first? And secondly I have a large aluminum strainer I use for straining macaroni can I use that as a steamer basket or should I use my 3 tier Bamboo steamer?

    Thank you,

    1. Hey Kelli, I would definitely defrost them first and use the strainer over the bamboo steamer. The bamboo steamer is nice but the layers will steam at very different times/temps. Also, I’ve never tried to steam that large of a batch of shrimp before. I’d probably break it into 3 2-pound batches to make sure they cook evenly.
      Good luck!

  32. We grew up steaming shrimp in Maryland. We steam our crabs the same way. When I moved to Florida we kept looking for a place that we could get hot shrimp to take home, but they were always mushy. We decided to get a steamer pot. The time to steam the shrimp and to the table is so short to not be worth trying to find a place to get the shrimp hot, unless you are in Maryland. Almost all grocery stores in Maryland always steam them for you and they are always cooked properly. Your directions are perfect. Thanks for putting your recipe and cooking instructions out for everyone. Steaming is much more forgiving than boiling.

  33. Nick – thank you so much for the recipe. I’ve used it several times and it has never failed to produce excellent shrimp. Definitely two thumbs up. I live in Pensacola, Florida where shrimp are abundant and although several fishmongers will steam shrimp for you, I’ve found that your recipe is better.

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