How to Peel and Devein Shrimp

Learn how to peel and devein shrimp with this step-by-step tutorial. Leave the tails on or off? Ever wonder what that black vein is? Should you save the shells? (Yes!) Get all these answers and more.

Side view of devein shrimp on a cutting board with the shells in a small bowl next to them.
Lori Rice

My friends Becca (Biloxi, Mississippi) and Carole ("Nawlins", Louisiana) are probably scratching their heads reading this ("What? You need to show people how to devein shrimp? And how to peel shrimp?")

But if you, like me, did not grow up on the Bayou or in some other land of shrimp bounty, you, like me, might be scratching your head wondering how to unsheathe your tasty shrimpies from their shells upon your first encounter with them.

Becca kindly taught me how to peel shrimp, and how to devein shrimp (thank you m'dear). The technique is below. She also informed me that the best shrimp are from the Gulf of Mexico, by the way. And that you should always buy them in the shell.

Hands showing how to devein shrimp.
Lori Rice

How to Thaw Frozen Shrimp in the Refrigerator

Transfer the shrimp from the freezer to the fridge at least a day or two before using. Put them in a bowl to catch any melting liquid.

How to Quick Thaw Frozen Shrimp

If you're like us and didn't plan ahead, put the shrimp in a bowl and fully cover with cold (not warm) water. Place a small lid or plate in the bowl to keep the shrimp completely submerged. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes until thawed. Change out the water if the shrimp still isn't thawed after that.

How Long Does Shrimp Last in the Refrigerator?

After you have defrosted your shrimp, store them in the fridge for 1 to 2 days.

Do You Have to Devein All Shrimp?

Nope. Surprise! Although we call it "deveining", the dark line you see on the backs of shrimp is their digestive tract. Removing it is a matter of personal preference and taste, not hygiene. It's not harmful for us to eat.

If the vein is really pronounced—dark or thick—you may want to devein the shrimp for a tidier look. Larger shrimp can also have grittier veins, which can have an unappealing texture. So it's best to devein those guys. But if the veins are not very apparent, or if the shrimp are tiny, there's no need to spend the time tediously removing each vein.

What Happens If You Don’t Devein Shrimp?

Absolutely nothing! Removing the vein is a matter of personal preference. It's not harmful to eat in any way.

Shrimp Deveining Tools—Worth It?

Depends on how much you love shrimp! If you find yourself having to shell and devein copious amounts of shrimp, by all means, get yourself a shrimp cleaner to make your life easier. They are not very expensive, and easy to learn how to use.

On the other hand, if you're not a fan of single-use tools, skip it. A paring knife works just as well for the few times in your life you'll be deveining and shelling shrimp.

What to Do with the Leftover Shells?

Shrimp shells make great seafood stock, since they hold much of the flavor of the shrimp. Save the shells in the freezer until you need them. Then, boil them for about 20 minutes to make a quick seafood stock to use in place of water when making a seafood chowder, like this Clam Chowder recipe.

Now That You've Deveined the Shrimp, Try Them in These Recipes!

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

How to Peel and Devein Shrimp

Prep Time 20 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Servings 4 servings
Yield 1 pound

Shrimp need to be kept cold while you are working with them. Keep them on ice or in ice water as you work. For more about seafood safety, check with the USDA.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound shell-on shrimp

Method

  1. Pull off the head and legs:

    Pull off the head (if it is still attached) and the legs.

    Hands showing how to devein shrimp.
    Lori Rice
  2. Remove the shell:

    Starting with the head end, pull off the outer shell. Depending on how you intend to present the shrimp, you can keep the last segment of shell and the tail tip on, for decorative purposes. Place shells in a plastic bag, securely closed, and either discard or freeze for making shellfish stock.

    Alternatively, you can leave the shell on and use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut along the outer edge of the shrimp's back, cutting the shell so you can get to the vein. The shells hold a lot of flavor. So, there is something to be said for cooking shrimp with their shells on.

    Hands showing how to devein shrimp.
    Lori Rice
  3. Make a slash on the back of the shrimp:

    Using a small paring knife, cut along the outer edge of the shrimp's back, about 1/4 inch deep.

    Using a knife to show how to clean a shrimp.
    Lori Rice
  4. Remove and discard the vein:

    If you can see it, with your fingers or the tip of your knife, remove and discard the vein that runs right under the surface of the back. If you can't see the vein, don't bother with it.

    Return the peeled and deveined shrimp to your bowl of ice or ice water until you are ready to use them.

    Slicing a shrimp with a knife and showing how to clean a shrimp.
    Lori Rice
    A bowl of ice water with deveined shrimp showing how to clean a shrimp.
    Lori Rice
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
80 Calories
1g Fat
1g Carbs
15g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 80
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 1g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 143mg 48%
Sodium 641mg 28%
Total Carbohydrate 1g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 15g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 61mg 5%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 128mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.