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If you have ever eaten shrimp, you probably have come across all styles: butterfly cut, popcorn (breaded), shell on, and those without the shells.
You may not realize this, but something is missing when they arrive on your dinner plate – an unattractive dark line down the spine.
This dark line is the digestive tract, which is removed to make the crustacean both presentable and edible in dishes like po’boys, fajitas, tacos, and even lo mein.
- Wash the shrimp thoroughly.
- If they are frozen, transfer them in a colander and place it under cool running water to defrost slightly.
- Remove the heads, using a sharp paring knife.
- Peel them. If it’s appropriate for the recipe that you’re making, leave the tails on for a nicer presentation.
- Use your paring knife to make a shallow incision down the back of the shrimp, to expose the digestive tract.
- Use the tip of your knife to slowly lift up the “dirt” to remove it, and then throw it away.
Some people don’t mind the digestive tract – which some mistake for a vein – and others, especially Americans, insist that it be removed.
“Deveining,” or removing the guts, is also beneficial as they often have a gritty texture.
If you want to remove the digestive tract but don’t know how, this is the perfect how-to article for you!
Once you get over the anxiety of facing the deveining process, you’ll see how easy it is. With this step-by-step guide, you’ll be comfortable with this simple kitchen procedure in no time.
The first thing you want to do is grab a clean dish towel or a good supply of paper towels, because your hands are going to get pretty messy.
I also like to keep a small disposable bag handy, for easy disposal when I’m done. Unless you’re taking it out to the garbage can right away, you’re not going to want to put any shells or shrimp waste in your kitchen trash because it will smell, and may draw flies.
Note that some people like to preserve the shells to make a broth.
Next, you will want to remove the crustaceans from their package and wash them thoroughly.
If they are frozen, transfer them to a colander and place it under cool running water until slightly defrosted.
The heads will usually be removed already if you purchase your shrimp from the grocery store.
But if you visit your local fishmonger or seafood specialty store, they may still have the heads on. You can remove these or leave them attached, depending on your preference and the presentation you are trying to achieve with your specific dish. They make a great addition to a homemade seafood stock as well.
When you are finished washing, place them on a plate or in a bowl.
Your next step is to decide whether or not you want to leave the tails on.
Since you are going to be peeling off the shells, you may opt to remove the tails as well.
For a nicer presentation, I suggest keeping the tails on.
It really doesn’t matter where your starting point is for peeling. But if you are new at this process, I recommend starting at the top, or the head end.
Remove the shell and the legs up until the point where you reach the tail. Stop, or continue peeling. You get to decide.
On to the actual deveining process!
Once the shells are removed, make an incision straight down the back using a small sharp knife, such as a paring knife.
I would say “spine” instead of “back,” but I know one of you wiseacres will probably call me out, letting me know that invertebrates don’t have spines… Ha!
You want to make the cut deep enough to expose the digestive tract.
Take the tip of your knife and slowly lift it. Secure the tract with your thumb, and pull downward until it is completely removed.
Repeat this process until all of the shrimp are clean, wiping off the shrimp and your hands as needed, or rinsing under cool water.
Now that I’ve explained the traditional way, I’ll recommend a product that makes this process a WHOLE lot easier. This tool is theOXO Good Grips Shrimp Cleaner.
Rather than fooling around with peeling and then slicing each crustacean with a knife, and then hoping that you don’t break through the black intestine, this OXO Good Grips device allows you to peel and devein in one swift stroke. Simply insert the sharpened teeth into top of the shrimp and pull.
I find that it allows me to process and prep my seafood about three times as quickly as I could if I was using the traditional method – and that’s saying a lot if you’re making pounds of shrimp cocktail, or gumbo for a party!
The OXO Shrimp Cleaner’s handle is made of a rubber that absorbs pressure and is much less painful on your hands than other similar devices. The rubber also provides a very nonslip grip. Read customer reviews of the OXO Cleaner at Amazon now.
Done Deveining? Let’s Cook!
Once all the shrimp have been correctly deveined using our tutorial, cook according to your recipe’s instructions.
Do you prefer buying fresh shrimp and deveining it yourself? Or do you prefer to use frozen? Let us know in the comments below!
Now that you have your seafood prepped and ready to cook, here are some recipe inspirations for you:
- Shrimp Fra Diavolo
- Skillet Cajun Shrimp
- Shrimp with Red Chili Coconut Sauce
- Creamy Greek Pasta with Shrimp
- Shrimp Pad Thai
- Lemon Garlic Shrimp
Don’t forget to Pin It!
Photos by Felicia Lim, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally posted September 3, 2014. Revised and updated March 18, 2017 with additional writing by Felicia Lim and Allison Sidhu.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!
21 thoughts on “Cooking Basics: How to Peel and Devein Shrimp”
That shrimp cleaner sounds like a very handy gadget. I live on the gulf coast where shrimping is a way of life, so I have deveined my fair share of shrimp. Deveining shrimp is one of the least enjoyable tasks ever. Anything that will make the process easier is more than welcome as far as I’m concerned.
That makes two of us! I have done it so much and so long I think I could do it in my sleep. I’m going to look into finding that gadget.
You have explained the process well. I love seafood and have shrimp like this 4-5 times a year. It is a little messy and takes some getting used to , but you cannot beat the taste of freshly peeled and cleaned shrimp!
Only 4-5? You’re so fortunate. My family thinks they wants shrimp and crabs at least 5 times a month. I’m always always peeling and deveining.
I used to buy giant bags of freshly caught and cooked shrimp directly from the fishermen at the docks. One of my most treasured memories of childhood vacation at the beach. Didn’t need anything more than my hands to peel them and eat them, though!
Am at a loss…never eaten shrimp…just wondering how they taste like…the closest to seafood i have gone, is prawns with cashew nut sauce…boy, wasn’t that heavenly…i ought to try out shrimp, really ought to.
This is one of those things that if you have roots around shrimping waters then you are used to it. I think our family has shrimp at least once or twice a week. I know in the summer time when we grill there are always some shrimp on skewers or tossed in a grilling seafood pan with some spices and butter. Older versions of the shrimp cleaner can be found in many chef and cooking stores along the deep south as well as in Wal-mart, seafood shops and at boat ramps with fresh seafood shops, catch of the day type places. My granddaddy had one made of an old kitchen knife and the handle was a wad of tape holding the wood in place. What great memories this simple post stirred up.
Fantastic tips. I always make sure to check my shrimp when I get Chinese food. That’s how you really know the quality of the place you’re eating. It seems like when they use smaller shrimp they don’t feel the need to devein them & that’s just gross to me.
I love eating shrimp so much, it’s pretty much my favorite food. I have been unaware this whole time that they have to be ‘deveined’, it sounds so gross! Ha-ha. I have never prepared it myself, I’ve only eaten it at Chinese restaurants. I guess it is a good thing I check your blog, now I know.
Even after this discovery, I still love shrimp just as much. I just don’t think I want to prepare it.
I know it’s shameful but I have never eaten shrimp in my entire life. It seems really good and I’d like to try it sometimes but I never got the chance.
It seems like a tedious process to prepare it at home so I think I’m going to go to a restaurant. Great article though!
I have eaten my share of shrimp, but have never cooked shrimp that hasn’t already been deveined. That being said, I didn’t realize until recently that the ‘vein’ was actually the digestive tract, and I didn’t understand the big deal about removing it. So, when I saw your article, it caught my eye. Since I live along the coast, and have fish markets nearby, I’ve been thinking about buying some fresh shrimp for a stir fry, and the OXO Good Grips Shrimp Cleaner sounds like just what I need to get me started!
I love eating prawn, but prepping and cooking it? Not as much. Though, this article has made it seem much less daunting. I think I may have to hit the shops and grab a bag! And that de-veiner seems like a nice investment, if I decide to cook seafood more often. It might not be necessary, but there’s a lot to be said for comfort! (And not being covered in shrimp intestines.)
You have successfully made this process seem, at least somewhat, easier. I’m always so intimidated by this task, I typically buy crappy frozen shrimp that is already cleaned. Doing that doesn’t allow me much creativity in preparing recipes. For the most part, I just eat them when I’m dining out. I think I’m going to have to buy some quality prawns very soon so I can try this process out!
I remember the first time I had to peel shrimp it was so fun. I don’t recall deveining them however. This has been years ago. I still love peeling them, and now I also devein them. Shrimp are so tasty anyway they are cooked. I do like the fried version better then the rest.
I’m so happy I found this because I always make a mess when I try to clean and prepare prawn. I think that my mistake was not using the proper knife. I’ve always used a regular sized knife, and now that you mentioned a small knife is better I understand why my shrimps were always deformed. Great article, thank you!
I’m glad I read this. I have never really known the proper and thorough method of de-veining. Nothing ruins my appetite like seeing a plate of seafood that has not been properly cleaned. That little tool is amazing. I need to get one, so I won’t be so intimidated about serving shrimp.
This is a nice short article that is concise and to the point. I’ve never been a fan of deveining my shrimp. That isn’t to say I don’t do it, I definitely do but I hate how much time it takes. I don’t make shrimp much because of it. I know many people would just tell me to buy the frozen ones that are already deveined but I hate buying frozen seafood. I prefer to get it fresh if possible. Hopefully this knife will speed up the process a bit.
I hate taking the vein out. If it’s just myself I will just leave them in, does not bother me.
Wife will not eat then unless they are deveined (she will always notice, you would be surprised at how many restaurant don’t take the vein out.)
$7 for a specific tool to do this? Sold! Take my money! Hopefully going to find one in stores this week.
This article is so much help! I love shrimps, but peeling and deveining them is such a pain! To be honest, I’ve never bothered to find out what that dark line on the back was but I’ve always removed it anyway (which is quite a difficult task). I’ll try the technique you’ve explained in this article. I hope this will make the process easier. Of course, the most effortless way would be to buy frozen praws but they aren’t nearly as tasty as fresh ones.
Just out of curiosty, when you de-vein shrimp, do you do it mostly for taste, texture, or appearance?
I found this article very interesting because de-veining shrimp isn’t common here. As you said, it isn’t really a European thing. Even the prawns we can buy pre-shelled and pre-cooked in the supermarket usually still have the veins in, and I have many fond memories of sitting on the beach with a half-pint of prawns, whipping the shells off and eating them without de-veining. It doesn’t really change the taste, although it can add a gritty texture.
While larger shellfish are always de-veined, the only time I have de-veined shrimp was when I was butterflying them, both because it is easy as part of the process, and because removes an unsightly dark line that can be found after cooking otherwise.
Well it can certainly be a messy experience, but it is a necessary one. I am one of those people who do not really mind the tract, but of course it is still a little unnerving and I would prefer to have it out of there. I think that I just have gotten into my own routine of getting it done and I cannot say that I really have any technique, outside of a little sewing tool that I use in the kitchen to help. Other than that it just takes some patience and good focus. Thanks for sharing.