How to Peel and Devein Shrimp

4.84 from 6 votes
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A quick and easy guide on how to peel and devein shrimp. This technique is essential for all home cooks wanting to master the crustacean by cleaning and making an attractive butterflied appearance.

How to peel and devein shrimp for cooking.

Shrimp is a popular mealtime solution as it cooks fast, and the flavor pairs nicely with various ingredients. There are many different types and sizes of shrimp available at your local grocery store, and in some cases, you can purchase them already cleaned. But if not, you’ve got a little work before you start cooking.

Keeping the digestive tract on, which looks like a black vein running down the back, can be unappealing for most. I remember early on in culinary school. I made the mistake of presenting a shrimp dish to my instructor without cleaning it properly. Let’s just say he wouldn’t even try it. Lesson learned!

Several raw pieces of shrimp in a bowl.

Leaving the shell on

Use kitchen shears to cut along the back of the shrimp. Start just below the head and down to the tail. Use your fingers to open the cut area and remove the digestive tract. You can still leave the tail shells on if you prefer, which can intensify the flavors in some dishes.

Removing the shell

Person wearing gloves and removing the shell from a piece of shrimp.

Peel the shrimp by flipping it over. Gently start pulling away from the shell, opening from where the legs are located. If keeping the tail on, carefully tear away the outer shell from that junction point.

Remove the tail

Person pulling the tail off a piece of shrimp.

Firmly hold the body and pull the entire tail off.

How to devein shrimp

Person using a pairing knife to cut into a shrimp.
Deveining a piece of shrimp.

Use a paring knife to make an extended, shallow cut down the length of the shrimp back, stopping at the tail. The vein can sometimes be seen under the muscle to follow as a guide. Pull out the vein with the tip of a toothpick or your fingers.

A quick tip I learned is to place the vein on a folded, wet paper towel on the corner of your cutting board. The vein easily sticks to the dampened paper and won’t mysteriously disappear.

Wash and dry

After cleaning, transfer the shrimp to a colander. Rinse well with cold running water for about 1 minute. Drain thoroughly and dry with paper towels, especially if sauteing shrimp, stir-frying, and roasting where you want the least amount of surface moisture for better browning.

Storing and freezing

Use the cleaned shrimp immediately, place it in a bowl of ice water, or store it in the refrigerator for two days in an airtight container. It can also be stored in a resealable plastic bag, placed in a single layer, and frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in a colander with cool running water until no longer icy, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Shrimp recipes

Recipe Science

Why leave the shell on?

Many chefs like to cook shrimp with the shell on it because it has potent umami flavor compounds called glutamates and nucleotides that absorb into the shrimp as it cooks. It also provides a thin barrier, protecting the shrimp as it’s heated. This is great for roasted shrimp or stir-fry dishes where the crispy shell is eaten.

How to Peel and Devein Shrimp

How to peel and devein shrimp to use in recipes like shrimp cocktail, risotto, pasta, stir-fries, grilled, sauteed, and seafood stews.
4.84 from 6 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine American

Ingredients  

  • 1 pound shrimp

Instructions 

  • Start with a bowl of fresh or defrosted shrimp.
  • Peel the shrimp by flipping it over. Gently start pulling away from the shell, opening from where the legs are located. If keeping the tail on, make sure to carefully tear away the shell from that junction point.
  • If you want to remove the tail, firmly hold the body and pull the entire tail off.
  • Use a paring knife to make a long shallow cut down the length of the shrimps back, stopping at the tail.
  • Completely remove the digestive tract using your fingers, or a toothpick comes in handy for this task.
  • After cleaning, transfer the shrimp to a colander. Rinse well with cool running water for about 1 minute. Drain thoroughly and dry the shrimp with paper towels.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 386kcal (19%)Protein 91g (182%)Fat 2g (3%)Saturated Fat 0.5g (3%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 0.4gTrans Fat 0.02gCholesterol 730mg (243%)Sodium 540mg (23%)Potassium 1197mg (34%)Calcium 290mg (29%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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  1. Leonore says

    But what about the thin black “vein” on the under side? Don’t remove? Looks like poop! I don’t eat crawly things so have never done this before, but have to cook some for someone else. Thank you for a clear easy to understand explanation!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Make sure to remove the black vein on the shrimp as it is the digestive tract, then wash the seafood before cooking.