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Are you overwhelmed by all the different types of shrimp you see at the grocery store? This guide is here to help you learn how to buy shrimp!
Shrimp is, by far, America’s favorite seafood.
At last count, we’re eating about five pounds of shrimp per person each year, more than any other type of fish or shellfish.
It’s one of my personal favorites too– I love to make mini shrimp tacos with pineapple and Cajun shrimp and grits whenever I get a chance!
And yet– you might still find yourself a little confused at the grocery store.
Which type of shrimp is which?
What should you buy?
What Types of Shrimp Are Available?
There are over 300 species of shrimp and prawns, but the majority will be hard to find except in specific areas.
If you live on the coast, or are visiting a coastal area, try to find some local shrimp!
And, because nothing can be easy in the seafood labeling business, keep in mind that shrimp species are not always marked clearly (or at all) on packaging.
But sometimes they are, and I can help you know what to look for!
Here are some types of American shrimp (domestic shrimp) you might find in a grocery store or market:
- Pink Shrimp: Often from Florida, Large and meaty, Sweet
- White Shrimp: Often from Atlantic or Gulf, Also imported, Can be hard to find, Sweet
- Brown Shrimp: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Relatively easy to find, Typically small, Mild
- Spot Prawns: Seasonal West Coast shrimp, Large, Expensive and hard to find
- Maine Shrimp: Cold water East Coast shrimp, Small, Hard to find
- Oregon Shrimp: West Coast shrimp, Small or Large, Relatively easy to find
- Royal Red: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Large, Can be hard to find, Sweet like lobster
If you’re buying imported shrimp, be on alert– check for traceability, certifications, and chemical additives. Here are a couple of kinds you might find:
- Whiteleg Shrimp: Common shrimp, Generally imported, Easy to find, Generally not clearly labeled
- Tiger Shrimp: Farmed shrimp, Signature striped shell, Can be expensive and hard to find
Recently, there has been a marketing campaign trying to push Argentine Red Shrimp. This shrimp is not considered sustainable.
Try a pink shrimp recipe: Check out this buffalo shrimp + blue cheese grits from Taste and See.
Should I Buy Fresh Shrimp or Frozen Shrimp?
If you live near the ocean, are buying shrimp from a live-tank, or are absolutely certain that the shrimp you’re buying have never been frozen– then you could consider buying fresh shrimp.
Look for black spots on the shrimp head or body— these are signs that the shrimp is old.
If you don’t live near the ocean, or you aren’t sure how old the shrimp is– stick with frozen shrimp.
Also keep in mind that shrimp at the seafood counter was probably previously frozen, and then thawed (for who knows how long!)
What Size Shrimp Should I Buy?
It’s totally up to you!
Think about how you’re going to use the shrimp.
Will you be dipping them in a sauce? Go bigger.
Are they going in a salad or soup? You can choose smaller shrimp.
Should I Buy Raw or Cooked Shrimp?
No question about it.
Pre-cooked shrimp tend to be rubbery, and less flavorful. Plus, shrimp only take a few minutes to cook.
Stick with raw.
Look for Chemical-Free Shrimp
Some shrimp contain chemical additives.
Check the ingredients label, and make sure that the only thing it says is “shrimp.”
Are Shrimp and Prawns both types of shrimp?
Technically no– shrimp and prawns are similar, but different animals.
Both have similar flavor profiles, however, and the terms are often used interchangeably in cooking. You can substitute prawns for shrimp– or shrimp for prawns– when following a recipe.
Try this prawn recipe: Spot prawns with saffron tomato sauce from Diversivore.
Should I Buy Head-On Shrimp?
You’ll usually only find head-on shrimp fresh, not frozen.
Again, make sure that the shrimp is very fresh, and that there are no dark spots on the head and body.
How to Devein Shrimp? (Do I Have To?)
Deveining shrimp refers to removing the digestive tract, or the dark vein that runs along the outer center of the shrimp.
Removing it is fairly easy– simply slit open the shrimp with a paring knife and pull out the vein.
It can be time consuming though– so do you have to?
No, you don’t have to devein your shrimp– especially in smaller shrimp where the vein isn’t as dark and noticeable.
In larger shrimp, however, the vein might be noticeable to your guests, and it may even add a gritty texture to the shrimp. So no, you don’t have to, but you might want to.
Are any types of Shrimp Ethical and Sustainable?
Look for domestic shrimp, or shrimp with sustainability certifications.
Read more about sustainable shrimp here: Wild Caught Shrimp vs Farmed: How to Buy Sustainable Shrimp
Should I Buy Organic Shrimp?
Maybe, but just be aware that as of right now, organic seafood is still unregulated by the USDA. It’s possible that it will mean more in the future, but for now– you should still read your labels!
Cook with Different Types of Shrimp
Once you’ve found some shrimp, it’s time to cook! Here are a few more shrimp-tastic recipes:
- Classic Shrimp Cocktail (Any Shrimp)
- Cucumber Mousse + Dill Shrimp Bites from Sprinkles and Sprouts (Any Shrimp)
- Spicy Garlic Shrimp with Snow Peas from Pups with Chopsticks (Tiger Shrimp)
- Cilantro Lime Grilled Shrimp from Taste and See (Florida Pink Shrimp)
Christine | Mid-Life Croissant
My resolution this year is to eat more AND more VARIED seafood. But there will be shrimp!
That’s a fabulous goal! And there will be shrimp for me too!
This is an amazing resource covering 2 of my favorite topics – sustainability and shrimp! You’ve included some amazing recipes (thanks for including my risotto BTW), and I’m anxious to try many – if not all – of them… Shared all around!
Dawn - Girl Heart Food
What a fabulous guide, Sarah! And who would have thought that it was so popular. I seriously would never have guessed that! Funny story – waaaaaaaay back when in my younger years, I wanted to make coconut shrimp. I coated them with a lovely coconut mixture only to realize I forgot to take the shell part off and all of my coating was stuck to that. Anywho, that was a long time ago and I’ll never forget it, lol.
LOL- that’s hilarious and tragic all at once!! And thank you!
Meg | Meg is Well
This was super informative! I didn’t know that organic seafood isn’t regulated by the USDA and I also didn’t know that you can go ahead and not devein shrimp if you really didn’t want to go through the hassle (I HATE deveining shrimp).
Isn’t that crazy? I thought organic was a regulated term until I started .. you know, reading the USDA’s website. And uh.. I despise deveining and usually don’t do it lol
I loved this article! I used to always buy shrimp in the meat dept at the counter, then one day they were out and the guy walked over and pulled it out of the freezer?! I had somehow not thought that it was previously frozen since it was thawed. (talk about not even thinking let alone reading the small print on the sign that was right there!). I like that getting it from the frozen section I can find out if there are chemical additives!
I did the same thing Michele! Now I almost NEVER buy from the seafood counter, because here they’re pulling everything from the freezer. I’d rather have the labels on it thanks! Lol
Dominique | Perchance to Cook
Pinning and bookmarking this because I’m always looking up how to cook shrimp. Thanks for the info!
Monica | Nourish & Fete
This is such a great resource, Sarah! I always look for shrimp that’s already peeled and deveined, just to save time, and honestly never even thought about your point that that means someone else, somewhere, has been handling my shrimp – a LOT! I will definitely be bearing that in mind, and looking at labels a lot more closely for chemical additives, too! I will be really curious what I can find in our stores here in Belgium!
I’m glad this was helpful!!! Let me know what you find- I’m not sure how universal those certifications are! But yeah hopefully you can find something certified and additive free!
I love cooking shrimp and it’s a regular in our house! But I really didn’t know a lot of the info you included in this post and especially appreciate the advice about buying ethically and sustainably sourced shrimp! And I need to try some of your shrimp recipes!
Great tips! I definitely get confused when buying shrimp. So glad to have a better understanding of what to buy!
Wow…just so much great information here..thank you! I will definitely use this, I eat shrimp all the time!
I love that you’ve offered great advice on buying sustainably source shrimp. This roundup of recipes looks lovely as well!
This is SO great! I remember being young and my mom teaching me to prepare shrimp. Peeling off the shell and then using the little plastic tool thingy to scoop out the poop shoot. That’s probably why I don’t make much shrimp now, haha! Although, being on the east coast, it’s still pretty easy to get fresh and clean shrimp. I loved reading about the different varieties of shrimp!
I had no idea there were so many problems with the shrimp industry. I will definitely try to shop more responsibly. Tuna fishing usually hits the news not shrimp. Thanks for the info!
This is such a great resource! I never thought about the number of people handling pre-peeled shrimp. I rarely buy shrimp because my husband is allergic, but when I do, I always buy peeled shrimp. I cannot stand the smell of shrimp peels lingering in my trash can for days, but we have nowhere to store garbage outside our house (city living problems – no yard, garage, or driveway!) and trash pickup is only once a week.
If you buy unpeeled shrimp you could freeze the shells and then make seafood broth with them later! I’ve got a seafood stock recipe on here that’s easy!
I’m always very mindful of what I purchase in stores put for some reason never thought of checking the ingredients of my frozen shrimp. Silly me thought the only ingredient would be…shrimp. The food industry can be so infuriating! Thank you for this post!! I’m off to check the bag of shrimp in my freezer right now.
It’s so aggravating sometimes isn’t it!? I hope this was helpful 🙂
This post was super helpful and informative. Thanks for taking the time to collect and write about all this information. I just doubled checked the bag of frozen shrimp I just purchased from Whole Foods yesterday and I’m happy to report that it’s sustainably sourced and it had no crap added to it! 🙂
I’m so glad I could help! And yay! I love Whole Foods
Oh I love this informative article!! We try and source sustainable shrimp too, but I know I need to make more of an effort. Love the round-up as well, so many great options!
Very informative article. Shrimp is my daughters favorite food, ever, and i am always open to learn more about it!
I have to admit, only four pounds per person per year surprised me. I would have guessed it was higher. As someone who grew up landlocked and doesn’t have a lot of experience with seafood, this was a super helpful post! Thank you! 🙂
I actually thought it would be higher too, but I suppose that if you’re adding in all the people who don’t eat shellfish- it’s a lot! I’m glad I could help!
I’m definitely an outlier in the 4 pounds of shrimp per year average, hahaha. We’re a big shrimp household over here. You’ve covered so many important points to remember when shopping…not all shrimp are equal! I’m a huge proponent of buying them raw and cooking them yourself…pre-cooked really are so rubbery and it’s so easy to just cook them up at home instead. I think I’m going to need to have shrimp for dinner because this post is giving me a serious craving! 🙂
Lol! I used to eat more shrimp than I do now, but all these shrimp recipes are definitely making me hungry!!
I love this guide! You make it so easy to know what to look for to make educated decisions when it comes to shrimp! And thank you for linking to some killer shrimp recipes!