It’s time to throw a ton of shrimp on the barbie and get grilling with this shell-on recipe.
If you’re looking for a recipe that is ALL about celebrating the simplicity of perfectly grilled shrimp that has been kissed by charcoal – this is it. No complicated flavors, no over the top marinades, just a recipe that lets the fresh seafood and the grill be the stars of the show.
When it comes to grilling shrimp, keeping the shell on definitely has the advantage. The idea of leaving the shell on is primarily to protect the tender meat. It provides a more robust layer to shield against the flame, a heat deflector, if you will. Charcoal grilling lends the most superb flavor to shrimp, and I’ve experimented quite a bit with the best way to grill a shell-on shrimp. I’ve left them completely whole in a marinade, tried them with peeled the tail portions, and also butterflied them open while leaving the shell intact.
The main issue with leaving them completely whole is that while they get a great color and appearance, you’re peeling away all that amazing flavor when you remove and discard the shells. It’s nearly a food-tease! There’s so much visual promise, but they don’t taste at all how they look. That’s why this butterfly method is actually my favorite. It’s very simple, but it really does let the delicate sweet flavor of the shrimp shine AND lets you taste all those lovely charred edges, too.
When it comes to grilling shrimp, buying extra large size is also a great idea for three reasons. First, the bigger the protein, the better it can handle the heat. This principle applies to most meats – the thickness of steaks, keeping muscles whole, etc. So, the larger your shrimp, the longer it takes for them to dry out. Second, larger shrimp are less likely to fall through the gaps in your grill grate and are certainly easier to manoeuvre with tongs than fiddly little ones! Third and finally, why on earth WOULDN’T you want more shrimp per bite?!
A few tips for this grilled shrimp recipe:
- I dry brine the shrimp in advance to make sure they have a lovely salty flavor to the flesh, it doesn’t take more than 20-30 minutes and is an easy way to quickly improve flavor.
- Following advice from Serious Eats, I add a pinch of baking soda to the shrimp so they have a firm and snappy texture (as opposed to slightly mushy). It does turn the shells a little white, but the texture is SO worth it. So the final brine recipe is: 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per pound of shrimp.
- The right knife can do wonders for butterflying the shell-on shrimp, and the best tool for this task is the Gerber Vital. It’s got replaceable blades just like a scalpel, but they’re small enough to give you lots of control.