How To Quickly Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

How To Quickly Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

Emma Christensen
Aug 10, 2016
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

For a Midwestern girl who didn't see the ocean until she was in her teens, I have fallen hard for shrimp. It helps that I married a New Englander who requires plates of these plump little morsels on a regular basis in order to keep all systems functional.

It also helps that shrimp are so easy — the effort-to-reward ratio is high with this particular seafood. Even pulled straight from the freezer, I can have a platter of quick-sautéed shrimp on the table in 15 minutes flat. Add a bowl of garlicky pasta or a leafy green salad, and dinner is a done deal.

How To Cook Shrimp On The Stove: Watch the Video

What's the Best Shrimp to Buy?

I usually buy bags of frozen shrimp and keep them stashed in my freezer for quick meals. Look for shrimp that has already been peeled and deveined, as this makes life oh-so-much easier. I prefer shrimp with tails left on for appearances sake (plus the tails can make a great shellfish stock), but it's totally fine to buy them with tails already removed if you prefer.

One thing to note: Most shrimp has already been frozen once, and even the "fresh" shrimp sold at most seafood counters has usually been frozen and thawed. There's nothing wrong with buying thawed shrimp from the counter, but you should cook it within a day or two and it's best not to re-freeze it.

You can also buy shrimp of any size you find or have a particular hankering for. The technique below calls for medium (17-21 count) shrimp, but the method is the same for smaller or larger shrimp. The cooking time will be quicker for smaller shrimp and a bit longer for larger shrimp.

Most shrimp are a good choice from a sustainable seafood perspective, especially US wild-caught or US farmed shrimp. For more information and buying guides for specific shrimp, take a look a the Monterey Bay Aquarium's factsheet:

Shrimp Factsheet from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Knowing When Shrimp is Done

Even larger shrimp will cook in just a few minutes on the stovetop. With shrimp, it's incredibly easy to know exactly when they're done — yet another thing I like about them. They start off translucent, grey, and a bit flabby, and they're done when they've turned completely opaque with a pearly-pink color and bright red tails. One minute they're a bit odd-looking and unappealing, the next minute, it's hard to keep from eating them directly from the pan. There's absolutely no guesswork involved.

Turning Shrimp into Dinner

While I could probably be perfectly happy with a bowl of shrimp and nothing else, most of the time shrimp needs some accompaniment to make it a meal. Shrimp is used in almost every world cuisine, from Italian scampi to Thai noodle dishes. Take your cue from them — serve shrimp over pasta or rice noodles, with a bowl of sticky rice, over a bed of greens, or with some roasted vegetables on the side.

What's your favorite way to have shrimp for dinner?

Make Sautéed Shrimp into a Meal

Serve your sautéed shrimp with — or over! — any of these dishes to make a complete meal:

Recipes with Sautéed Shrimp

How To Quickly Cook Shrimp on the Stovetop

Serves 4 to 6

What You Need


  • 1/2 to 1 pound

    medium-sized (17-21 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on

  • 1 tablespoon

    extra-virgin olive oil or butter, or a mix

  • Coarse kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Equipment
  • Colander

  • Sauté pan

  • Spatula


  1. If frozen, thaw the shrimp: Place the shrimp you want to cook in a colander in the sink and run cold water over them for about 5 minutes. Toss the shrimp occasionally to make sure they are all exposed to the cold water.

  2. The shrimp will bend easily when thawed: You will know that the shrimp is thawed and ready when they are no longer frozen solid but soft, easily bendable, and slightly translucent. This will only take a few minutes. Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel.

  3. Warm the oil or butter over medium-high heat: Tilt the pan as the oil warms, or butter melts, to coat the bottom of the pan.

  4. Add the shrimp to the hot pan: When the oil is hot and flows easily, add the shrimp to the pan. The shrimp should sizzle on contact (if not, warm your pan a little longer next time).

  5. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper: Sprinkle salt and pepper over the shrimp. Be generous! You can also add any other seasonings at this point — chili spice, curry spice, a bit of harissa, or any other seasonings in your cupboard.

  6. Sauté the shrimp until pink and opaque: The shrimp will start off looking grey and translucent, but will gradually become pink and opaque as they cook through. The tails will also turn bright red. Cook the shrimp, stirring frequently, until the flesh is totally pink and opaque, and you see no more grey bits. Depending on the size of your shrimp and how many you have in the pan, this will usually take 4 to 5 minutes.

  7. Transfer to a serving dish: Serve sautéed shrimp immediately with pasta or over grains. Leftover shrimp is also fantastic in salads or cold preparations.

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