Shrimp Size Guide: Everything You Need to Know

updated Dec 16, 2022
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Graphic chart showing the five different sizes of shrimp and how many shrimp make up a pound in each size
Credit: Kitchn

A quick-cooking and versatile protein, shrimp are the perfect appetizer or entrée to impress any guest — so why is shopping for them so intimidating?! How do you know which size shrimp to buy? Should you buy fresh or frozen shrimp? Do you need 10 shrimp or 10,000 shrimp for your cocktail hour? Breathe in, breathe out — we are here for all of your shellfish needs. Check out our shrimp size guide below for everything you need to know to shop with confidence! 

What Are The Different Sizes of Shrimp?

To break down the wide world of shrimp sizes, we turned to a true expert — Dorian Mecir, owner and operator of New York City’s Dorian’s Seafood Market and a decades-long veteran of helping customers select the right crustacean. 

Mecir explained  that shrimp are categorized by weight —  specifically, how many pieces make up a pound. In this sizing system, there are two kinds of labels: larger shrimp like “colossal” or “jumbo” will often be marked as “U-10” to signify that 10 or fewer shrimp usually make up one pound. For smaller shrimp sizes, labels will be marked with a range like “26/30” to indicate the number of shrimp that will make up a pound. 

While the size of shrimp at each market is different, there is a relative range available in most stores. Most shrimp are weighed with shells on, though, Mecir mentioned that some markets, like Dorian’s, will also offer peeled, deveined shrimp at their net weight. 

  • Colossal Shrimp: Around  8–10  colossal shrimp make up a pound. Colossal shrimp are the largest variety of shrimp and are often used as a focal point in a dish, such as in Shrimp Cocktail
  • Small Shrimp: Clocking in at a range of 26–30 shrimp a pound, small shrimp work well integrated into dishes like Pork Dumpling Soup or Shrimp Pasta Salad.  Some sizes of shrimp, such as extra-small, will contain even more pieces.

How Many Shrimp Do I Need Per Person?

If you’re following a recipe like Easy Shrimp Scampi, the directions should indicate how much shrimp to buy and the number of servings per recipe. But if you’re hoping to stock up on shrimp for an appetizer like  Crispy Air Fryer Fried Shrimp for your next party, you should account for about 4 shrimp per person, said Mecir. “Some people might have six, some people might not have any,” she added. 

Should I Buy Shrimp Frozen or Fresh?

Shrimp is available year-round, and due to sourcing needs, most fresh shrimp is frozen before it arrives at the seafood market, Mecir told us. The most important thing, she emphasized, is to cook the shrimp as quickly as possible — “it’s extremely perishable,” she added, noting that she does not recommend freezing shrimp twice. If you purchase frozen shrimp, you should only defrost it just before cooking. 

Should I Buy Shrimp with the Shell On? 

Step one: Check your recipe for specific needs. Some dishes like Arroz Con Gambas require shell-on shrimp throughout the cooking process, while others like Shrimp & Veggie Stir-Fry ask for raw, peeled, and deveined shrimp to start. Mecir told us that she recommends buying shell-on shrimp for the purpose of Shrimp Cocktail, as steaming shrimp with the shells on helps retain their “C” shape and lock in additional flavor

While some customers prefer to prep their own prawns (perhaps with the help of a trusty guide showing you How To Peel & Devein Shrimp), Mecir told us that many seafood markets will take on the task upon request. “Everybody’s under time constraints these days, and peeled shrimp is ready in four minutes,” she said. “And our customers are very appreciative that we do the cleaning!” 

Take your newfound knowledge on the road — and pick up some savory, quick-cooking Shrimp Cocktail for Dinner!