How To Grill Shrimp With The Shell On

To shell or not to shell; that's the question that shrimp lovers have to consider. A lot of that flavor is wrapped up in the shell, but you'll only ever convince naysayers they're missing out on a great meal by showing them how to correctly grill shrimp, shell on.

The most important step to grilling shrimp in either case is to clean and devein them. Their digestive tract — or "vein" — is the last thing you or anyone else is going to want to bite into, and it can be potentially harmful. Strip away the legs and cut into the back of the shell using a very sharp paring knife or kitchen shears. Run it under cold water to remove any debris, and pay close attention to ensure you remove all the digestive tract.

Once cleaned, you'll want to skewer the shrimp so they are easy to handle on the grill and won't fall through the grates. If using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them for at least 30 minutes so they don't burn on the grill. With your crustaceans all lined up, oil a hot, preheated grill – about 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit — and grill each side for 2 to 3 minutes. You don't want to overcook it or you'll have a rubbery end product; it should be opaque and have a pink hue when it's done.

Advantages to grilling shrimp in the shell

The shells work to keep the meat inside from drying out, acting as a protective layer and steaming it. And the grill does its part to infuse them both with a smoky aroma as the shell gets tinged with color. They contain an abundance of flavor, which gets imparted to the meat during cooking, and are completely edible once cooked. Though they should be consumed together, many claim that's where the bulk of the flavor comes from. If you really want to make a culinary statement, grill the shrimp with the heads still attached for an extra depth of sweetness and impressive presentation. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but another benefit of leaving the shells on to grill shrimp is it can significantly reduce the fishy taste that sometimes accompanies seafood. For those who aren't particularly fond of seafood dishes because of this seaweed-like tang, the taste of shrimp grilled in the shell can be an eye-opener. But if you really want to add some zing to your shellfish, elevate the flavor by marinating them in your favorite ingredients.

Take your grilled shrimp to the next level with a marinade

Marinating shrimp with the shell attached can elevate the flavor and make any dish you are creating a unique experience for all who taste it. It can also help keep the shrimp moist as they cook. Zesty lemon and herb marinades are a solid choice for seafood that brightens up the overall taste, fitting in well in a New Orleans-style shrimp bake. For crustaceans that really have a kick, a Cajun marinade will wake up the palate with bold, spicy seasonings that would fit well in a gumbo. Just 30 minutes in the marinade is enough for the shrimp to take on the flavor no matter which variety you make.

It's important to note that when marinating shrimp, you need to consider how much acid is going into the marinade. Strong acids from things like vinegar and lemon can "cook" the shellfish slightly, so you may want to reduce your cooking time if you are using acids in your marinade. The next time you are hosting a BBQ and seafood lovers will be in attendance, go to the seafood counter at the grocery store and get yourself some shell-on shrimp. Marinate it however you like, and watch the eyebrows raise as you pull aromatic, vibrant shrimp off the grill like you've done it a thousand times before.

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