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How to Make the Perfect Shrimp Cocktail

Making Restaurant-Style Shrimp Cocktail is Easy!

If you're anywhere near my age, you'll remember going to restaurants and supper clubs with your parents, where one of the most elegant appetizers you could order was the shrimp cocktail.

There's nothing like a crisp, chilled shrimp paired with zesty cocktail sauce, especially during the holiday season. I wanted to share one of my favorite seafood recipes with you, and make it possible for you to bring this festive dish into your home for the holidays, or for any special occasion.

You might be surprised by how easy shrimp cocktail is to make. That said, if you prefer to cook along with a video, check out this step-by-step tutorial showing my Perfect Shrimp Cocktail recipe using North Coast Naked Raw Shrimp.

Before we start cooking, let's talk about the ingredients for this shrimp cocktail recipe. It’s absolutely vital to cook with the freshest ingredients possible with a recipe as pared down as shrimp cocktail.

Ingredients Needed for this Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

shell on raw shrimp on a white circular plate

Shrimp cocktail demands high-quality, sustainably sourced shrimp. I like to use Naked 'EZ Peel' Shrimp , which comes deveined and with the shell on.

North Coast Seafoods Naked Shrimp has a naturally-clean flavor profile and crisp texture. The most important part about this shrimp is that it contains absolutely no chemicals, no artificial preservatives, and no antibiotics... it's just pure shrimp of the freshest quality.

Naked Shrimp is 4-Star Certified Sustainable by the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), which is the highest rating possible. This means that every step of the process is carefully monitored to ensure the highest quality, best tasting, responsibly sourced Shrimp.

How to Cook Shrimp for Shrimp Cocktail

Choosing the right technique for cooking the shrimp in your shrimp cocktail is just as vital for achieving a delicious shrimp cocktail as is sourcing fresh, high-quality shrimp. 

When you're preparing a shrimp cocktail at home, it is crucial to use SHELL-ON SHRIMP. Why? This enhances the flavor, and prevents the shrimp from absorbing excess water, which can compromise their texture. By keeping the shell on, you'll transfer the shell's flavors into the shrimp. It's a real game-changer in terms of taste!

Here Are 5 Tips for Cooking Shrimp Cocktail:

  1. Season the water:I season my water with kosher salt and a little secret weapon of white vinegar, which is going to season and acidulate the water. This is going to make your shrimp taste great.
  2. Test doneness: How do you know when your shrimp is ready? Test doneness by carefully removing shrimp from the pot using a kitchen cloth–make a cut through the middle, and check for any translucence or shininess. If it's shiny at all, put the shrimp back in the pot for another 30 seconds. If it's white throughout, it's done!
  3. Shock the cooked shrimp in an ice bath: This will immediately stop the cooking, helping you avoid overcooking your shrimp. It will also rapidly chill your shrimp.
  4. Peel your shrimp as close to serving time as possible: This will ensure a moist shrimp. Keep your shrimp covered after peeling to prevent it from drying out.
  5. Feeling overwhelmed?: Watch our How to Make a Classic Shrimp Cocktail video for easy-to-follow cooking instructions.

How to Make Homemade Cocktail Sauce

Creating your own cocktail sauce is so easy, and delicious. All you need is:

  • Rotel tomatoes
  • Chili sauce
  • Horseradish
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Tabasco

Watch our Instagram video to quickly see how to make your own sauce. Essentially, all you need to do is throw everything into a food processor to combine and slightly puree the mixture. Presto!

If you want to try a slightly spicier shrimp cocktail , check out this Mexican-inspired shrimp recipe. Or explore more seafood recipes in Northcoast Seafoods’ “In the Kitchen” Blog!

For the final touches on your recipe, here are my additional serving suggestions that'll wow your guests.

Shrimp Cocktail Suggestions:

  1. Leave the tails on as a handle for your guests.
  2. Serve your shrimp cocktail in a festive dish. I always use my grandmother's pedestal dish, which was her most special dish. She used it whenever she'd serve shrimp cocktail because at the time, the dish was considered one of the fanciest appetizers. Making individual portions? Try arranging a few shrimp each into small bowls so each guest can grab-and-go.
  3. For serving size, plan on about three to six shrimp per guest.
  4. Try pairing your shrimp with a German Riesling. It has a little bit of sweetness that complements the acidity of the cocktail sauce nicely.

You can't go wrong with a classic shrimp cocktail. This recipe is always useful to have in your culinary arsenal; not only during the holidays. Your friends and family will thank you for being the one to bring the best shrimp cocktail.

Shrimp Cocktail FAQS:

  • Is it better to boil or steam shrimp for shrimp cocktail? Steaming is gentler on seafood, but boiling allows you to season the water, locking in more flavor.
  • Why is my shrimp cocktail watery? It’s possible that you overcooked your shrimp or you didn’t dry them enough.
  • Is shrimp cocktail raw or cooked? Cooked.
  • What goes well with shrimp cocktail? Cocktail sauce. Hot sauce. Lemon wedges. Parsley. Salt and Pepper. For a wine pairing, try German Riesling!
  • Is a shrimp cocktail healthy? One large shrimp has about 7-8 calories so a serving of 3-4 shrimp is about 21-32 calories, making shrimp cocktail a healthy, low-calorie Hors d’oeuvre.

My Classic Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Classic Shrimp Cocktail

There's nothing like a crisp, chilled shrimp with zesty cocktail sauce. Making this elegant and classic dish is not as complicated as you might think!

Servings: About 4

Keywords: Shrimp

  • Prep Time: 0 mins
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 20 mins


  • 1 lb. Raw Naked Shrimp (EZ Peel) fully thawed
  • ½ gallon Water
  • ½ cup White Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 bowl Ice Cold Water at the ready
  • 12 oz jar Cocktail Sauce


  1. Thaw shrimp fully before cooking, either for 24 hours in the refrigerator or under cold running water for 4-5 minutes.
  2. In a large stock pot or other large pot, combine water, vinegar, and salt.
  3. Bring to a boil on high heat. 
  4. Add the shrimp ,then reduce the heat to medium. 
  5. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and cold water to make an ice bath.

Checking for Doneness

  1. Remove one shrimp with tongs and dunk it in ice water.
  2. With a small paring knife, cut halfway into the shrimp.
  3. If it is white throughout, it is DONE.
  4. If it is translucent or shiny at all on the inside, add back to the heat and continue to cook for another 30 seconds - 1 minute; then check it again to ensure your shrimp are cooked completely.

Finishing Touches

  1. Once cooked, remove all shrimp, and submerge into ice water. This will STOP the cooking immediately, to avoid overcooking.
  2. Allow the shrimp to sit for a couple of minutes until completely chilled.
  3. Pat dry if needed to remove excess moisture. 
  4. Remove from water and peel everything except for the tail. This will act as a "handle" for your guests.
  5. * Peel your shrimp as close to serving time as possible. This will ensure you serve your guests moist, succulent shrimp. Keep covered after peeling so shrimp do not dry out. *
  6. Serve with Cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Some people prefer lime wedges. Either way, the lemon juice or lime juice will add a nice brightness and acidity, complementing the flavor of the shrimp. Looking for an extra kick? Consider serving with hot sauce or topping with a shake or two of black pepper.

On the hunt for more great frozen shrimp recipes? Here's my Classic Shrimp Scampi recipe, or try my Beer Battered Naked Shrimp with Rosemary Lemon Aioli .

Do you have any questions about cooking shrimp? I'd love to hear from you through ourContact page or on social media. Tag@NorthCoastSeafoods to get featured.

About Chef Andrew Wilkinson: Trained at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York Chef Andrew Wilkinson has an instinctive understanding of superior cuisine. 

In his newest mission; "Real Food for Healthier Kids," Chef Andrew is spearheading North Coast Seafoods' commitment to offer all school children the benefits of adding seafood to the weekly menu offering. 

Chef Wilkinson is constantly looking for innovative ways to utilize lesser-known, sustainable, and healthy fish choices for today's changing diet. Prior to joining North Coast Seafoods, Chef Wilkinson was Chef/Partner of Skipjack's Restaurant Group in Boston. Wilkinson made his mark in New York City as the Executive Chef of the Rainbow Room. 

Chef Wilkinson brings extensive international experience to the kitchen:

  • After graduating from the CIA, he worked at the 3-star Kur Hotel Traube Tonbach in Germany. 
  • He returned to the U.S. to be the chef at Aurora in New York City and after three years was recruited to Fukuoka, Japan. 
  • He was a U.S. Culinary Olympic Team Sous Chef in 1984 & 1988. 

The most important things in Chef Andrew's life, family and cooking, have always intersected.