When to Grill Shrimp With the Shells on (& When Not To)

Wondering what to do with the shell when you're grilling shrimp? We've got the answers you need so it comes out perfect every time.

Updated December 17, 2023
shrimp on the grill

I've cooked a lot of shrimp in my life, and I'm here to tell you — peeling it is kind of a pain. So leaving the shell on is a cook's dream. But should you leave the shell on when you grill shrimp? The answer is maybe, depending on how you cook it. Here's how to decide.

When to Leave the Shell on When Grilling Shrimp

Leave the shell on if you're grilling the shrimp with no marinade or seasonings.  Doing so will protect the moist meat inside and intensify the sweet, briny flavor of the shrimp. This allows you to prepare the shrimp as peel-and-eat — which is living the dream for any cook, really. You are winning the shrimp game, my friend. 

When to Grill Shrimp Without the Shell

In other cases, it's perfectly fine to grill shrimp with no shell.

  • If you'd like to impart a smoky flavor, remove the shells and use a charcoal grill or a gas grill with wood chips. The shell will actually block and absorb the smoke in this instance, so it is best to remove it.
  • If you are marinating the shrimp, you'll need to peel them before you put them in the marinade and plop them on the grill. The shells can keep the marinade from infusing the shrimp meat. Bonus: marinade adds moisture and tons of flavor to this delicate seafood, meaning that it is less likely to dry out.
Helpful Hack

If you remove the shells, don't throw them away. Freeze them until you're ready, and then use them to make a tasty seafood stock. 

Other Tips for Grilling Shrimp

Shrimp is quick and easy on the grill, whether it's in the shell or naked. Here are a few more tips.

  • Don't overcook it. Overcooking delicate shellfish always results in dry, chewy meat. Nobody wants that. The shrimp is done when the meat just turns from clear to opaque, and the outside takes on a pink tinge.
  • Use skewers or a grill basket to keep the shrimp from slipping through the grate.
  • Shellfish soaks up flavor quickly, so it isn't necessary to marinate the shrimp for any longer than 30 minutes before tossing it on the grill.
  • If you use a marinade that contains an acid like lemon juice or vinegar, these acids will partially "cook" the shrimp. Watch the cooking times of shrimp marinated in this fashion closely to make sure it doesn't wind up tough or overcooked.

To Shell or Not to Shell

Most recipes will tell you whether you should leave the shell on when grilling shrimp. But if you come across one that doesn't tell you which to use — or you're creating your own recipe (you glorious rebel, you) — these guidelines can help you decide what to do.

Trending on LoveToKnow
When to Grill Shrimp With the Shells on (& When Not To)