Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail, flavorful poached shrimp served with homemade cocktail sauce, is a classic American appetizer ready in less than 20 minutes!

Preparing for easy holiday Appetizers? You’ll love this recipe along with Buffalo Chicken DipUltimate Spinach Artichoke Dip and Easy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms.

Shrimp Cocktail on serving plate with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges

Heading into the holiday season, the recipes on the site take a very holiday turn. Lots of side dishes, party appetizers and main courses for all your big holiday parties.

One such recipe you definitely should NOT buy pre-made? Shrimp Cocktail. Pre-made shrimp cocktail is non-seasoned steamed shrimp thats basically rubbery from extended refrigeration.

The right way to make shrimp cocktail? A seasoned water for the perfect boil and a quick shock in an ice bath before serving.

Let’s just get this out of the way, this is not an inexpensive option for feeding a crowd. But with a bit of planning you can have an impressive shrimp appetizer for your guests without breaking the bank.

Shrimp Cocktail Collage

How to Buy Shrimp

You should only buy shrimp when it dips in price. This happens at least once every couple of months but when it does, go ahead and buy in bulk. Many times you will go to the counter and if you order in two pound quantities they’ll ask you if you just want the unopened bag of shrimp. YES, they’re opening up frozen bags to give to you.

This is when you buy many of those 2 pound bags and put them in your deep freeze if you have one. Places like Sprouts Market often have the best shrimp pricing. If you shop around holidays like New Years and Valentine’s Day other grocers will also have great deals.

You could end up with 13-15 count bags of frozen deveined but non-peeled shrimp for around $6.99 a pound. With 4 pounds you can feed 20-25 guests and with a homemade Cocktail Sauce for dipping, you’ll have guests swarming the table.

Shrimp Cocktail

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make shrimp cocktail?

You start with a pot of aggressively seasoned water with lemon, onion and herbs. This is really your only chance of introducing flavor into the shrimp. If you fail to use seasoned water you don’t have shrimp cocktail you just have steamed shrimp and while by sight they don’t look any different, the flavors are much different from one another.

How do you peel and devein shrimp?

To peel raw shrimp, tear away at the shell above the first segment of the shell (the tail segment). Take a paring knife and make a shallow cut along the spine of the shrimp (the back of it). Using the paring knife or a fork, gently remove the black strip of intestines. To remove tails just squeeze the shrimp out from the bottom of the tail segment.

Is Shrimp Cocktail raw?

No shrimp cocktail is boiled (sometimes steamed) before being immediately chilled before serving. Remember if shrimp is pink it isn’t raw. When raw it looks grey or greyish blue in color.

How fattening is shrimp cocktail?

I’m going to give you a reason to celebrate. Shrimp cocktail is in fact… HEALTHY. Yes, shrimp are low in fat and calories and since you’re not adding any fats to this recipe you can enjoy this to your heart’s content at your favorite holiday party!

Tips for making Shrimp Cocktail

  • Don’t buy pre-cooked, there is no saving the flavors of that shrimp.
  • Don’t overcook, the second the shrimp turns pink scoop it out and into ice water.
  • For easy eating in a party setting leave the tails on.
  • For easy eating in a plated presentation remove the tails so a fork and knife can be used if desired.
  • Source GOOD shrimp. Anything that smells is past its prime. Remember, fresh seafood is odorless.

How to Store Shrimp Cocktail

  • Serve: Don’t leave Shrimp Cocktail at room temperature longer than 1 hour. To keep fresh throughout a party, place a serving dish of shrimp on top of a larger bowl or tray filled with ice.
  • Store: Cooked Shrimp Cocktail and sauce will last up to 3 days in the refrigerator, in an airtight container.
  • Freeze: Wrapped tightly, cooked shrimp can be frozen up to 6 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before serving with a fresh batch of cocktail sauce.
Shrimp Cocktail

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Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail, flavorful poached shrimp served with homemade cocktail sauce, is a classic American appetizer ready in less than 20 minutes!
Yield 8 servings
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Author Sabrina Snyder


  • 1 lemon , cut into 8 wedges
  • 8 cups cold water
  • 1/4 yellow onion , sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic , peeled and bruised
  • 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pounds shrimp , peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup cocktail sauce , homemade recipe


  • Add half the lemon pieces, water, onion, garlic, tarragon, black peppercorns and bayleaf to a large pot and bring it to a boil.
  • Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
  • Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes (until the shrimp is bright pink).
  • Remove shrimp to the ice water for 5 minutes before serving with cocktail sauce and remaining lemon wedges.



Calories: 122kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 285mg | Sodium: 882mg | Potassium: 136mg | Vitamin A: 20IU | Vitamin C: 12.5mg | Calcium: 177mg | Iron: 2.7mg
Keyword: holidays, shrimp, Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp Cocktail Collage

About the Author: Sabrina Snyder

Sabrina is a professionally trained Private Chef of over 10 years with ServSafe Manager certification in food safety. She creates all the recipes here on Dinner, then Dessert, fueled in no small part by her love for bacon.

Sabrina Snyder is a professionally trained personal and private chef of over 10 years who is the creator and developer of all the recipes on Dinner, then Dessert.

She is also the author of the upcoming cookbook: Dinner, then Dessert – Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5 or 7 Ingredients which is being published by Harper Collins.

She started Dinner, then Dessert as a business in her office as a lunch service for her coworkers who admired her lunches before going to culinary school and becoming a full time personal chef and private chef.

As a personal chef Sabrina would cook for families one day a week and cook their entire week of dinners. All grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning was done along with instructions on reheating. As a private chef she cooked for private parties and cooked in family homes in the evenings for families on a nightly basis after working as a personal chef during the day.

Sabrina has been certified as a ServSafe Manager since 2007 and was a longstanding member of the USPCA Personal Chef Association including being on the board of the Washington DC Chapter of Chefs in the US Personal Chef Association when they won Chapter of the year.

As a member of the community of food website creators Sabrina Snyder has spoken at many conferences regarding her experiences as a food writer including the Indulge Food Conference, Everything Food Conference, Haven Food Conference and IACP Annual Food Professionals Conference.

Sabrina lives with her family in sunny California.

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  1. I’m always afraid of cooking shrimp, knowing it takes no time at all to overcook. This recipe had me wanting to make this for my husband, who loves shrimp. I followed the instructions carefully; and this was a real winner!

    The cocktail sauce is D-I-V-I-N-E!

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. I can’t say enough good things about my favorite seafood, the delectable Shrimp. Living in New England, we’re fortunate to have a fresh seafood market in our town, so I don’t have to buy frozen shrimp, yay! An old fashioned Shrimp Cocktail is always served at my formal family special occasion dinners. I buy pretty large shrimp, and give everyone 6, so they really love that! As for the Cocktail Sauce, I also make my own, and use pretty much what you use in yours, except that I don’t use ketchup (too sweet), I use Heinz (bottled) Chili Sauce. It isn’t hot, it just has a lot of great flavor.

  3. I’ve never tried cooking shrimp this way, but it sounds delicious infused with all those flavors! And of course the homemade cocktail sauce would make them even more tasty. Looks like a perfect holiday appetizer!