Steamed Shrimp Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep/Total Time: 20 min.
Enjoy these tender steamed shrimp in any recipe calling for cooked shrimp: pasta, grain bowls, wraps, shrimp cocktail or shrimp salad.

Updated: Jun. 04, 2024

One of my first jobs out of culinary school was at a seafood restaurant. As you might imagine, shrimp cocktail was one of the more popular shrimp appetizers on the menu. Every day, I’d prepare for the dinner rush by pouring pounds of shrimp into perforated 12×20-inch hotel pans and loading them into the restaurant’s convection steamer. Within five minutes, an entire evening’s worth of steamed shrimp would be cooked and ready to go.

I was amazed by the process. Before working there, I had thought that boiling shrimp was the best way to cook the tiny crustaceans for make-ahead dishes like shrimp pasta salad or shrimp avocado salad. But delicate shrimp can easily overcook in violently boiling water, becoming chewy and tough. In the steamer’s gentle cooking environment, however, the shrimp are surrounded by moist heat and achieve the plumpest, juiciest texture.

How to Steam Shrimp

If you know how to steam vegetables, then you know how to steam shrimp! The basic principles are the same: Bring a small amount of liquid to a boil, place the food in a steamer basket, and add the lid. The lid traps moisture inside the pan, surrounding the shrimp with hot steam.

It’s great if you have a dedicated pot with a steamer basket, but it’s not necessary. Steamer inserts are designed to fit in most stockpots or Dutch ovens. They even have little feet on the bottom to ensure the basket will stay elevated from the bottom of the pot.

The bigger question is what to use as your steaming liquid. You can use plain water, but shrimp tastes better with some seasoning. We add lemon, onion, garlic and bay leaves to water in this recipe, but the sky’s the limit here. Feel free to season the water with vinegar or use a naturally flavorful liquid like beer, broth or juice to steam the shrimp. No matter what you choose, just make sure the liquid level is a few inches below the bottom of the steamer basket or insert so that the shrimp steam instead of boil.

How long do you steam shrimp?

Shell-on shrimp cook in three to five minutes, depending on their size. Peeled shrimp will finish cooking more quickly than shell-on shrimp, so pay attention to the visual factors to know when the shrimp are finished cooking. Cooked shrimp take on a pink hue, and their tails curl toward the heads in a loose C shape. If you poke the shrimp with your finger, the flesh should be firm to the touch with a little give.

Steamed Shrimp Ingredients

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  • Shrimp: For this recipe, you can use fresh or thawed frozen shrimp. Shell-on shrimp are best, as the shell protects the shrimp from drying out, keeping them plump and juicy. If you decide to use peeled shrimp, reduce the cooking time slightly to prevent overcooking.
  • Aromatics: Aromatics are flavorful fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as the lemon, onion, garlic and bay leaves added to the cooking liquid in this recipe. Feel free to include other flavorful additions, like sliced ginger, fresh herbs or dried chiles.
  • Cocktail sauce and lemon wedges: To turn steamed shrimp into an easy appetizer, serve steamed shrimp with shrimp cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. For a low-carb sauce, try one of these keto salad dressing recipes as a dip.


Step 1: Add aromatics to water

A turquoise frying pan with a non-stick interior contains sliced onions, lemon slices, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. A hand is pouring liquid from a measuring cup into the pan, TMB STUDIO

Place the lemon, onion, garlic and bay leaves in a pan. Add 1 inch of water.

Step 2: Bring the seasoned water to a boil

A person holding a mesh lid above a turquoise frying pan containing sliced onions, garlic cloves, lemon slices, and a bay leaf.

Place a steamer basket over the water, making sure the water is not touching the bottom of the basket. Bring the water to a boil.

Step 3: Steam the shrimp

A person uses wooden tongs to pick up a shrimp from a blue pot filled with more shrimp

Add the shrimp to the steamer basket. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Steam, covered, until the shrimp just turn pink, three to five minutes.

Step 4: Serve or chill the shrimp

Peeled shrimp with tails on are arranged on a bed of crushed ice, accompanied by lemon wedges. The scene is brightly lit, showcasing the fresh, vibrant colors of the shrimp and lemons.

Serve hot or, if desired, immediately drop the shrimp into a bowl of ice water. Drain and discard the water once the shrimp are cooled.

Editor’s Tip: If you’d rather not serve the shrimp with their shells on, you can clean the shrimp by removing the legs and shells. Leave the tails on to make the shrimp easier to hold when eating as a handheld appetizer.

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Recipe Variations

  • Old Bay or Maryland-style steamed shrimp: Use beer instead of water, and sprinkle the raw shrimp with seafood seasoning like Old Bay.
  • Tangy steamed shrimp: Add a splash of vinegar to the water to infuse the shrimp with a slightly tangy flavor. You can use plain white vinegar or a more flavorful option like cider vinegar.
  • Marinated steamed shrimp: After steaming, flavor the shrimp with a bright marinade, as we do in this zesty marinated shrimp recipe.

Can you make steamed shrimp ahead of time?

Steamed shrimp can be made up to two days ahead of time. After steaming the shrimp, drop them into a bowl of ice water. Drain the shrimp, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Steamed Shrimp Tips

How do you steam shrimp without a steamer basket?

If you don’t have a steamer basket, put your colander to use, and steam the shrimp in a metal colander. Choose a pan that’s wide enough to hold the colander in place and deep enough so the colander doesn’t touch the bottom. Cover the pot as much as possible to prevent the steam from escaping. If the lid doesn’t fully trap the steam inside, add a few minutes to the cooking time.

Do you need to devein steamed shrimp?

It’s challenging to devein shell-on shrimp, so we typically don’t bother deveining steamed shrimp. Deveining refers to removing the shrimp’s intestinal tract. Although it looks unsavory, the “vein” is perfectly safe to eat. If you prefer deveined shrimp, you can cut the vein out of the cooked shrimp before serving.

Can you steam shrimp from frozen?

I recommend thawing shrimp before steaming them to prevent overcooking, but you could steam shrimp from frozen in a pinch. Briefly thaw the frozen shrimp in a colander under running water to separate any stuck-together pieces. Then, add them to the steamer basket as directed, increasing the cooking time for the shrimp to cook through.

Steamed Shrimp

Prep Time 20 min
Yield 4 servings.


  • 1 small lemon, sliced
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 pounds uncooked shell-on shrimp (26-30 per pound)
  • Optional: seafood cocktail sauce and lemon wedges


  1. Place lemon, onion, garlic and bay leaves in pan; add 1-in. water. Place steamer basket over water, making sure water is not touching bottom of basket. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Add shrimp. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer; steam, covered, until shrimp just turn pink, 3-5 minutes. Serve hot or, if desired, immediately drop shrimp into bowl of ice water; drain.

Nutrition Facts

4 ounces cooked shrimp: 144 calories, 2g fat (0 saturated fat), 207mg cholesterol, 201mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate (0 sugars, 0 fiber), 28g protein. Diabetic Exchanges: 4 lean meat.