Shrimp Cocktail

Here’s the best shrimp cocktail you’ll find! This tender shrimp and zesty homemade cocktail sauce will have everyone begging for the recipe.

Best shrimp cocktail

What’s more classic than shrimp cocktail? It became popular in the 1960’s so it might seem a little retro. But this timeless recipe truly never goes out of style! And why buy one of those sub-par trays from the grocery store when you can make an incredible version of shrimp cocktail at home? Here’s everything you need to know to make a stand-out version of this recipe. The shrimp are perfectly tender and lightly lemony, and the cocktail sauce is an explosion of tangy and spicy flavor. Let’s get cooking!

What is shrimp cocktail?

Shrimp cocktail is an appetizer of boiled shrimp that’s dipped into a tomato-based cocktail sauce. This famous hor d’oeuvres was invented in the 1960’s in the UK. Over the years it’s gone back and forth from popular to retro. But these days we can agree that shrimp cocktail has solidified itself as a classic! Alex and I love serving it as a healthy appetizer recipe, and it’s ideal for celebrations like the holidays or New Year’s Eve.

How to make shrimp cocktail

How to cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail

How do you cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail? Boil it. The quickest cooking method is to cook shrimp on the stovetop, but boiled shrimp is classic for dipping into cocktail sauce. Boiled shrimp also lasts better at room temperature when you set out on a platter. Boiling shrimp helps it to last better at room temperature and even refrigerated over night.

Here’s how to cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail (or jump to the recipe!):

  • Prepare a large pot of salted water and add fresh lemon juice.
  • Boil the shrimp for about 2 minutes, until pink and cooked through.
  • Remove the shrimp to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove the shells, pat the shrimp dry, and sprinkle with salt and a few squeezes of lemon.
  • Serve on a platter over ice, with shrimp cocktail sauce.
Best shrimp cocktail recipe

What type of shrimp to use

For this shrimp cocktail recipe, use large shrimp with the tail on for the most stunning presentation. We used the size 16 to 20 count, which are quite large. Try to buy shrimp that is already deveined. If your shrimp are not deveined, here’s How to Devein Shrimp.

What about fresh or frozen shrimp? Either fresh or frozen works for this recipe! Here’s a little breakdown:

  • A myth about fish is that “fresh is best.” As soon as an animal dies it begins to decompose; freezing suspends this process. If a fish is frozen when it was caught and stays frozen until it gets to your kitchen, it will be higher quality than a raw fish that has taken a week to get to your plate.
  • The shelf-life of fresh shrimp is only a few days, but frozen shrimp lasts for several weeks.
Boiled shrimp

How to thaw frozen shrimp

If you use frozen shrimp for this recipe, what’s the best way to thaw it? There are two ways to thaw shrimp, depending on how far you think ahead:

  • Night before: Place the frozen shrimp in the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Or,
  • Day of: On the day of serving, place the frozen shrimp into a large bowl with very cold water. Stir the bowl every 5 minutes to break up clumps of shrimp that freeze together. The shrimp should be defrosted in about 15 minutes.
Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

How to make shrimp cocktail sauce

What makes the very best shrimp cocktail? The tangiest, most flavor-popping, horseradish-y cocktail sauce! This homemade shrimp cocktail sauce is so, so tasty, you will be amazed at the huge flavor that comes out of these ingredients. Try tasting a bite of the sauce on a spoon: it makes your brain say you’re eating shrimp, even if you’re simply eating it alone! Here are the ingredients you’ll need for a shrimp cocktail sauce:

  • Organic ketchup
  • Tomato paste
  • White vinegar
  • Spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder
  • Prepared horseradish
  • Hot sauce

Many shrimp cocktail sauce recipes are made with chili sauce. In this version, we incorporated the flavors of a chili sauce to make the best shrimp cocktail sauce we’ve had! Take note: you can adjust the amount of horseradish to taste. If you’re a spice-lover, feel free to increase it!

Best shrimp cocktail recipe

Tip: how to buy sustainable shrimp

Are you looking at buying sustainable shrimp? Here are a few pointers for buying sustainable seafood:

  • Look for wild-caught fish if possible. If you live in the US, look for US caught if you can. 90% of the seafood we eat in the US is imported. Imported seafood runs the risk of being overfished, caught under unfair labor practices, or farmed in environmentally harmful ways.
  • How your fish is caught matters. Look for hook and line as one example of a sustainable gear type. Bottom trawling is considered the most destructive and least sustainable method.

This shrimp cocktail recipe is…

Pescatarian, gluten-free and dairy-free.

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Best shrimp cocktail

Best Shrimp Cocktail

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x


Here’s the best shrimp cocktail you’ll find! This tender shrimp and zesty homemade cocktail sauce will have everyone begging for the recipe.



For the shrimp

  • 1 pound large 16 to 20 count shrimp (we prefer tail-on and deveined)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

For the shrimp cocktail sauce

  • 1/2 cup organic ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce


  1. Thaw the shrimp (place it in the refrigerator over night, or day of place it in a strainer and allow a steady stream of cold water to defrost it for about 15 minutes).
  2. Bring 12 cups of water to boil with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and lemon juice from the 1/2 lemon.
  3. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
  4. Add the shrimp and cook about 2 minutes (more or less time depending on size of shrimp), until bright pink and cooked through. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and place it directly into the ice water bath to stop the cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, stir together the Shrimp Cocktail Sauce ingredients. Taste and adjust horseradish to your preference.
  6. Remove the shells from the shrimp, leaving the shell of the tail on. Discard the shells.
  7. Pat the shrimp dry, and sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and few squirts from lemon wedges.
  8. Serve on a platter over ice with lemon wedges and Shrimp Cocktail Sauce.

  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Boiled
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Shrimp Cocktail, Best Shrimp Cocktail Recipe

Looking for more shrimp recipes?

We’ve got lots more where this came from! Here are our favorite shrimp recipes:

Last updated: June 2020

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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