Shrimp Cocktail

This one’s the best shrimp cocktail you’ll find: perfectly tender shrimp and a zesty homemade cocktail sauce that will have everyone begging for the recipe.

Shrimp cocktail

What’s more classic than shrimp cocktail? There’s something a little nostalgic about it, and while it was popularized in the 1960’s, it truly never goes out of style. It’s fitting for parties and entertaining, Alex and I have wanted to try our hand at a take on this classic for a while, and we decided it was finally time. So here’s your A Couple Cooks version of shrimp cocktail: we’ve tweaked everything to be easy to make and over the top delicious. Ready to get started?

Best shrimp cocktail

What is shrimp cocktail?

Shrimp cocktail is an appetizer of boiled shrimp that’s dipped into a tomato-based cocktail sauce. While you might think shrimp cocktail has older roots, interestingly it originated in the 1960’s in Britain. While it has alternated from popular to retro, I think these days we can conclude that shrimp cocktail has solidified itself as a classic. It’s a great option as a healthy appetizer recipe, and perfect for celebrations like the holidays or New Year’s Eve.

Shrimp cocktail

How to cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail

So, how do you cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail? Boil it. While the quickest cooking method for shrimp is to cook it on the stovetop, shrimp for shrimp cocktail is boiled. As we tested this recipe Alex and I found that boiled shrimp lasts better at room temperature, when set out on a platter. You’ll find that sauteed shrimp tastes great right away when it’s hot, but can become tougher as it sits. Boiling shrimp helps it to last better at room temperature: and even refrigerated over night.

Here’s how to cook shrimp for shrimp cocktail (see below for the full 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. We’d suggest buying shrimp with the shell on that is already deveined. Then you can remove the shell after cooking the shrimp, but leave the tail on. (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! 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. Also, the shelf-life of fresh shrimp is only a few days, but frozen shrimp lasts for several weeks.

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.
Boiled shrimp

How to thaw frozen shrimp

If you use frozen shrimp for this recipe, what’s the best way to thaw it? Here are a few of the best options:

  • Place the frozen shrimp in the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Or,
  • 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 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.

Many shrimp cocktail sauce recipes are made with chili sauce, which seemed like an unnecessary special ingredient to us. Instead, we incorporated the flavors of a chili sauce to make the best shrimp cocktail sauce we’ve had. Also, 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

And finally: you can adjust the amount of horseradish to taste. We found that the amount we specified in the recipe below was plenty: but if you’re a spice-lover, feel free to increase it!

Best shrimp cocktail recipe

This shrimp cocktail recipe is…

Pescatarian, gluten-free and dairy-free.

Best shrimp cocktail

Best Shrimp Cocktail

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (2 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)

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


This one’s the best shrimp cocktail you’ll find: perfectly tender shrimp and a zesty homemade cocktail sauce that 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?

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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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