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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
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What’s more classic than shrimp cocktail? This 1960’s shrimp appetizer might seem a little retro, but it’s a timeless recipe that truly never goes out of style! Why buy one of those sub-par trays from the grocery store when you can make an incredible version of shrimp cocktail at home? Homemade is always the best (in our opinion), and this recipe really shines. It’s been our go-to for years! 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, I think 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 for this shellfish is is to saute it, 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 and even after refrigerating for up to 3 days.

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

  • Boil: Prepare a large pot of salted water and add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Boil the shrimp for about 2 minutes, until pink and cooked through.
  • Place in an ice bath: Remove the shrimp to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Remove the shells, pat the shrimp dry, and sprinkle them with salt and a few squeezes of lemon.
  • Serve: 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 shell on or tail on for the most stunning presentation. We used the size 16 to 20 count, which are considered jumbo. You can also use extra larger or large. Try to buy shrimp that is already deveined. If your shrimp are not deveined, here’s How to Devein Shrimp.

What about fresh vs 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…with “famous” cocktail sauce

Once you’ve boiled the shrimp (see above), you’re ready for the most important part of shrimp cocktail. The cocktail sauce! And let us tell you, we’ve got a recipe for the tangiest, most flavor-popping, horseradish-y cocktail sauce! You might even call it our “famous” cocktail sauce because it’s become quite the thing in our family.

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
  • Onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder
  • Prepared horseradish
  • Hot sauce

Many shrimp cocktail sauce recipes are made with chili sauce. But in this version, we incorporated the flavors of a chili sauce so you don’t need to find this specialty ingredient at the store.

Make shrimp cocktail sauce as spicy as you like it!

Are you a spicy food lover? Take note: you can adjust the amount of horseradish in this cocktail sauce to taste. The amount we specified in the recipe below leaves you with a subtle burn. But if you’re a spice-lover, feel free to increase it!

A restaurant in our city is famous for making a cocktail sauce that burns your face off. You’ll need a lot more horseradish than we’ve called for here to replicate that style of sauce! Add it and continue to taste until you’ve got the heat level you (and your guests) like.

Best shrimp cocktail recipe

Storing leftovers (and a next-day idea)

Got leftovers of shrimp cocktail? No problem! Cooked shrimp lasts for up 3 days refrigerated. If you get bored of dipping it endlessly in cocktail sauce, here’s a leftover idea: make Classic Shrimp Salad! It’s like tuna salad but with shrimp. This creamy salad is extra delicious and you can eat it as a sandwich filling, in a wrap, or with crackers.

Tip: buy sustainable shrimp!

Last tip: if you can, think about buying sustainable shrimp for this recipe! There are lots of things to think about when it comes to sustainable seafood, and it can be confusing. Here are a few tips for what to look for when buying shrimp:

  • 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

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5 from 2 reviews

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x
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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 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

For the “famous” shrimp cocktail sauce

  • ½ cup organic ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, or more to taste
  • ¼ 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 ½ 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 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and few squirts from lemon wedges.
  8. Serve on a platter over ice with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce. Leftover shrimp keeps up to 3 days refrigerated.
  • Category: Appetizer
  • Method: Boiled
  • Cuisine: American

More great shrimp recipes

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

Last updated: November 2020

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Will have to try with onion and garlic powders never had it that way before, or with vinegar. We use the other ingredients but add worchestershire sauce which really adds a depth of flavor.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love all you recipes they are so healthy

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      Thank you