And why do we do it?

By Karla Walsh
August 12, 2020
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Credit: Jacob Fox/Meredith

From paellas to pastas to salads, shrimp are one of the most versatile and lean protein picks available. But when you go to a fish purveyor to purchase them, there are several options — all sorts of sizes, shelled, peeled, deveined, as-is — it can be enough to make you want to stick with steak or chicken.

Fear not: Your recipe should specify the size, quantity, and shell status, and we have your complete guide for how to devein shrimp since that's often more budget-friendly then buying them already deveined.

Why Do We Devein Shrimp?

You'll often see a skinny, black string along the back of raw shrimp at the fish counter. It's not actually a vein — it's the shrimp's digestive tract, and that dark stuff you see in there is grit.

Eating the vein is not harmful, but it's not exactly the most visually appealing and might make the texture more grainy than desired. Many cooks skip deveining shrimp when they're small or medium unless they look very gritty since it can be difficult to "fish" out the vein and it can take quite a time investment to pull out each and every vein. But for large ones, it's not too tough to devein shrimp.

You can purchase deveined shrimp fresh or frozen. It's quite a bit cheaper to go the DIY route though, so keep reading for how to devein shrimp at home.

How to Devein Shrimp Step-by-Step

Credit: Jason Donnelly/Meredith

1. Prep Your Space

Wash your hands and round up clean tools, including a cutting board, sheet pan covered in ice to keep the shrimp chilled as you work, a paring knife, and a pair of kitchen shears (if you're using shell-on shrimp). You'll also want to prepare a large bowl of ice water to use later.

2. Get Your Shrimp

Remove your shrimp from the refrigerator and freezer and evenly distribute on the tray of ice.

3. Devein One of Two Ways

If the shrimp are in their shells, use the kitchen shears to cut along the shrimp's back to allow access to the vein.

  • For a shell-on recipe, twist off the head, legs, and tail, if they're still attached. Use the paring knife to carefully make a small slit along the back of the shrimp so you can slide out the vein with the tip of the paring knife or your fingers. Remove and discard the vein.
  • For a shelled recipe, twist off the head, legs, and tail, if they're still attached, then slide off the shell. Use the paring knife to carefully make a small slit along the back of the shrimp so you can slide out the vein with the tip of the paring knife or your fingers. Remove and discard the vein. (Tip: If you're removing the shells, save them to make a richly-flavored shrimp stock.) 

4. Rinse

Give the shrimp a rinse in cool water, then place in the bowl of ice water.

5. Eat!

After you finish deveining all of the shrimp, they're ready to put to tasty use in all of your favorite shrimp recipes.