How to Devein Shrimp

Step up your seafood skills with our quickest method for cleaning shrimp.

From paellas to pasta to salads and more, shrimp are among the most versatile lean protein picks available. But when you go to a fish purveyor to purchase them, there are often several options — different sizes, shelled shrimp or peeled shrimp, deveined or as-is — so it's good to know exactly what product you want and how to handle it when you get home.

If you're following a recipe it should specify the size, quantity, and shell status, and since shrimp with the vein in is often a more budget-friendly option, we have your complete guide for how to easily devein them before cooking.

Person's hands peeling and deveing shrimp over cutting board
Jacob Fox/Meredith

Why Do We Devein Shrimp?

When shopping at the fish counter, you'll often notice shrimp with thin, black lines along their backs. While this is commonly referred to as a vein, it's actually the shrimp's digestive tract, and the dark color you see in there is grit.

While it's not harmful to eat the vein, it's not exactly visually appealing, and it could make the texture of the shrimp grainier than desired. If you're using jumbo or large shrimp, the veins are pretty easy to remove. However, many cooks will skip deveining for small or medium shrimp unless they look very gritty since some find it time-consuming to "fish" out every vein.

Already deveined shrimp can be bought fresh or frozen, but if you prefer to go the DIY route, keep reading to learn how to prep and devein shrimp in a few easy steps.

How to Devein Shrimp Step-by-Step

Close up of person's hands deveing shrimp with pairing knife
Jason Donnelly/Meredith

1. Gather Your Tools

For the deveining process, you'll need:

You'll also want to prepare a large bowl of ice water to use later.

2. Prep the Shrimp

Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator, and evenly distribute them on the ice tray. If you're using frozen shrimp, place them in a bowl of cold water, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes until thawed.

3. Devein the Shrimp

Depending on whether your recipe calls for shrimp with shells on or off, there are two ways to go about deveining.

  • For a shelled recipe, use the kitchen shears to cut along the outer edge of the shrimp's back to allow access to the vein. Then, use the tip of the paring knife (or your fingers if the vein is very large) to carefully slide the vein out and discard it.
  • For an unshelled recipe, twist off the head, legs, and tail if they're still attached. Next, use the paring knife to carefully make a small slit along the back of the shrimp and remove the vein with the tip of the paring knife or your fingers and discard it.

(Tip: Save those shells! Freeze them for later and make a richly-flavored shrimp stock.)

4. Rinse and Enjoy

Rinse the deveined shrimp under cold water to remove any remaining grit. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl of ice water and refrigerate until you're ready to toss them into one of these delicious shrimp recipes.


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