Spicy Grilled Shrimp. Nothing quite matches the sweet, intense, slightly charred taste of shellfish when it’s cooked on the grill. Add a bit of spice and (pardon the rhyme) you got something nice. Something versatile, too. These sweet and spicy little flavor bombs can be incorporated into a meal in many different ways. Appetizers. Salads. Main Course. But grilling shrimp is trickier than you might think.
When grilling shrimp outside with friends, you hardly need a recipe. Because grilling is much more about technique. Shrimp are great place to start honing your general grill technique. They cook quickly, and introduce you to many of the principals of bigger (beefier) cuts of meat.
Generally speaking, whatever you’re grilling– whether it’s shrimp or brontosaurus burgers, whether you use gas or charcoal– it’s usually best to create two heat zones. One for high, direct heat and another for low, indirect heat. The direct-heat area is where you typically begin, letting the flames lick the meat with the lid open. Thicker cuts are then moved to the indirect-heat zone to finish cooking, with the lid closed; the meat won’t burn, and it will stay moist. This works particularly well with chicken, whose skin can get far too charred while waiting to get cooked through. This 2 zone method is a general “rule of the grill” one you’ll learn to use or ignore as you see fit once you become a grill master. I admit that I’m no grill master so I set up the grill this way no matter what I’m cooking– even shrimp, which often don’t require any indirect heat at all. That way I have some flexibility. Besides it’s a good habit to get into.
When it comes to grilling shrimp specifically, the first rule is: the bigger the better. Smaller shrimp can fall through or become squeezed between the grates. Which can impede your speed (again with the rhyme). Particularly bothersome with shrimp that cook quickly and keep you on your toes. Skewers help in general, and are mandatory with smaller shrimp.
The next thing to consider is whether to leave the shells on or take them off. Leaving the shells on during the grilling will make the flesh harder to overcook and a bit more moist. But it will also make de-veining, skewering and serving of the shrimp a bit messier. I am a fairly diligent while at the grill and rarely overcook, so I generally remove the shells– especially on smaller shrimp. The shrimp will take the flavor of the smoke, marinade or sauce better. Besides the squeamish eaters won’t irritate me quite so much if I do the hard work for them. I do leave the tails on however– and yes I often eat the tails (shell and all).
De-veining is the tedious task of removing the shrimp’s digestive track. There’s no health reason to remove it. But the idea of it is unappealing to most people. Which means that the squeamish eaters will probably hurl at the table. I don’t want that, so I almost always de-vein. Hurling is even grosser than shrimp poop in my book.
Whether you use a brush or a rag, grease the grates after they’re hot. Don’t burn yourself.
Shrimp are delicious all on their own. But they have a mild flavor that can benefit from brines, marinades and sauces. Experiment. In fact start your experimentation by grilling shrimp in this sweet and spicy sauce I adapted from Martha Stewart.
That’s really all you need to know about grilling shrimp. However, the thing about shrimp– and this goes for the grill or the stove or the oven or wherever– is this: shrimp are extremely easy to overcook. More than a couple of minutes is often too much. I like shrimp at the point where they’ve just lost that translucence and are still pliant. You have to watch them because they make the transition quickly.