Easy Shrimp Cocktail (Roasted or Poached)

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Easy Shrimp Cocktail that can be roasted in the oven or poached is the perfect appetizer. Serve it with classic cocktail sauce or get creative and try pesto, aioli, or something spicy.


Shrimp Cocktail is a staple appetizer dish in so many restaurants but it is so easy to make at home and much more affordable. In less than 15 minutes, you can have delicious shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce to serve at any party or special occasion.

Whenever I see shrimp cocktail on a menu or at a party, I immediately want to eat it all. There is just something so delicious about the sweet, cold shrimp and spicy sauce. I am getting hungry just thinking about it. Plus it is low in calories, making it a no-brainer for anyone who is trying to eat healthily.

However, I don't love the price tag. Shrimp cocktail in a restaurant can be $10-$15 and usually, you end up with just 4-6 shrimp. Make it at home, and you can have more than a pound of shrimp for the same price. And don't get me started on the store-bought shrimp cocktail rings. In my opinion, they are almost always a disappointment. The shrimp are watery and flavorless.

So instead of dropping a pretty penny in a restaurant or on store-bought cocktail rings, make your own delicious shrimp cocktail at home. It couldn't be easier to make and it is so tasty. We eat it all summer long and I regularly get asked about what my secret is to making shrimp that tastes so good.

Shrimp cocktail on a white plate with cocktail sauce and a napkin.

Two Ways to Make Shrimp Cocktail

When it comes to making this appetizer, there are two methods that both work great. The traditional option is quickly poaching the shrimp in water infused with some herbs, spices, and lemon juice. The other option is roasting the shrimp, per Ina Garten's famous recipe. My personal favorite - roasting. I find it adds some extra flavor and the shrimp always comes out perfect every time.

  • Poaching: Fill a large pot with water and add 1 halved lemon, 1/4 onion, 1-2 garlic cloves, 1-2 bay leaves, and some peppercorns. You can also add some Old Bay, parsley, or any other seasonings you like. Bring to a rapid boil and add the shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes until pink and opaque. Immediately remove and add to an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  • Roasting: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the shrimp with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any seasonings you like. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 8-10 minutes until pink and opaque.

How to Make Cocktail Sauce

Making your own homemade cocktail sauce is actually extremely easy and it can be prepped in less than five minutes.

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 tbsp prepared horseradish (more to taste)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco to taste 
  • Pinch of salt (if needed)
  • Directions: Mix everything together and taste. Adjust as needed. Store in the fridge for up to one week.

What kind of Shrimp to Buy for Shrimp Cocktail?

Unless you live somewhere you can buy freshly got shrimp right off the boat, chances are you will be buying frozen shrimp. And know what? Frozen shrimp is great. It is flash frozen as soon as it is caught so it retains all that great, fresh shrimp flavor. Wondering about that "fresh" shrimp at your grocery store. 99% of the time it is just defrosted frozen shrimp. 

The next question about shrimp is what size is best. Personally, I find shrimp cocktail is best when you use that are  21-25 shrimp per pound or 26-30 per pound. This is considered jumbo and large shrimp. These sizes look beautiful on a serving tray, are affordable, and stay nice and tender. Smaller shrimp will work as well, just keep in mind that they will cook more quickly.

Lastly, I always look for raw shrimp that are deveined with the shell removed. This eliminates the need to clean and shell the shrimp yourself. It saves tons of time.

How to Defrost Shrimp

Hands down, the best way to defrost frozen shrimp is by letting it sit in the fridge overnight. Set it in a bowl, right in the bag, to catch any excess moisture. 

If you don't have time to let your shrimp defrost overnight, you can quickly defrost it in cold running water. Simply add the shrimp to a large bowl filled with cold water. Let the water continue to run slowly into the bowl. after 10-15 minutes, the shrimp will be fully defrosted. Drain them in a colander and dry.

Easy shrimp cocktail with the tails on and a bowl of cocktail sauce.

Recipe Ideas for Shrimp Cocktail

As much as I love the classic version of this dish, sometimes I like to mix things up and try new things. Here are some of my go-to twists on the classic shrimp cocktail recipe.

  • Switch up the sauce: Although shrimp cocktail is classically paired with cocktail sauce, don't be afraid to mix things up or provide more than one option. Some of my favorites include pesto, romesco (that's what in the picture), a spicy green salsa made with serrano peppers, some garlic aioli, or a healthy yogurt dip.
  • Make it spicy: Add some heat to your shrimp by sprinkling them with red pepper flakes before roasting them. If you are poaching your shrimp, serve them with a spicy sauce.
  • Make it Mexican: Mexican shrimp cocktail is a spicy, tomato-based dish with tons of flavor. To make it, toss your cooked shrimp with diced cucumbers, avocados, red onion, cilantro, jalapenos, and tomatoes. Then add some V8 juice, lime juice, and hot sauce if desired. For a thicker sauce, use ketchup instead of V8. 
  • Try Old Bay: One of my favorite ways to add flavor to shrimp is to toss it in Old Bay seasonings before roasting it. You can also add a healthy dose of Old Bay to the poaching liquid.
  • Try different poaching liquid: Another way to infuse flavor is through the poaching liquid. Instead of water, consider poaching your shrimp in beer, white wine, or even a combination of water and citrus juice.

How many calories are in shrimp cocktail?

Generally speaking, there are around 20 calories in one large shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce. If you leave off the sauce, each shrimp has about 10 calories. 

The Recipe
Shrimp cocktail with a small bowl of sauce on a white plate.

Easy Shrimp Cocktail (Roasted or Poached)

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  • 2 lbs shrimp
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 lemon

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Roasted: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the shrimp with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add any other seasonings you like. Lay flat on a baking sheet. Roast for 8-10 minutes until pink and cooked through. Let cool and serve room temperature or chilled. Serve with fresh lemon.


Poached: Fill a large pot with water. Add 1 halved lemon, 1-2 garlic cloves, 1/4 onion, 1-2 bay leaves, some peppercorns, and any other seasoning you like. Bring to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 2-3 minutes until pink and cooked through. They will begin to curl slightly. Remove and add to an ice bath (a bowl filled with water and ice.) Once fully chilled, in about 5 minutes, drain the shrimp and serve.

Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 5-7 shrimp
Amount Per Serving
Calories 114
Calories from Fat 21
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 2g
Saturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 183mg
Sodium 283mg
Total Carbohydrate 1g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 23g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
On Easy Shrimp Cocktail (Roasted or Poached)
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Jeanne Harris
June 25, 2019 - 15:17
Add a Rating:
I love this shrimp cocktail recipe. I did notice that all of the nutritional data is blank. Will you be providing that at a later time?

Thank you for all the great recipes.
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June 25, 2019 - 15:21
Just fixed it!! Thanks for letting me know.
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June 25, 2019 - 14:32
Add a Rating:
I love Ina's roasted shrimp method. Also, I have found that you don't need the added calories/fat of olive oil if you line the pan with nonstick aluminum foil.
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June 25, 2019 - 15:21
Great idea!! Excited to try it this way :)
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