How To Eat Shrimp

Shrimp is a delicious and worldwide enjoyed seafood that can be prepared and eaten in many different ways depending on the setting. Though we all know the easiest way to eat shrimp is using our hands to peel it, it is also a pretty messy business, which is better to avoid when you’re in a fancy restaurant or setting. With that in mind, what are the best and easiest ways to eat shrimp?

One of the less common ways to eat shrimp is to keep it as it is, and put the whole shrimp in your mouth, sometimes including the head and tail. However, to avoid making a mess or getting stared at, you may want to remove the head using a fork and remove the shell, especially in a fancy setting.

Though there are many different ways to eat shrimp, how you eat it in a specific situation depends on how it got prepared, served, and even the setting. Using the eating utensils you have or get given when the shrimp get served is also essential. If you are looking to avoid embarrassment or want to learn how to eat shrimp like a pro, the following methods may be what you need.

How Should You Eat Shrimp?

Since there are different settings in which shrimp get prepared and served, there are also different ways to eat the shrimp you receive. Additionally, how the shrimp is cooked and served may also influence how you eat it, one example being that you get served headless and tailless shrimp in pasta with white sauce, which means that you probably get expected to eat the whole shrimp in one bite.

The following are examples of how shrimp get served and methods you can use to eat the shrimp correctly within each setting.

Eating A Shrimp Cocktail

A shrimp cocktail is a stylish way to serve shrimp, usually in a glass with shrimp on the side and sauce in the middle. It is also possible that the shrimp may get served on a plate encircling a bowl or glass of sauce in the middle of the plate. No matter how your shrimp cocktail gets served, the way you eat it is usually the same since you may want or need to remove the tail before eating the meat.

Method One – Eating With A Fork

If you are in a fancy setting or at a restaurant, you may choose to eat your shrimp cocktail by using a fork. Eating your shrimp cocktail with a fork is usually the best way to ensure you do not make too much of a mess, and it is also a great way to keep your hands clean. The following are the simplified steps to eating a shrimp cocktail with a fork:

  1. Use a fork to take a single shrimp – if you should eat your shrimp cocktail with a fork, you will likely get a fork before or when the dish gets served. Once you are ready to start enjoying the shrimp, impale the first shrimp on your fork; if the shrimp gets served on the rim of a glass, you may have to hold it steady during this process.
  2. Remove the tail if necessary – Though you can eat shrimp tail along with the rest of the meat, removing and discarding the tail is common. To do this, you want to place the shrimp on a plate and use the fork, or a knife, to apply pressure where the meat ends, and the tail starts. If you apply enough pressure, the tail should now get detached from the meat of the shrimp.
  3. Cut the shrimp if it is too big – If the shrimp is bigger, you may choose to use a knife or fork to cut it into two parts before you try eating it. This step isn’t necessary since most shrimp are small and easy to eat in just one bite.
  4. Dip the shrimp in the sauce if you wish – Now that the tail got separated from the meat of the shrimp, you should be able to put the shrimp back on the fork by impaling it, and then you can dip it in the provided sauce if you wish. The sauce can sometimes be spicy, so it is best to try a little bit at first.
  5. Time to eat – Now that you have the tail removed and the shrimp sauce on, you can place the shrimp in your mouth and enjoy. If the shrimp was big, you might still have another piece of shrimp on your plate before taking another one.

Method Two – Eating With Your Fingers

If you are in a less fancy setting and your hands are clean, you may choose to eat the shrimp cocktail by using your fingers. This method is standard and removes some steps you must follow when using a fork.

  1. Take a shrimp from the plate or glass – Eating a shrimp cocktail with your hands is probably the easiest way since there is no fork to use, allowing you to make the process much more natural. You first need to pick up a shrimp from the plate or glass by holding it onto the tail. You can also hold the shrimp by the body if there is no attached tail.
  2. Dip the shrimp if you wish – Now that you have a shrimp in your grasp, you can dip it in the sauce if you wish, and this may add some extra flavor. It is important to remember that the sauce included in the shrimp cocktail can be pretty spicy, so it is good to test it just a little at first.
  3. Eat the shrimp – Once you have the dipped shrimp in your hand, you can choose to eat it in one bite or two if it is on the larger side. Bring the shrimp to your mouth, and put the meat in your mouth until just before the tail starts. You can bite down on the shrimp meat and twist off the tail if necessary.
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Eating Fresh-Cooked Shrimp

Fresh-cooked shrimp refers to shrimp that gets cooked without being deshelled or otherwise processed. Eating shrimp of this kind can be messy, but depending on the setting and the meal, you should still ensure you practice the proper etiquette or technique. If you are alone or at home, you can eat shrimp prepared like this with your hands, but when out or in a fancy setting, it’s best to use your given utensils.

Since there are two different methods to eat shrimp that still has its head, tail, and shell, it is best to discuss them separately.

Method One – Eating With Utensils

Though you may get tempted to use your fingers instead, using your utensils may be the best way to go about de-shelling and eating your shrimp if you are in a fancy setting. Though the de-shelling process is a bit more complex than using your fingers, many people still do it, and this is how.

  1. Separate one shrimp –  Whether you’re eating whole shrimp in a portion of pasta or have a full plate of shrimp just waiting for you, the first thing you need to do is put one on a clean part of your plate or a separate plate. If you have a separate plate for this, you can also use it to hold the parts of the shrimp you don’t eat.
  2. Take off the top – Now that you have one shrimp separate from the others, you can use a fork or spoon to apply pressure just below where the head starts to separate the head from the shrimp body and meat.
  3. Take off the shell – This part of the process can be tricky, but it is possible with some practice. It would help if you turned the shrimp, so the bottom points upwards, or the side where the shell was separated, and wiggle a knife or spoon under the shell to pin down the shell while removing the meat.

    Now that you have the shell pinned to the plate with your spoon or knife, you can use a fork to grab ahold of the shrimp meat and pull it out of the shell to separate it. If you wish to remove the tail first, to simplify the process, you can use a fork to apply pressure to the area where the tail and meat join to separate it.
  4. Place put the shrimp back or eat it –  Now that the shell, head, and tail are separate from the shrimp meat, you can put the shrimp back into the pasta or eat it right away. Any of the discarded parts of the shrimp that you do not want to eat can be placed on a separate plate or bowl if you have one.

Method Two – Eating With Your Hands

As before, if you want to keep the process simple and use your hands, provided they are clean at the time, it can simplify the process quite drastically. However, it is best only to do this if you are alone or in a casual setting, as this can be somewhat messy.

  1. Separate a shrimp and remove the head – As before, you first need to take a shrimp from the plate or portion of pasta that belongs to you. Once you have one in hand, you can apply a little pressure to the head while also holding onto the body and twisting it, so it detaches from the rest of the shrimp body.
  2. De-shell your shrimp – Now that the head is off, you can turn the shrimp so the part where the shrimp shell is separated points upwards. If there is no separation and the legs are still attached, it would be best to use a knife to split the top of the shell on the back of the shrimp before continuing.

    With the open side of the shrimp pointing upward, you should be able to slip your fingers into the shrimp shell while holding onto the shrimp meat. Once you have a solid grip on the shrimp meat, you can separate it easily by pulling the two apart.
  3. Separate the tail and enjoy – If you prefer, keep the shrimp’s tail on until you eat it and bite it off, or remove it beforehand if you wish. Once you are comfortable, you can either eat the shrimp or place it back into the portion of pasta.

Eating De-shelled And Tailless Shrimp

This type of shrimp is the easiest to eat since there is no other work you need to do before it is ready. If the shrimp is already without a shell and has no tail attached, you can choose to use a fork to eat it, as would be the case if you had shrimp pasta, or you can eat it with your hands, and you might if it was a part of a shrimp cocktail.

As stated before, there is no need to do anything to shrimp with no shell or tail; you can eat it right away. The only step that remains for you to do is to load it onto your eating utensil of preference and enjoy.

Is There A Wrong Way To Eat Shrimp?

There isn’t a wrong way to eat shrimp, though there may be some expectations you should look for depending on the dish the shrimp comes in or your setting. You can only eat shrimp in the “wrong” way by not considering the people around you and showing no etiquette when you are in a fancy setting.

A general rule of thumb that you should consider following is that fancier settings usually mean that you should use utensils. However, if you are alone or in a casual environment, you should be able to eat the shrimp with your hands.

Can You Eat Shrimp Without Removing The Head Or Tail?

Eating shrimp whole without removing the head or tail is possible, though you may not want to. Though some people enjoy the overwhelmingly salty and shrimpy taste of eating the head of the shrimp, it may also contain some amounts of mercury, which is not good to ingest in high quantities, and most people avoid it as a whole.

However, if you enjoy a bit of extra crunch with your shrimp, the tail is generally considered acceptable to eat if you chew it well enough not to get stuck on the way down.


There is no incorrect or correct method to eat shrimp; however, there are methods you can use to eat shrimp that may help you practice better etiquette and avoid embarrassment in a fancy restaurant. With this in mind, if you are alone or at a casual gathering where shrimp is on offer, you are unlikely to be looked at funny if you eat shrimp with your hands unless the rest of the people are all using utensils.