The BEST Shrimp Cocktail

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Calling this The BEST Shrimp Cocktail is almost an understatement. You may have noticed that there are very few recipes on my site that I have labeled “the best.”

Everyone has different tastes and favorite recipes so if I call something the very best of its kind you better be sure I mean it. This shrimp cocktail has earned that title.

This is beyond a doubt the best Shrimp Cocktail Recipe I have ever tasted. The sauce is incredibly flavorful with a perfect balance of spicy tangy heat.

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The BEST Shrimp Cocktail recipe by Barefeet In The Kitchen

Shrimp Cocktail

I have made this shrimp cocktail twice now. Initially, I halved the recipe to test for lunch. Even though it was just my kids and I we inhaled every last bite of this perfect shrimp and sauce in a matter of minutes.

Because we didn’t leave a single shrimp for the other adult in the house to taste, I felt obligated to make it again–just to make sure it was as awesome as I remembered. And yes, it was every bit as delicious the second time.

I’ve made this recipe with both medium size shrimp and jumbo shrimp. I preferred the jumbo ones, but the smaller ones tasted every bit as amazing. In the future when I make this, I’ll likely buy whichever is on sale at the time.

I’ve also boiled the shrimp with and without their shells and tails. Whichever method you prefer will work fine. There is no difference in the taste.

I love that Shrimp Cocktail is a quick dish with tons of flavor. From start to finish, this recipe takes just over 20 minutes AND it can be made in advance and stored in the fridge to make getting a quick meal on the table even easier.

Are you ready to try the Best Shrimp Cocktail Recipe ever yet? 

How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

Most of us have encountered shrimp cocktail at one time or another, whether as an h’ors devours at a party, an appetizer at a restaurant or laid out on a buffet table. It’s a simple dish of cooked shrimp served with a dipping sauce made from ketchup and horseradish.

The most labor intensive part of cooking shrimp for shrimp cocktail is shelling and deveining your shrimp. Thankfully, it’s easy to find shelled and deveined shrimp at many markets and grocery stores with a decent seafood selection. If you can’t find deveined shrimp, it’s not too difficult to remove the vein yourself. Simply shell the shrimp (leaving the tail intact) and cut through the top of the shrimp along the vein line and remove and discard the vein.

Once prepared, the shrimp go into a pot of salted water along with thyme, peppercorns, celery seeds and bay leaves. The shrimp will absorb the flavor of the seasonings as they cook on medium high heat for a few minutes.

When the shrimp have just started to turn pink, you remove the pot from heat and add a heaping of lemon juice along with the peels of two lemons. The shrimp will continue to cook in the hot water, taking on all that tart and zesty lemon flavor. The shrimp are finished cooking when they turn bright pink.

To keep the shrimp from overcooking, simply add 8 cups of ice to the pot of shrimp right at the end and let them cool completely. Use a slotted spoon to fish the shrimp out of the pot and store them in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve your shrimp cocktail.

A good dipping sauce is integral to making the a delicious Shrimp Cocktail Recipe that stands out from the rest. To make Shrimp Cocktail Sauce, whisk together ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Old Bay seasoning. Chill the sauce until you’re ready to serve. It’s not too sweet and not too tart–just the right blend of both with a tiny kick of spice.

Both the shrimp and the sauce can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and stored in the fridge. Serve your shrimp cocktail the traditional way in a large stemmed cocktail glass or serve the shrimp on a plate with the dipping sauce in the center. However you choose to serve your shrimp cocktail it’s guaranteed to disappear in a hurry!

On the Hunt for more great Shrimp Recipes?Check out these Bacon Wrapped Shrimp Kabobs next time you’re in the mood for a delicious seafood appetizer. For a tasty and easy lunch I love serving Bacon, Bleu Cheese, and Shrimp Chopped Salad.

Shrimp also makes its way to my dinner table fairly frequently in the form of this kid-approved Kielbasa and Shrimp Fried RiceSweet and Spicy Pineapple Shrimp Stir-Fry, Chili Lime Shrimp, and one of our all-time favorites, Spicy Orange Garlic Shrimp.

I’m also planning to give Shrimp Cocktail Wonton Cups from A Spicy Perspective and this Hot Shrimp Cocktail Dip a try for a little something different.

What’s your favorite way to cook and serve shrimp?

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The BEST Shrimp Cocktail

5 from 7 votes
Recipe slightly adapted from and with thanks to Cook's Country via Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 22 minutes
Servings: 6 -8 servings


  • Shrimp Ingredients:
  • 2 pounds deveined (shells removed and tails left on) jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound)
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 2 lemons juiced, peels reserved and roughly chopped (you will only need ¼ cup of this juice, save the rest in the refrigerator for another use)
  • 8 cups ice
  • Cocktail Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


  • In a large pot, combine the shrimp, 4 cups cold water, salt, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaves and celery seeds. Cook this mixture over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the water registers 170 degrees and the shrimp are just barely beginning to turn pink, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and add ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice, along with all of the lemon peels. Cover the pot and let the shrimp mixture rest until the shrimp are completely pink and firm, about 5-7 minutes. While the shrimp finishes cooking, set aside 8 cups of ice next to the pot. When the shrimp are bright pink, stir the ice into the pot and let the shrimp cool completely, about 5 minutes. Remove the cool shrimp from the pot and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Whisk together the cocktail sauce ingredients and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Enjoy!


Calories: 219kcal · Carbohydrates: 16g · Protein: 32g · Fat: 2g · Cholesterol: 381mg · Sodium: 5080mg · Potassium: 358mg · Fiber: 2g · Sugar: 10g · Vitamin A: 300IU · Vitamin C: 32.4mg · Calcium: 259mg · Iron: 4.3mg
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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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  1. Sam L. says

    There is no overstating how much better this recipe is than any other shrimp cocktail out there, at home, at a fancy restaurant… anywhere.

    It is like a completely different dish in terms of flavor, texture, and aroma.

    I like shrimp generally. This takes it to a new level. I’m making it for the 4th time today for Xmas eve and I’m confident the crowd will love it.5 stars