What is the best way to marinate shrimp?

What is the best way to marinate shrimp?


Shrimp is a seafood delicacy enjoyed by many around the world. Marinating shrimp helps to infuse it with flavour and enhance its taste. However, different methods, ingredients, and marinating times can significantly affect the final taste and texture of the shrimp. Choosing a suitable marinade requires some basic knowledge of flavours and the characteristics of shrimp. What works for chicken or beef may not necessarily work for shrimp. This guide will explore the best ways to marinate shrimp for grilling, sautéing, or baking. We will cover the various marinade ingredients and share tips to ensure that your shrimp is perfectly seasoned, juicy, and tender. Whether making shrimp for a quick weekday dinner or a special occasion, this guide will help you achieve the perfect flavour profile.


Tips for successful shrimp marinating

Shrimp is a popular seafood item and can be marinated in various flavours to enhance its taste. 

Marinating shrimp can add flavour and tenderness to your dish. Here are some tips for successful shrimp marinating:

Use fresh ingredients

Use fresh ingredients to prepare the marinade, such as fresh herbs, garlic, lemon juice, and spices.

Which ingredients should you use in the shrimp marinade?

marinate ingredients

When making a shrimp marinade, there are many ingredients you can use to enhance the flavour. Choose a suitable marinade using a good balance of acidic, oil, sweet, and savoury ingredients for a classic and flavourful shrimp marinade. Select a marinade that complements the natural taste of shrimp. Avoid using too many acidic ingredients that can overpower the shrimp’s flavour.

For the acid component

Use freshly squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for the acid component. Any citrus would work. Feel free to use lime zest and lime juice instead of lemon. Orange or grapefruit would offer a nice twist.

Asian flavour

You can also add soy sauce for a savoury, umami taste. Soy sauce is a wonderful replacement for lemon juice for an Asian zing. If doing so, omit the salt in the recipe.

For sweetness

You can add honey or brown sugar for sweetness, but remember that shrimp are naturally sweet, so don’t use too much.


The honey makes all the difference! It adds a subtly sweet flavour that makes the shrimp more addicting.

Brown sugar

Brown sugar is an excellent alternative to honey. The sugar granules will naturally dissolve while whisking the marinade.

For savoury flavours

Add minced garlic, chopped herbs like parsley or cilantro, and spices like paprika, ginger, cajun and cumin for savoury flavours.

Remember to add a pinch of salt and black pepper for balance.

Use your favourite paprika

Use whatever spice level you prefer. Mild or hot paprika will do. Smoked paprika would add a touch of smoky flavour without ever having to turn on the grill.

Hot sauce

If you are a fan of spicy food, feel free to add a few dashes of your favourite hot sauce for an addictive spicy marinade.

You can also add chilli flakes for some heat.

Add oil or fat

Mix all the ingredients with olive oil or any vegetable oil. It will help evenly distribute the flavours from spices and dry herbs over the shrimp. The fat will also protect the fresh garlic from burning and enhance its flavour. It will also help the shrimp retain their moisture and prevent sticking when grilling; mainly, if you’re using an outdoor grill, it provides an excellent protective coating, keeping them plump and juicy as they develop a slight char on the grill.

Note: I use olive oil, but you can substitute it with an equal amount of melted butter.

The marinade will infuse the shrimp with delicious flavours and make them tender and juicy.
Experiment with different combinations to find your favourite flavour profile.
Remember to let the shrimp marinate for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse before cooking.

How to mix the ingredients

Pat the shrimp dry before tossing it with the marinade. This ensures the sauce sticks to the seafood.

Toss the shrimp gently to ensure every piece is coated with the marinade. A large bowl or plastic bag works well.

Reserve one tablespoon of the marinade for finishing. It adds a light, bright flavour at the end of cooking. Remember to reserve it before adding the shrimp. Always discard any remaining marinade that has been in contact with raw shrimp for food safety reasons.


Marinate for the right time

Avoid over-marinating shrimp as they are delicate and can turn mushy quickly. Timing is essential when it comes to marinating seafoods. If you are trying to create the perfect, rich recipe with shrimp, you might wonder what the maximum marinating time is.

Marinating shrimp can take 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your preference. Marinating shrimp for at least 15 minutes is recommended to allow the flavours to penetrate the meat. However, if you want a stronger flavour, you can marinate shrimp for up to 1 hour. Remember always to marinate shrimp in the refrigerator to prevent any bacterial growth. Additionally, avoid marinating shrimp for too long, as the acid in the marinade can break down the proteins and make the shrimp mushy.

A good rule of thumb is to marinate shrimp for no more than 30 minutes to an hour.

Marinating meat vs. shrimp

The point of marinating meat is to help ensure that it absorbs the flavours and breaks down any toughness. Marinades are designed to ensure tough meats become juicy and tender before consuming them. Marinating foods overnight is often a great way to help them absorb flavours. Sometimes, meat can be marinated in a highly acidic sauce for a day or even more.

Shrimp, however, should never be tough and should not need this treatment. The flesh is porous and will quickly absorb the marinade’s flavours. You do not usually need to leave it for long to ensure the meat is tender, succulent, and delicious. Often, a couple of minutes in a marinade will be sufficient.

How long can you marinate shrimp?

Shrimp can be marinated for 30 minutes to 2 hours for optimal flavour and texture. However, the marination time can vary depending on the type of marinade and personal preference. The ingredients of the marinade make a big difference – the more acidic the sauce is, the faster it will affect the texture of the shrimp and the less time it needs to marinate.

It’s important to note that over-marinating can lead to a mushy texture, so it’s best to check on the shrimp frequently during the marination process.

If the marinade is acidic (lemon, lime, orange, vinegar, etc.)

If the marinade is acidic (lemon, lime, orange, vinegar, etc.), just a few minutes, ideally 30 minutes, in the fridge, but even just 10 minutes should be fine.

Any more than that, the acid will start breaking down the delicate shrimp meat and making it mushy. Shrimps should not be left in an acidic sauce for over half an hour to keep them tender and prevent them from turning mushy. Never marinate the shrimp in an acidic sauce for longer than 2 hours. The acid can cook the shrimp without heat, which happens with a long marinade time.

If the marinade is non-acidic (olive oil, garlic, herbs, and spices)

You could marinate for an hour or more if the marinade is non-acidic (olive oil, garlic, herbs, and spices). Marinating shrimp for up to eight hours may be okay in the non-acidic marinade. However, remember that the flesh of a shrimp is delicate, and a marinade will very quickly start to break it down. If left for too long, marinated shrimp will become mushy and unpleasant. The longer it is left, the mushier it will become, and the more the texture will degrade.

In either case, marinate in the fridge until you’re ready to get cooking.
If you need to, you can prepare the marinade in advance and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to add the shrimp to it.

Does the size of the shrimp make a difference in the marinating time?

The size of the shrimp can affect the marinating time. If you are marinating large shrimps, remember they will need longer in the sauce to penetrate the flesh properly. Small shrimps are often less satisfying and tasty but will soak up sauce faster. This is because the smaller shrimp have a higher surface area-to-volume ratio, which means they absorb the marinade more quickly.

You can generally expect to marinate smaller shrimp for around 10-30 minutes, while larger shrimp may require up to half an hour (acidic) or an hour (non-acidic) to marinate. This will ensure the juices are adequately soaked, and the shrimps are deliciously succulent!

How long can you leave the shrimp marinating at room temperature?

If your recipe says that the shrimps only need to marinate for half an hour, you can leave them at room temperature if you choose to, but it’s better to keep them in the fridge. This increases the safety of the food and minimizes the risk of food poisoning.

Do not leave shrimp in a marinade on a kitchen surface overnight, even if you cover the bowl. Shrimps need to be kept chilled to stop food-borne bacteria from forming inside them, and if you forget to put them in the fridge, they will not be safe to eat by the next day.

Whether your shrimp is raw or cooked, it should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours or an hour if the weather is hot. If the temperature in your home exceeds 32°C/90°F, put shrimps into the fridge as quickly as possible to ensure they do not start to breed bacteria.


Should you remove shrimp tails before marinating?

You can leave the tails on your shrimp or remove them. It depends on personal preference and the recipe. Some recipes require the shrimp tails to be removed before marinating, while others suggest leaving them attached to enhance the flavour.

If you are grilling or skewering shrimp, it may be easier to leave the tails on for presentation purposes. Still, removing the tails right before eating is a little more work.

If you plan on using the shrimp in a dish where the tails may get in the way, such as a pasta dish, remove them before marinating because the tails may be slippery and hard to remove.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to remove the tails when marinating shrimp – just make sure to adjust the recipe accordingly if needed.


Can you marinate frozen shrimp?

You might wonder whether you can save time by putting frozen shrimp directly into a marinade.

Marinating frozen shrimp is not recommended, as the marinade will not penetrate the frozen shrimp properly.

Also, frozen shrimps will release water as they thaw, diluting the marinade. It will also mean that the shrimps are damp and will not soak up the marinade as effectively as if they are dry, and you will end up with a weak and unsatisfying flavour.

Ideally, you want shrimps to be nice and dry before you tip them in the marinade so that they will soak as much of it up as possible.

Once the shrimp are fully thawed, pat them dry with a paper towel, and then marinate them in your desired seasonings and sauces. They can be marinated in your favourite flavours and seasonings for up to 30 minutes in the refrigerator before cooking.

How to thaw the shrimp?

Thawing the shrimp first is crucial to allow the marinade to be absorbed into the shrimp. To properly thaw the shrimp, place them in the refrigerator overnight or in a bowl of cold water for about 20 minutes before using them in a marinade.

Flip halfway

Also, flip the shrimp halfway through the marinating process to ensure even flavour distribution.

Proper storage

Marinate shrimp in a covered container in the refrigerator to avoid bacterial growth. It’s also recommended to discard unused marinade to prevent cross-contamination.


This article is part of “How to cook shrimp


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