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Hard To Peel Shrimp – What To Do?


Shrimps are one of the favorite seafood that you can have with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Although preparing a shrimp dish isn’t hard, it’s easy to make mistakes. The result? Your shrimp shells are not coming off.

Then comes the obvious question: what causes hard to peel shrimp?

Overcooking and boiling the shrimp for more than the ideal time [about 2-3 mins] is generally the prime reason. Other than that, frozen shrimps and shrimps fresh from the market might be a reason. If you cook the shrimp for a long time at a high temperature, the shells will give you a hard time peeling.

These are some of the reasons for the stubborn shells of your shrimp. However, if you want more, we have discussed the procedures of peeling hard to peel shrimps. So spare a minute and read along!

Why do shrimp stick to the shells?

We assume you overcooked your shrimp and now the shell is not coming off. Don’t worry! It’s not you. It’s the shrimp. 


Shrimps are sea creatures that stay on the ocean floor. They have a very hard [and yummy] shell on their back, many feathery legs, and a tail. What we love about shrimps is that they have a soft inside. Which is full of fiber-like protein!

All you need to do before cooking is devein and take the head, tail, and legs off. And put the shrimps into the boiling water. But, shrimps take very little time to cook in general. So it’s not too hard to get it overcooked, resulting in hard shells.

Here’s what happens-

The soft inside of the shrimp has fiber-like proteins. So when it’s cooked, the proteins heat up and become very sticky. They stick to the shell as hard as possible. This is the reason cooked shrimp shells are hard to peel.

What makes shrimp hard to peel?

This is the most asked question. Because we often are not aware of the reason for hard to peel shrimps. There are many factors we need to keep an eye on while we’re cooking shrimps. Shrimps are delicate and require a lot of attention while cooking.

Some mistakes are hard to recover, we admit. There are no possible ways to get the shrimp back once they are hard to peel. However, there are some ways you can try out to get the shell to crack. But in order to do that, you need to find out what’s causing the shell to be this stubborn. 

And we’re not going to lie, there are many reasons that might make you break a sweat.

Before Cooking

Yes, you can take a wrong step even before the shrimps are cooked! We were not lying when we told you shrimps require 100% attention. 

Now if you’re required to remove shrimp shells before, look at what you should consider-

Fresh Shrimp

You might be wondering about the definition of fresh shrimp. No, it’s not the ocean-to-cooking-pot shrimp. The definition of fresh shrimps has a distorted meaning. So we don’t blame you if you were not aware.

By fresh we mean the shrimps you bought directly from the market. If you start cooking these shrimp, the shells are going to get stubborn.

Here’s why-

The shrimps bought from the market are somewhat frozen and that too for long hours. And sellers won’t tell you that this is the second time they are freezing it. These frozen shrimps are very hard to peel especially if you want to cook without shells. 

You cannot cook the shrimps before defrosting them. Because the ice water from the frost makes the shrimp extra soft. So you cook the shrimps then, they stick to the shell real hard.

Frozen Shrimp

This is one major mistake we all do! Especially if time is not showing any mercy. We take the shrimps out of the refrigerator. Next, let it defrost on the counter in the open air. While this might seem the only way, this is the wrong way to do it.

You’re making the same mistake as the one we discussed earlier. The ice water makes the shrimp flesh tender. And the heat afterward will only make it worse.

You’ll end up trying to pull the shells one by one. This only creates a huge kitchen mess and some torn shrimps.

After cooking

Hard to peel shrimps after cooking is a complete disaster. Not only does this leave you with a bunch of useless shrimps, but it also destroys your entire meal. While some of the shrimps might not be treatable, there are some ways you can make the shrimp shells crack.

These kinds of disasters occur when you cook your shrimps with shells on. Shells give you an excellent flavor! However, you cannot leave the shrimps in the pot alone for 1 sec! Here’s what can create a kitchen disaster-

Over Boiling

Boiling the shrimps is one of the favorite methods of cooking this popular seafood. All you need to do is add all your spices, potatoes, chili, and finally in the shrimps in the water. It only takes about a minute or two to cook.


But this is the point where we mess up. We boil them for too much time and boom! The shrimps are hard to peel. This disappoints a chef a lot. It also disappoints the people who were eagerly waiting for your dish.

Boiling causes the shell to become tender and stick to the meat real hard. You cannot pick the segments without breaking the shrimp.


The case is the same as over boiled shrimps. Steaming is a quick and healthy way to cook shrimps. They not only save our time but also make the shrimp super delicious and juicy! But there’s a catch-

If you cross the ideal time of shrimp steaming (which is about 2-3 mins), you’ll have to end up with super soft shrimps. Soft shrimps leave you no choice but to eat the shrimp with a shell or throw it away.


Thinking about grilled shrimp satay will make your mouth water. But grilling the shrimp in real life does require some work. Especially if you prefer shelled shrimp grilled (like most Americans!).

We often get hasty when grilling shrimps. Tossing and turning the skewer with shrimps becomes hard to keep track of. And you might end up grilling the shrimp in the fire for more than two mins. This will definitely give your guests a hard time peeling the shrimp before taking their bite.

The high heat causes the flesh of the shrimp to become rubbery. This meat sticks to the shell real hard causing a mess in your kitchen or wherever you’re grilling. It’s a nasty scene.


Who doesn’t love BBQ! And to add our favorite seafood in the BBQ sauce is simply our dream! Unfortunately, BBQ can also cause our shrimps hard to peel.

We mostly love to make shrimp bbq with the shells on. Because not only does the shell protect the flesh, it also adds a brilliant flavor.

But here’s what makes this dream a nightmare-

Many add brine when marinating the shrimp, which has sugar in it. So when you grill the shrimps at a high temperature the sugar melts. This glues the shell and the meat together. Which makes it hard to peel.


Of course, you cannot overcook the shrimp. This will make your peeling extra hard! Shrimps don’t take too long to cook, they go from perfect to overcooked in a second. So you’ll always have to keep an eye on the shrimp curls in your frying pan.


If your shrimp is tightly curved into C, it means they are overcooked. And the shells will be extremely hard to peel. The reason is the same as grilling or BBQ shrimp.

If you’ve identified your problem, let’s move on to the solutions-

How to peel ‘hard to peel’ shrimp?

Yes! You’ll be relieved to know that there are some ways you can save your shrimp. Some will require a bit of time and the others can save your reputation as a cook [trust us].

So here are some solutions for your hard to peel shrimps-

Solution 1: Submerge In Cold Water

One of the most effective ways of peeling hard to peel shrimps is keeping them in cold water. This will help the shell to separate from the meat. And causing some kind of ease when peeling them.

Here’s what you have to do-

Take a big bowl of cold water and put the shrimps in there. Leave them in the bowl for about an hour. After that, try cracking the shells or rubbing the shells off one by one.


Remember: The shrimps become pink when they become overcooked. Only add them in cold water if they turn a little opaque pink.

Unfortunately, cold water cannot help all sorts of hard to peel shrimps. This method usually works best for

  • Over-boiled shrimp
  • Grilled Shrimp
  • Overcooked Shrimp

Solution 2: Colander Method

If your shrimps are frozen, it’s ideal not to microwave the shrimps to defrost. Or even use hot water or heat. Because that causes the shell to stick to the meat more than before. 

What you can do is take a colander and put the shrimps in it. And store the colander in the refrigerator overnight. Keep a bowl underneath to catch the dripping water. This way you’ll have the shrimps defrosted gently.

After a day, you’ll see the shell and the meat has a kind of separation. This is your chance to start peeling the shells. The colander process will need some time, but the result is worth the wait. Just don’t try to force the shrimps open!

This method helps to peel the shells of-

  • Frozen shrimp
  • Fresh from the market shrimp

Solution 3: Add Vinegar To Ease The Shell

This does not apply to all recipes of shrimp. Only use this for boiling shrimps.

When you boil the shrimp for a long time, what you can do is lower the temperature and add a tablespoon of vinegar. It’s ideal to add the vinegar before boiling rather than after.


Vinegar helps to ease the bond between the shell and the meat. But it might only ensure 50% effectiveness. Thus, you might not completely be able to get rid of the shells as easily. However, luckily you have some amazing shrimp substitutes you can cook with.

Solution 4: Contingency Plan For Not Wasting Shrimp

We did tell you that some of the mistakes are not possible to recover. However, we do have some tips and tricks for that matter.

If you have a bunch of overcooked shrimp, simply chop them. Then put them in a mixer [make sure the heads are removed] to make a delicious shrimp dip! Or you can try making one of your favorite shrimp broth.

What’s more interesting, the over steamed or over boiled shrimps can make a brilliant stock!

Now, look at the overview for the methods to make shrimp peeling easy. This will help you choose the perfect one for your scenario-

Methods Kinds Of Shrimp Duration
Cold Water Bath
  • Over-boiled shrimp
  • Grilled Shrimp
  • Overcooked Shrimp
30 mins
Colander Method
  • Frozen shrimp
  • Fresh from the market shrimp
Leave for 12 hours in the refrigerator.
  • Over-boiled Shrimp
15 mins


Why is it hard to peel shrimp?

The shrimps are full of fiber-like short protein. This protein when boiled, cooked, or grilled for a long time can turn rubbery and sticky. The meat then gets attached to the shell and makes the shrimp hard to peel.

Can you cook shrimp without peeling?

Of course you can! Most of the brilliant and mouth-watering recipes of shrimp require the shells in the cooking process. Because apart from protecting the meat from getting overcooked they add a delicious flavor to the dish.

Can you fix overcooked shrimp?

There is a possibility of saving overcooked fried shrimp by submerging them in cold water. But if it’s at a point where it’s impossible to peel, it’s better if you chop them off and make a shrimp broth.


We hope you identified what caused your shrimp hard to peel. Cooking the shrimp might take some attention and dedication. But the result is always worth all that hard work in your kitchen! On the bright side, even if you go wrong, you can make an amazing cheesy shrimp dip!

Comment below if you were able to peel your hard to peel shrimp! Especially if you’ve followed any of our solutions.

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