How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

5 from 13 votes

Learn how to make a classic shrimp cocktail quickly and easily for a delicious appetizer for the holidays; served with a tangy cocktail sauce

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Here is how to make your own shrimp cocktail and the sauce, too. There is a reason classics never go out of style and this gorgeous platter of chilled succulent shrimp waiting to be dunked in spicy sauce tells everyone at the table that this is a celebration.

Shrimp cocktail served with the sauce over bed of ice with lemon wedges

Ingredients & substitutions

  • Large raw shrimp peeled, deveined, tails-on, thawed: Tails on is vital. The tail shell makes shrimp cocktail the grabbable finger food they are. If you buy unpeeled, make sure not to peel off the tail. Smaller shrimp or frozen ones? No worries. They’ll work.
  • Old Bay Seasoning: The classic spice blend contains celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Those or salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes can stand in. Trying to recreate Old Bay? It may contain laurel leaves, mustard, salt, cardamom, cloves, and ginger.
  • Lemon: For the boiling mixture and cocktail sauce, either lemon juice, lime juice or white vinegar can be used depending on which taste you prefer.
  • Ketchup: Chili sauce can sub in but adjust amounts of hot sauce and horseradish. Plain tomato sauce can also work in a pinch, but you may want to add a scant teaspoon of sugar to balance the spicy ingredients.
  • Horseradish: Grate the fresh root or buy prepared horseradish but not horseradish sauce, which has cream in it. Freshly ground mustard seeds or some Japanese wasabi paste will also add heat. However, horseradish can be a polarizing ingredient, if you hate it, leave it out.
  • Worcestershire: Here it adds just a dash of umami flavor, but soy sauce can be subbed.
  • Hot sauce: Use whatever brand – Sriracha, Cholula, Tabasco you prefer. Out? Add a dash or two of ground cayenne pepper.
Ingredients to make the recipe

How to make shrimp cocktail

Cook the shrimp

  1. Put a large pot of water on to a boil. Add Old Bay seasoning and lemon juice. Lower the heat to create a flavorful broth.
  2. Carefully and quickly spoon the shrimp in and cook watching for doneness signals – pinkness and curling.
  3. Then, when the shrimp become bright pink and curl, immediately strain. Overcooking creates a rubbery texture!
  4. Transfer to the prepared ice water to quickly stop the cooking. Drain when cool and place on ice to serve immediately or refrigerate.
4 image collage to show how to cook the shrimp

make the cocktail sauce

  1. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot sauce for the cocktail sauce.
  2. Stir until well blended and serve with the chilled shrimp and wedges of lemon.
2 image collage to show how to make the shrimp cocktail sauce

Tips for making shrimp cocktail

  1. Stay by the stove: Shrimp is done in mere minutes. The indicator is when it turns from gray to white/pink and is no longer translucent and curls. More than any particular amount of time, color and a change in texture are the doneness indicators. Watch the pot and trust your eyes.
  2. Opt for frozen for fresher fish: If the fresh fish selection in your market leaves something to be desired, do not turn your nose up at frozen. Virtually, all seafood is frozen immediately after being caught, anyway. Note: frozen cooks almost as quickly as fresh!
  3. Boil then peel: If you buy completely unpeeled shrimp, boiling with the shell on imparts flavor. After cooling, peel (leaving the tails on) and de-vein.
  4. Flash cool: Don’t be tempted to skip the ice bath – or at the very least run under cold water – because the shrimp will continue to cook a little out of the pot.

Frequently asked questions

How long can I leave shrimp cocktail out on the buffet table?

The rule of the thumb is two hours before bacteria start multiplying at an alarming rate.

What are some substitutes for cocktail sauce?

Not everyone is a fan! Follow your flavor bliss. Aioli would be great, as would melted butter, maybe with some chopped garlic added? All different kinds of salsas could work, and Cucumber Garlic Sauce would be cooling and light, as well.

Can I precook and freeze shrimp cocktail?

Not advised. Going off the assumption that all seafood has been frozen at one point, refreezing is not recommended as the texture and taste will suffer.

Shrimp getting dipped into cocktail sauce

Shrimp is a healthy, low-fat, low-carb indulgence and perfect for any holiday spread. Now you now how to make shrimp cocktail to add to your gatherings and celebrations.

More shrimp recipes:

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How to Make Shrimp Cocktail

Learn how to make a classic shrimp cocktail quickly and easily for a delicious appetizer for the holidays; served with a tangy cocktail sauce
5 from 13 votes
Servings 4 servings
Course Appetizer
Calories 178
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 13 minutes
Total Time 18 minutes


For the shrimp

  • 1 pound large raw shrimp peeled, deveined, tails-on, thawed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup Old Bay Seasoning
  • As needed ice water

For the cocktail sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce Cholula, Tabasco, etc
  • Pinch salt


  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add Old Bay seasoning and lemon juice. Lower the heat to a low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and cook stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes until the shrimp become bright pink and curl.
  • Strain and transfer to the prepared ice water to immediately stop the cooking.
  • In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, worcestershire and hot sauce for the cocktail sauce until well blended.
  • Serve the shrimp chilled with the cocktail sauce.


Storage: The cooked shrimp will keep well covered in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Make Ahead: You can cook the shrimp and chill in the fridge for 3 days before serving. The cocktail sauce can also be made ahead of time and kept covered until ready to serve.
Tips: Be careful not to overcook the shrimp as it can become rubbery. Run it under cold water to stop the cooking process.


Calories: 178kcal, Carbohydrates: 24g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 2g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 143mg, Sodium: 1297mg, Potassium: 441mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 15g, Vitamin A: 637IU, Vitamin C: 23mg, Calcium: 135mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.

Cuisine American
Course: Appetizer

Photo Credit: Erin Jensen

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  1. I printed this recipe for shrimp cocktail, but find no way to save it in my recipes. How do I do that ?
    Thank you, Suzanne

    1. Hi there, if you click “jump to recipe” at the top of the page it will take you to the full recipe card at the bottom of the post. There, if you hover over the thumbnail image of the recipe, you will see a print icon with the option to print. Hope this helps!