Cleaning & Preparation

It is best to ice down your shrimp as soon as possible after you get out of the water.

We place the shrimp in large gallon or two gallon Zip-Loc bags, add ice to the bag and then lay them in our cooler filled with ice, layering them with a top layer of additional ice. They stay there until we are ready to take their heads off. It is best to ice your shrimp down immediately even if you are going to clean them right away. The ice forces the shrimp into a hibernation state and makes them easier to clean.

If you don't use ice, expect the shrimp to twitch and jump all over the place while you are trying to clean them. This can be especially unpleasant for those ill at ease with handling live animals and can result in a painful poke in the hands by the shrimp's front or rear spine. Save yourself the pain and hassle - ice them down immediately.

If you don't have time to clean them immediately after catching them, ensure you put ice on them and place them in a leak proof compartment in your refrigeration. You have about 24 hours under ice in which to clean them safely as long as they remain refrigerated. While it is best to clean them right away, as long as you follow proper food safety handling guidelines for fresh seafood, you can clean them the next day if needed.

The following instructions tell you how to de-head the shrimp. This is assuming you are planning on de-heading them all right away prior to freezing them. While it is possible to freeze your shrimp with their heads on, we generally consider it to be delaying the inevitable and multiplying the amount of work you will have to do in the future several fold. If you plan to de-head your shrimp after freezing them, feel free to jump to the section of this article on sorting and freezing.

Three Methods for "De-Heading" Shrimp

There is no right way to clean a shrimp. If you end up with an edible morsel that tastes good to you then you did it right. This said, when you catch gallons of shrimp, you have a lot of work to get done regardless of how you look at it and no one likes to eat the heads.

The following three methods show how to get the hardest part of the work completed - the de-heading phase. It is up to your personal preference if you decide to remove the shell and tail immediately after catching them. We tend to leave them intact until we are ready to cook the shrimp to protect them a little bit during freezing and cooking. Peel and eat shrimp, for example, require the shell so we just leave it be.

By far the most disgusting part of catching shrimp, these methods are messy and should be done in a clean, sanitary and accessible area with plenty of paper towels and a garbage can close by. When you are done, be sure to immediately take the waste outside and place it in a sealed garbage can. If you don't have a secure lid, expect the entire neighborhood's cat (or raccoon) population to be feasting on your trash. You can also save the heads in your freezer to use as fertilizer. Great roses grow from a season of shrimp heads.

Twist and Pull

I'm right handed. I hold the shrimp in my left hand, grab the head with my right hand, twist toward or away from your body and pull gently at a downward angle. If done properly, you will de-head and de-vein the shrimp at the same time.

This de-veining can only be done with fresh shrimp so the best time to do it is either immediately fter getting home from a night of shrimping or at a fish cleaning table near your favorite shrimping spot.

If you choose to clean your shrimp the next day, you will find, the longer you wait to clean your catch, the more the veins will break off from the head. So, clean your shrimp as soon as possible (your family and friends who eat them will appreciate it much more.)

Double Handed Head Popping

If the vein doesn't bother you or you are looking for a way to reduce the amount of time it takes you to clean your shrimp, the following two methods may be for you. The first is dubbed 'Double Handed Head Popping.' Like it's name sounds, it reduced the amount of time spent de-heading shrimp by allowing you to de-head two shrimp at a time by squeezing the shrimp's heads just below the carapace.

It is a quick, strong maneuver that allows you to remove their heads quickly. You will still get your hands dirty and the vein will still remain when you are finished but the time it takes is significantly reduced. Compared to the twist and pull method, you will cut the time it takes to clean your shrimp nearly in half.


Slam and Slide

The video to the left shows an alternative method using two hands.  If you catch a lot of shrimp, you might find this method faster.  The video was put together by our friend from the East Coast, Captain Lee Nogaour friend from the East Coast, Captain Lee Noga and shows how to clean shrimp using a simple aerosol can lid.

As the name depicts, the process involves holding a can, lid or other round object and using it like a cookie cutter to remove the head of the shrimp. The process of cutting the head off and removing it from the body is all done in a single motion. With a slightly elevated work space such as our friend's "Sportsman's Cleaning Table", you can make the process of cleaning up painless as well. Don't take our word for it though, watch the videos and see how easy this is for yourself.

The only drawback of doing it this ay is that you will leave the shrimp's vein intact and wil need to remove it later. Personally, I don't have a problem with leaving it in but some people object to eating it. In this case, you may want to invest in a de-veining tool or try an alternate method of cleaning them like the Twist and Pull method outlined above.

How to Sort Shrimp for Freezing

We normally sort all of our shrimp when we get home from a night of shrimping. Most of the time, the shrimp have already been de-headed, sometimes they haven't. In either case, they are usually covered with sea-muck and the guts from the de-heading process. Their shells are also filled with sand from their natural environment. So, you will need to rinse them off prior to sorting them.

To do this, fill your kitchen sink full of water and dump all the shrimp into the sink then swirl them around. This should loosen the bulk of the muck from the shrimp. Drain the sink, put all of the shrimp into a colander and run them under the water for about ten minutes, churning the content with your hands until you are satisfied they are clean.

Sorting by Size

I personally have developed three main classifications of shrimp over the years: small, medium, and large (and an additional when "Jumbos" are in season.) I designed these classifications around how I like to prepare the shrimp. The small shrimp, I use with stir-fry's or sauteed in a wine sauce. Mediums, I like them beer battered and deep fried. Large, boiled for shrimp cocktails. Jumbos I like to show off and butterfly and deep fry them. Like Bubba Gump said, there are about a million ways to eat and prepare shrimp so my way may not be your way.

Shrimp Size Table

Labeling shrimp for your family and putting them in the freezer will usually be a fairly simple affair but for the die-hards among us, we have provided an additional article to help standardize sizes when talking about shrimp. Check out the full How Big are the Shrimp You Caught? article to learn more. For the rest of us, you can check out the table to the left to ensure you are in the right ballpark when talking about your "monsters."

Break out three to four bowls. One bowl for each shrimp size you plan on storing. We usually use three categories so, we use three bowls. Go through the big colander full of shrimp and separate them all into the different bowls. In the end, you should have an empty colander and three or four bowls with shrimp of roughly the same size in them. Don't worry if you accidentally drop a medium into the small bowl. Consider it a surprise for the future.

Three Methods for Freezing Shrimp

Freezing the shrimp takes about 24 hours. Once they are frozen, you can store them anywhere in the freezer you want. Shrimp can be kept safely frozen for over a year and taste just as good as the day they were frozen provided you follow these directions.

That's right! You can freeze shrimp for over a year!

Regardless of how many sorting categories you chose to use, your family will also have to package them according to your own needs. A family of two will only need enough shrimp for two people and a family of four who really like shrimp may need enough food for eight. As a result, you will need to freeze your shrimp accordingly to save space and make it more convenient for you when you decide to make a shrimp feast. Keep this in mind when following the following directions on how to store shrimp using these three methods:.

Freezer Bags

A Small Residential Freezer Using Ziploc Freezer Bags
Small Apartment Freezer with Freezer Bags

All of our shrimp are stored in freezer bags or tupperware. So, go to the store and get yourself several sizes of double zipper Ziploc freezer bags with the writable white stripe on the front. Don't go cheap and get the Wal-Mart brand. Shrimp have a horn on the tail that can puncture cheap bags and our experience has been that Ziplock Double Zipper Freezer Bags hold up the best. You can get them on sale at the dollar store after the holidays are over as long as you don't mind their snowman pattern.

A Baggie of Shrimp Ready for Freezing
A Baggie of Shrimp Ready for Freezing - Photo by Captain Lee NogaCaptain Lee Noga

Write the date, sizes and number of dozen shrimp are going to be put in the bag with a black sharpie marker before you place any shrimp in the bag. It is very difficult to write on the bag once you have filled them full of shrimp.

Place the shrimp in the bags in whatever amounts and sizes you desire. Then, one bag at a time, fill the bags with water, making sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag to prevent freezer burn. Don't fill them up all the way. They will explode in your freezer. By now, you should realize that you have a bunch of shrimpy water balloons laying around your kitchen. You will need to make room in your freezer to hold them. You will need a flat space where you can stack the bags of shrimp on top of each other so that they freeze in the shape of a flat square. If you are lucky, you will have purchased or own a deep freezer where you can do this ,instead of taking up all the space in the home fridge. Watch for leaking water in the first minutes after you place the bags in the fridge. This means a bag has opened, wasn't closed properly or was punctured.

A Large Garage Freezer Using Ziplock Freezer Containers
Large Garage Freezer with Tupperware

Tupperware Containers

Disposable and non-disposable tupperware containers stack easier and generally hold more shrimp than freezer bags. They also offer the benefit of being reusable in most cases and come in a variety of sizes.

While more expensive than freezer bags, you may choose to use these if you need to store your shrimp in a tight spot or if you have so many shrimp that you need to organize them better after a season of shrimping. As seen in the photo to the right from a fellow shrimper, this is easily possible.

Vacuum Sealing

Another method, not often used due to the cost but highly effective is vacuum sealing. It requires no water and can preserve shrimp for an extremely long time without freezer burn. Due to the lack of water, the shrimp take up far less space in the freezer and more shrimp per square inch can be stored. If you have a vacuum sealer at your disposal, consider storing your shrimp in a vacuum sealed pouch!


Cleaning and freezing shrimp is hard work but the rewards are well worth it. We have tried our best to provide instructions on how to prepare, clean and store shrimp in a simple, easy to understand manner that answers some of the most commonly asked questions posed by our visitors and fellow shrimpers out on the water. If you have a question or suggestion that wasn't included in this article, feel free to post a message in the comments section at the bottom of this article!

Also, feel free to check out more cleaning, preparing and storing related videoscleaning, preparing and storing related videos, on our YouTube playlist for videos from Ozello Shrimper and around the internet! We have tried to centralize as many good videos and tutorials on cleaning and preparing shrimp as possible. If you know of another video that should be included, drop us a message!