How to Remove the Heads From Shrimp

  • 01 of 06

    Choose Fresh Head-On Shrimp

    Fresh Head-On Shrimp
    Fresh Carolina Brown Shrimp. Doug DuCap

    If you see head-on shrimp in the market, don’t be afraid to buy them. Head-on shrimp retain their natural moisture better, which makes for superior flavor and texture. Head-on shrimp might seem like a daunting task at first sight, but removing the heads (better known as "heading") is easy if a bit messy.

    Buy the Best: Be sure to buy only very fresh shrimp. Avoid shrimp with black dots, as these indicate bacterial growth. Choose shrimp that are firm to the touch -- not mushy or...MORE waterlogged. Let frozen shrimp defrost slowly in the refrigerator and be sure to allow the water to drain off as they defrost.

    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Handle With Care

    Fresh Shrimp Rostrum and Telson
    Shrimp Rostrum and Telson. Doug DuCap

    Mind Your Fingers: Use caution when handling head-on shrimp. In addition to the sharp point at the tail (the telson), there is an even longer point at the head (the rostrum). They’re easy enough to avoid if you’re moderately careful.

    Pick the shrimp up one at a time -- don't try to grab a handful all at once.

    If you do get stuck, clean the site well, as any puncture wound easily can become infected.

    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Hand #1 Position

    Hand #1 Position
    Hand #1 Position. Doug DuCap

    Grip the Body: Protect your work surface before you start (or better still, work over a colander in the sink).

    Begin by taking a shrimp firmly in your dominant hand, with the body curving toward you and your thumb and bent forefinger just behind the gill plates on opposite sides.

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Hand #2 Position

    Step Four: Hand #2 Position
    Hand #2 Position. Doug DuCap

    Grip the Head: With your other hand, grip the shrimp head firmly with your thumb and forefinger on the gill plates on opposite sides.

    The tips of your thumbs and the knuckles of your forefingers should be almost touching.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Snap Upward Quickly

    Snap Upward Quickly
    Removing the Head. Doug DuCap

    In one quick movement, bring your forefingers up and your thumbs apart in a snapping motion. Remove the head and pull out the black digestive tract, if visible. Repeat with remaining shrimp.

    Once you learn the process, you can keep a paper towel in your hand while snapping the heads off. This gives you a better grip on the heads, minimizes some of the mess, and aids in the removal of the tract.

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Rinse Shrimp Well Before Storage or Preparation

    Rinse Shrimp Well
    Rinse Shrimp Well. Doug DuCap

    Dispose of the heads (or save them for making shrimp stock) and rinse the shrimp in cold water.

    Your shrimp are now ready to go! You can cook them in the shell, peel and ​devein them or freeze them for later use.