Shrimp cocktail is one of those appetizers that’s so much better homemade!  Colossal shrimp are boiled in a blend of water, lemon, and Old Bay until pink and plump and served alongside homemade cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.  Once you see how easy this is, you’ll never buy storebought again!

Shrimp cocktail in grey plate with lemons and cocktail sauce.

Shrimp cocktail is one of the simplest appetizers, yet it’s often something that is picked up from the grocery store in a plastic ring.

And it’s usually not that good:  the shrimp are tiny and water-logged, and while it gets eaten, no one is ever blown away by it.

But homemade shrimp with cocktail sauce is another thing entirely!

The shrimp are firm and plump and the sauce is fresh; storebought just can’t compare!

Shrimp cocktail is a great appetizer for any occasion or holiday, or as a precursor to a special steak dinner along with other appetizers, like clams casino and spinach artichoke dip.

Ingredients shown: horseradish, Tabasco, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, lemons, shrimp, baking soda, salt, onion, and Old Bay seasoning.

How to make it

Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.

  1. Mix 1 1/2 pounds of colossal shrimp with a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and set aside allowing the shrimp to set for 20 minutes before boiling.

Shrimp cocktail recipe process shot collage group number one.

  1. In a small bowl combine 1 cup of ketchup, 3 tablespoons of prepared horseradish, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, and sea salt to taste.
  2. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and bring a pot filled with 8 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 medium onion with the skin removed and cut in half, 1 tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning, and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil.

Recipe process shot collage group number two.

  1. Add the shrimp to the pot.
  2. Cook the shrimp until they turn slightly opaque.  For 12-15 count shrimp they took exactly 3 minutes to cook.

Recipe process shot collage group number three.

  1. Drain the shrimp and place them immediately into the ice water to stop them from cooking further.  After the shrimp have chilled, dry any residual water off of them, and serve on a large platter with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.  Enjoy!

Overhead shot of large plate of shrimp cocktail with cocktail sauce and lemons.

Top tips for shrimp cocktail

  • Shrimp.  We used colossal shrimp, size u12-15, meaning there are 12-15 shrimp per pound.  You can use any size shrimp you like but keep in mind that smaller shrimp will require less cooking time so keep an eye on them and don’t overcook.  Once they’re opaque, they’re done.  For 12-15 count shrimp (by the way these are very affordable from Costco) they took exactly 3 minutes.  Smaller shrimp could take as short as 90 seconds to cook so watch carefully!  If you’re not sure if the shrimp are done, simply remove one from the pot and cut it open.  If it’s opaque, remove all the shrimp right to the ice water bath.
  • Ice water.  Don’t skip the ice water bath. It is 100% necessary.  It’s important to submerge the shrimp in the ice water as soon as they’re done otherwise they’ll continue to cook and may become tough.
  • Cocktail sauce. Sure you can use storebought, but homemade is so much better.  We added a 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco to ours, but if you like it very spicy, add a little more, or serve with extra Tabasco on the side.

Overhead shot of shrimp cocktail platter and small plate with shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce.

More great appetizers

If you’re looking for appetizers, here are a few of our favorites!

If you’ve enjoyed this shrimp cocktail recipe or any recipe on this site, give it a 5-star rating and leave a review.

We strive to satisfy a number of learning styles.  If you are someone who prefers to learn by watching, you can find most of our recipes on YouTube and our Facebook Page.

Shrimp Cocktail

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 7 minutes
Brining time: 20 minutes
Total: 27 minutes
Servings: 4
Shrimp cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce and colossal shrimp boiled in water seasoned with onion, lemon juice, and Old Bay.


For the cocktail sauce

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • sea salt to taste

For the shrimp

  • 1.5 pounds colossal shrimp u12-15 - see notes below
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the poaching liquid

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 medium onion skin removed and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon salt


Boiling the shrimp

  • Mix the shrimp with the baking soda and salt and set aside. Wait 20 minutes until boiling. While the shrimp are sitting in the brine, mix the cocktail sauce.
  • Prepare a large bowl of ice water for shocking the shrimp and set aside.
  • Add all of the boiling ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp to the pot and cook for 3-4 minutes or until they turn slightly opaque. Drain the shrimp and place them immediately into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

For the cocktail sauce

  • Mix together all of the ingredients and taste test. Adjust salt and pepper if required.

Serving the shrimp cocktail

  • Serve the shrimp on a large platter (over crushed ice is great but not required) with the cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Enjoy!


  • For convenience, cleaned and deveined U12-15 shrimp were used.  Feel free to use shell on shrimp if you desire and peel right after shocking in the ice water bath.
  • Any size shrimp can be used.  Smaller shrimp will take less time so keep an eye on them.  Once they are opaque, they are done and should be drained and shocked in ice water immediately.
  • Shrimp cocktail can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Calories: 266kcal | Carbohydrates: 18.5g | Protein: 39.9g | Fat: 3.2g | Saturated Fat: 0.9g | Cholesterol: 358mg | Sodium: 450mg | Potassium: 536mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 14.3g | Calcium: 169mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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5 from 2 votes (1 rating without comment)

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  1. Cathy Lindner says:

    Thank you for all the great recipes!! My question is if I cook my shrimp the day before I’m serving the cocktail how do I store them in the fridge. In an open bowl, in a bowl of cold water ?

    Thank you

    1. Tara says:

      Hi Cathy, if you cook the shrimp the day before you can store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Don’t store in water as they shrimp will become waterlogged.

  2. Nicole says:

    Is there à substitute for the old bay seasoning? Thank you

    1. James says:

      Feel free to omit. Truth is, you can just cook the shrimp in salted water and as long as they are not overcooked they will be delicious.

  3. John Sagamore says:

    5 stars
    Here’s a pro tip for your followers: Spend a couple extra minutes and gently coax the tails off the shrimp before cooking. This way your guests can just eat the entire shrimp and you won’t have a collection of left over tails to deal with.

  4. Heidi says:

    I Cannot consume, lemons, as it does not agree with me. For the acidic component, could I use just a drip of white vinegar instead?

    1. Tara says:

      Hi Heidi, yes, you can replace the lemon with white vinegar.

  5. Teresa C says:

    What does, wait twenty minutes until boiling, mean?

    1. James says:

      Hi Teresa, after you mix the shrimp with the baking soda and salt brine, you allow them to sit with the brine for 20 minutes. Then you would boil them.

      1. Dottie says:

        Do the shrimp get rinsed of the brine before putting it into the poaching solution? You have salt in the brine and then more salt in the boiling solution. This needs a video with James and Tara rating it. I love that kid!!

        1. James says:

          Hi Dottie, no, the shrimp do not get rinsed before boiling. Thanks for the comment and hope you enjoy!

  6. Brian says:

    I’m kinda new to your site, but what is the purpose of the baking soda before preparing the shrimp? Thx in advance.

    1. Jim says:

      Hi Brian, the baking soda and salt brine the shrimp making them more plump and juicy. Hope that helps.