How to Devein Shrimp

Plus, do you really need to devein shrimp at all?

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February 03, 2023
How To Devein Shrimp
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By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

While deveined shrimp are readily available either fresh or frozen, there’s a lot to be said for knowing how to devein them yourself. It can be less expensive to buy whole shrimp, and you may have a larger selection of sizes and varieties at your market if you’re willing to do the work yourself. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to be in an area where local shrimpers sell their catch fresh off the boat, you’ll almost certainly be buying these whole: heads, shells, veins and all.

What Is the Vein In Shrimp?

What’s known as the vein in a shrimp runs along its back, just below the surface. Despite the name, it’s actually the animal’s intestinal tract. Sometimes you’ll find veins that are almost completely clear and empty, but other times they’ll be brownish or black and contain grit.

Do You Have to Devein Shrimp?

The vein in shrimp is entirely edible, and removing it or not is a matter of preference. That said, a dark vein can be a bit unsightly in some preparations, like boiled shrimp for shrimp cocktail, and can also add a noticeable grittiness to dishes. For this reason it’s usual to devein shrimp, but it’s up to you. Note that if you’re working with very small shrimp (45 per pound or less) it may be impractical to try to dig out their tiny veins, and they’re unlikely to affect your finished dish.

How to Devein Shrimp

Deveining is easy, and we’ve got a few tips that can make it even faster.

How to Devein Peeled Shrimp

Here's how to devein peeled (shelled) shrimp.

Step 1: Position the shrimp. Place one on a cutting board or hold it rounded-side up between your thumb and forefinger.

Step 2: Cut a slit down the back. Use a paring knife to make a very shallow slit down the back of the shrimp, stopping just before you get to the last section before the tail.

Step 3: Lift out the vein. Spread the sides of the shrimp out slightly if necessary and look for the dark vein. Use the tip of your knife (or even your fingers) to lift it out. The detached vein can be a little sticky, so have a paper towel handy to wipe your knife or fingers on to get rid of it quickly.


Photo by: Alison Miksch/Getty Images

Alison Miksch/Getty Images

How to Devein Unpeeled Shrimp

If your shrimp is unpeeled (still with the shell intact) and you want to keep it that way, here's what to do.

Step 1: Position the shrimp. Place it on a cutting board or flat surface.

Step 2: Make a slit through the shell. Use a paring knife or pair of kitchen shears to make a shallow slit right through the shell, stopping at the last section before the tail. If you’re working with head-on shrimp, make your initial slit just behind the thicker, tougher head shell (carapace).

Step 3: Lift out the vein. Spread the sides apart very gently and lift out the dark vein. Keep a paper towel on the side to wipe the detached vein on if it clings to your knife or fingers.

Woman deveins shrimp and pull out intestinal tract line when cooking shrimp.


Woman deveins shrimp and pull out intestinal tract line when cooking shrimp.

Photo by: insjoy/Getty Images

insjoy/Getty Images

How to Devein Shrimp Without Cutting Into the Back

Occasionally, cooks may want to remove the vein but leave the back of the shrimp uncut either for aesthetic reasons or to help it stay juicer during certain types of cooking. This technique is a little tricky but totally doable once you get the hang of it.

Step 1: Pierce the side of the shrimp with a skewer. Holding the shrimp in one hand, pierce the side very close to the middle of the rounded back with the tip of a skewer (a bamboo skewer or sturdy toothpick works well). If the shrimp is unpeeled, be sure to pierce it between shell sections.

Step 2: Lift up the tip of the skewer. Carefully lift up the tip of the skewer, breaking through the flesh on the shrimp’s back. The tip should hook the vein, exposing it. Continue lifting to gently pull the vein out of the back. You can grasp the vein with your fingers if you like and continue pulling. If the vein breaks, simply do the process again, starting at the point where vein is still lodged in the shrimp.

Should I Buy a Shrimp Deveiner?

If you clean a lot of shrimp you might consider getting a deveiner. This inexpensive tool usually consists of a handle and curved, beak-like piece of metal or plastic. You insert the tip of the beak into the back of the shrimp, thread it down to the tail and then lift it up to break through the back. Ideally this removes shell and vein in one easy motion, although in reality you may have to use your fingers or a paring knife to complete the job.


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