Keep Shells on for the Easiest Tender Grilled Shrimp

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Shell-on shrimp are great on the grill. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

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Remember when Kenji published his article on how to grill perfect shrimp, in which he wrote that one of the best methods for ensuring tender grilled shrimp is to cook them in their shells? And then do you remember how he threw that option out the window just to be nice to those dainty folks among us who don't like having to peel their shrimp and get their fingers messy? He spent so much time perfecting a shell-off method, which I'll definitely be using in the future, from the baking soda and sugar dry-brine to the clever skewering arrangement that ensures juiciness.

But, I, like Kenji, really, really love eating shell-on shrimp. I like them even more if they also have their heads still attached. Frankly, I like those heads as much, if not more, than I like the meaty tail. So I wanted to share one of my favorite shell-on grilled shrimp recipes, just so you guys have options. Shell-on, shell-off, we've got you covered.

The best part is how easy a shell-on method is—those shells act as a temperature buffer, helping to prevent the shrimp from overcooking. Which means there's very little to do beyond flavor them and grill them.

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My go-to shrimp marinade includes a splash of fish sauce, minced garlic, and ginger. For this recipe, I bumped up the aromatics with lemongrass and shallots, then added a burst of heat with chili flakes.

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To start, I wash the shrimp, then pat them dry. Then I quickly quickly whip up the marinade, toss the shrimp in it, and let them marinate for at least an hour. I grill the shrimp over direct heat until they're just cooked through, then serve them.

Shell-on shrimp always present one small conundrum: most of the marinade flavor is on the exterior of the shells, while the shrimp inside have an exceptional shrimp flavor and juicy, tender texture thanks to being cooked in the shells. Do you shell the shrimp and settle for the flavor of the marinade that comes off on your fingers? That's a fine option if you do. Personally, I just take a nice big bite, shell and all, then suck the heads. It's the best of all possible worlds.

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