Plump and tender grilled shrimp, with a nicely browned crust. [Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt. Video: Natalie Holt]
Grilling fast-cooking foods like shrimp is always a balancing act. Hot and hard is the only way to develop those deep brown grill marks and charred spots that give grilled foods their unique flavor—but for the most tender, juicy meat, gentle and slow is the way to go. What does it take to get grilled shrimp that are as tender and juicy as the most delicately poached shrimp? Shrimp that burst with a decisive snap in your mouth, all with a deep, sweet, crisply charred crust? This method, that’s what.
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Why It Works
- Treating the shrimp with salt and baking soda helps them stay plump and juicy and brown more efficiently as they grill.
- Drying the shrimp out in the refrigerator gives them a jump-start on browning.
- Squeezing the shrimp together on a skewer gives them less surface area, which helps them stay juicier as they cook.
- Tossing them in a flavorful vinaigrette after cooking lends more seasoning than a marinade.
- 2 1/2 pounds (1kg) large shrimp (15–20 per pound), peeled and deveined
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon (15g) kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon (5g) sugar
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced, divided
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon zest and 4 teaspoons (20ml) juice from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
Combine shrimp, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Thread shrimp onto sets of 2 skewers, alternating heads to tails and pushing shrimp so that they are nestled snugly together; you should have about 6 shrimp on each set of skewers. Lay skewers on top of a baking dish so that shrimp are suspended above bottom of dish. Transfer to refrigerator and allow to rest for 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine half of garlic and half of olive oil in a small bowl. Combine remaining garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and parsley leaves in a large bowl. Set aside.
When shrimp are ready to grill, brush both sides with first garlic/oil mixture. Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
Place shrimp directly over hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through and well charred, 4 to 5 minutes total. Transfer shrimp to a cutting board.
Carefully remove skewers from shrimp and transfer to bowl with garlic/oil/lemon mixture. Toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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