New Orleans BBQ Shrimp is a classic Cajun shrimp dish that’s buttery, flavorful, and takes just 20 minutes to prepare. Shrimp get sautéed in a flavorful sauce made with garlic, beer, Worcestershire, Creole spices and plenty of butter. It’s a delicious, crowd-pleasing recipe that’s perfect for Mardi Gras!
When I lived in Louisiana, I fell in love with a dish called BBQ Shrimp, only these shrimp have nothing to do with barbecue as most people know it. They're not grilled, there's no smoke, there's no dry rub and there's definitely no bbq sauce. Instead, you'll find big, beautiful shrimp simmered on the stove in a rich, tangy, spicy, buttery, almost creamy sauce that will have you licking your plate clean.
In New Orleans, you'll typically get served BBQ Shrimp with the heads still on. It's customary to suck the delicious juices out of the heads, and they give you a bib to wear so you don't get it all over your clothes. My recipe excludes the heads but leaves the shells on to add lots of flavor to the broth.
If you're looking for a buttery shrimp dish without the spice, try my Oven Baked Shrimp Scampi. If you want a classic grilled shrimp, check out these Citrus Herb Grilled Shrimp. Or for a classic Louisiana shrimp dish without the butter, look no further than my Cajun Pickled Shrimp!
Why this recipe works
- Easy, beginner friendly recipe.
- Can be made with shell on or peeled shrimp.
- Make it as mild or as spicy as you prefer.
- Cold butter is melted in at the end to make a creamy, emulsified sauce that doesn't separate.
- Makes lots of sauce for mopping up with French bread, rice or grits.
- Adapted from Mr. B's Restaurant in New Orleans, where they serve the best barbecue shrimp in the city!
- Shrimp - Traditional BBQ Shrimp is always served with head-on, shell-on shrimp, but they can be a pain to peel at the table. Shell-on shrimp will give you more flavor, but they aren't necessary. Use peeled or unpeeled - whatever you prefer, but make sure they're on the bigger side - 16/20 count or larger. Frozen shrimp are GREAT if fresh, locally caught shrimp aren't available where you live. Look for wild caught American Gulf shrimp for best results.
- Worcestershire Sauce - This is absolutely necessary, as it makes up the base flavor of the sauce and cannot be substituted. Use Lea & Perrin's for the best flavor.
- Beer - A dark or Amber beer is best for this recipe, but a light beer will work too. I prefer Abita Amber since it's brewed in Louisiana and is what most restaurants and home cooks use. If you need to avoid alcohol, replace the beer with shrimp stock, chicken stock, turkey stock, vegetable stock or just plain water.
- Cajun / Creole Seasoning - Different brands will vary in their level of spice and salt. Try to find one with less salt so you can control the saltiness of the final dish - I like this one. You can also make it yourself. Avoid Tony Chachere's - it's way too salty for this recipe.
- Butter - It must be unsalted or you could wind up with an overly salty sauce.
- Hot Sauce - Stick to a basic (preferably Louisiana made!) hot sauce such as Tabasco or Crystal - my favorite. Avoid thick sauces like Frank's or Sriracha, and omit it altogether if you don't want a lot of heat.
Step by step instructions
- Add Worcestershire sauce, beer, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, Cajun seasoning, pepper and hot sauce to a large skillet or cast iron skillet with a lid and bring up to a boil over high heat.
- Add the shrimp and lemon wheels, toss to coat, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3-5 minutes depending on size.
- Remove the lid and add the lemon juice, then turn off the heat and add the cubed butter. Stir continuously until the butter is fully melted and the sauce emulsified. Taste for seasoning and add salt and more lemon juice to taste.
- Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with scallions and parsley. Serve with lots of crusty bread for sopping up the sauce.
Tips for success
- Use fresh, coarsely cracked black pepper - not pre-ground.
- Rosemary is traditional in BBQ shrimp, but if you're not a fan you can substitute thyme or oregano or just leave it out.
- If you like it spicy, add a few pinches of Cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes and more hot sauce to taste.
- If you don't like it spicy, use slightly less black pepper, a mild Cajun seasoning and omit the hot sauce.
- Keep the shrimp in the refrigerator until ready to use so they stay nice and fresh.
- To keep the sauce from separating, make sure your butter is cold and add it at the very end with the heat turned off. Stir vigorously until it's fully emulsified.
Faq about New Orleans BBQ Shrimp
The classic way to serve BBQ shrimp in New Orleans is with lots of crusty French bread for mopping up all of the delicious sauce and with an ice cold beer or glass of crisp, dry white wine. They're also great served over grits or rice along with a salad or vegetable to round out the meal. You can also try them served over pasta!
In theory, yes, but it won't quite be the same. BBQ shrimp is meant to be rich and buttery, and using less butter will make the sauce a lot stronger and more pungent.
No, but the shells (and heads) are traditional, add a lot more flavor and help keep the shrimp moist and tender. It can be a pain to peel them at the table, but I think that's part of the fun. If you prefer to keep your hands clean, just use peeled shrimp and they will still be delicious.
While there are major differences between Cajun and Creole, these words tend to be used interchangeably when describing the Louisiana spice blend. Each brand has its own blend of different spices. For this recipe, look for one with less salt.
Legend has it that the chef at Pascal's Manale, the restaurant where the dish was created (not Emeril's!), called them BBQ shrimp because of their dark reddish tint.
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