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SHRIMP COCKTAIL with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

Shrimp Cocktail is still one of the most popular party foods around! It is the one appetizer that I consistently serve at most holidays and special occasions! My family loves it!

A plate shrimp cocktail with sauce and lemon wedges

For shrimp cocktail, I like to use a large to extra-large sized shrimp and to serve them with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.

A bowl of about 40 large raw shell-on shrimp

Whenever I prepared any type of boiled or steamed shrimp, I like to cook the shrimp with the shell on because I think it adds flavor and keeps them from shrinking as much. I then peel and devein them after cooking. 

The ingredients needed for a shrimp boil including pot of water and spices and seasonings.

Here are the spices and seasonings that I use in the poaching liquid for the shrimp. 

Shrimp poaching liquid

Add all of the seasonings and spices to the large pot of water, turn on the heat, and stir well. 

A lemon cut in half and a peeled onion on a cutting board with chef knife.

Cut a lemon in half and slice a small onion. Add these to the poaching liquid. 

A bowl of raw shell on shrimp next to a large pot of poaching liquid.

Bring the poaching liquid to a simmer and cook for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors blend.

Adding the raw shell on shrimp to the boiling pot of poaching liquid

Add the raw, shell-on shrimp to the boiling poaching liquid and cook uncovered until the shrimp turn pink on the outside and the meat is no longer transparent in the center which will take about 4 to 5 minutes. 

Poaching shrimp next to a colander and a bowl of ice

While the shrimp are poaching, get a colander ready to drain them and a bowl of ice to immediately cool them once drained. 

The poached shrimp in a blue colander

Once the shrimp are cooked, drain them quickly into a colander!

Poached shrimp in a colander with a bowl of ice water nearby

After draining the poached shrimp, submerge them into ice water to quickly stop the cooking process and cool down the shrimp. The shrimp should then be peeled, deveined, and put into the refrigerator until service time.

Here is a link to a video I posted on how to peel and devein shrimp in case you want to check it out –

Cocktail sauce ingredients next to a mixing bowl

While the shrimp is cooling under refrigeration, make the cocktail sauce by whisking the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. 

When all of the ingredients for the cocktail sauce have been whisked together, taste and correct the seasonings to the flavor you desire. Then cover and place into the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes until chilled.

poached shrimp on a plate with cocktail sauce, lemon wedges and parsley sprig garnish

To serve, arrange the shrimp onto a plate or serving platter. Serve with chilled cocktail sauce garnished with lemon wedges and your choice of herbs if desired.  

A plate shrimp cocktail with sauce and lemon wedges

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is a very popular special occasion appetizer that is usually served with chilled cocktail sauce and lemon wedges!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Chilling Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine American


  • 1 Large Sauce or Stock Pot
  • 1 Mixing Bowl
  • 1 Collander


Poaching Liquid

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay seafood seasoning
  • 1 tsp pickling spice
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1 each bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 each small onion, sliced
  • 1 each lemon, cut in half
  • 2 pounds raw, shell-on large shrimp

Cocktail Sauce

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or to taste
  • 4 tbsp prepared horseradish or to taste
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 drops hot sauce or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt as needed

Garnish (optional)

  • lemon wedges
  • fresh parsley sprigs or other fresh herb


  • In a large pot, combine the water with the salt, whole peppercorns, Old Bay seasoning, pickling spice, dried dill weed, bay leaf and dried thyme. Stir and then add in the sliced onion and lemon halves.
  • Bring to a simmer and cook until the flavors blend, about 15 minutes.
  • Bring the poaching liquid up to a boil and add the shrimp. Cook uncovered until the shrimp turn pink on the outside and the meat is no longer transparent in the center, about 4 to 5 minutes total. Do not overcook as that will make the shrimp tough and chewy.
  • Drain the shrimp into a colander and then immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice water and stir. This will stop the cooking process and prevent the shrimp from continuing to cook. Keep the shrimp immersed until cold.
  • Remove the shrimp from the ice water when chilled and then peel and devein them. Cover and put into the refrigerator until service time.
  • To make the cocktail sauce, whisk together the ketchup, chili sauce, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and salt in a bowl. Taste and correct any seasonings. Cover and put into the refrigerator until chilled, at least 15 minutes.
  • To serve, arrange the chilled poached shrimp onto a plate or serving platter, and serve with chilled cocktail sauce garnished with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs if desired.
  • NOTE: It is a great time saver to make your shrimp cocktail a day or two before and then just chill until it is needed, especially if prepping for a party.
Keyword appetizer, hors deouvre, seafood, shrimp
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