Anytime I attempt to pan-sear shrimp, I struggle to achieve a perfect char. I typically turn the stove on high, pre-heat a stainless steel pan, use butter + olive oil, and then add the shrimp for a couple minutes each side. I also use a fish spatula to make sure they're flat to the pan. I find after a few minutes each side, the shrimp are done but not charred or crisp, but if cooked much longer, the shrimp become too well done.

Do certain pans help accomplish this? Does type of shrimp matter? Is oil / butter preferred? What is the proper way to effectively pan-sear shrimp?

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    Charred shrimps are usually not fried, they're grilled, without (or with very little) fat. Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 8:54

4 Answers 4


There are a few things you can do to help your shrimp get a nice sear.

First, make sure they're as dry as possible before adding them to the pan. Use paper towels and pat dry. Especially if you're using shrimp which you had to thaw, they can be pretty wet, and that'll cause them to steam instead of sear.

Another thing which can cause your meat to steam instead of sear is if you overcrowd the pan. Use a larger pan or do less shrimp at once. When I cook shrimp, I can see at least 2/3 of the bottom of the pan through the shrimp. If all you can see is shrimp, it's way too much, and the water it releases will get trapped instead of quickly evaporating off.

Getting your shrimp to room temp can also help, as the colder your meat is when you put it in the pan, the more your pan will cool down when you add it. A thicker pan is another solution, as it has more capacity to hold heat. Cast iron is ideal for searing for this reason. Adding less shrimp at once will also reduce this effect.

By using the fish spatula, do you mean you're pressing down on them while they're cooking? I'd skip this, it can squeeze out liquids, so it might hurt more than help. Shrimp are pretty flat, so just toss them in the pan and then leave them alone until they need flipped.

Lastly, I might skip the butter and only use an oil which can tolerate high heat. Butter will burn at high temps, so you have to keep your pan cooler, which means less of a sear. Your butter/oil should not be smoking at any point, that means the temp is too high for that type of oil. Shrimp in butter does taste better though IMO, so you can try changing this as a last resort.

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    @StianYttervik Why? Unless you live in a fishing town (and even then!), chances are the freshest shrimps you can get are high quality frozen shrimps. Non frozen shrimps you buy are most likely just defrosted ahead of time (and were frozen on the trawler that caught them). Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 8:57
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    @nick Based on what evidence are you asserting that? — Besides, Gordon Ramsey can presumably afford to buy fresh catch for his restaurants on a wholesale fish market, something not accessible to most people. Most people are limited to supermarkets and regular fish mongers, and most of these don't sell seafood of any kind other than frozen and defrosted. Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 11:33
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    @nick012000 A lot of fish is frozen on the fishing vessel long before it reaches port. See fao.org/3/v3630e/v3630e14.htm -- unless you live on the gulf coast of equivalent, all shrimp you have ever eaten where frozen at one point.
    – Deleted
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 16:09
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    @StianYttervik It’s not “more than 3 hours drive”. I live in London, which is very close to the coast (as is every other point in the UK, really). All seafood (and most fish) I can buy here (except at wholesale fish markets) was at some point frozen. Even in coastal towns, virtually all fresh seafood you buy was at one point frozen, unless it was caught locally. And this is completely unrelated to quality: the quality of frozen seafood can be excellent. Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 17:11
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    +1 Don't crowd the pan is key for browning/searing many things. The wetter it is, the more batches you should have. If the pan gets too hot, do a bigger batch.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 21:21

Supplementary answer:

It does depend on the type of shrimp somewhat. Inexpensive shrimp are often treated with sodium triphosphate or similar chemicals. This makes the shrimp plumper and better-looking by causing them to soak up water instead of losing it. The problem is, when you put such shrimp in a hot pan, they release that water and steam instead of searing.

The solution to this is to buy shrimp that are not treated with sodium compounds.


You are fairly close on technique. I would recommend beginning the process by using a paper or cloth towel to dry your shrimp as much as possible. Use the heaviest pan you can, cast iron is good, but I have success in stainless. Preheat well. High heat is good, but if using butter you don't want it to burn. Place the shrimp in the pan without overcrowding...leave plenty of space... and don't touch them. You may need to reduce heat slightly at this point. Cook them 3/4 of the way done (this depends on size). Flip to finish. In my experience, the critical element is to start with the driest possible shrimp at the start.


I was gonna say pan frying doesnt give you a "char". That is what a grill is for. Just coat in your favorite oil and seasoning and char grill them for a minute or 2 on each side till they curl. Done.

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