Smoked shell-on shrimp: the gateway to at-home smoking

Steven Raichlen’s Danish smoked shrimp are a dead-simple show stopper

By Maggie Hennessy


Published July 18, 2023 12:31PM (EDT)

Shrimp (Getty Images/Christina Reichl Photography)
Shrimp (Getty Images/Christina Reichl Photography)

I've always found the practice of food smoking intimidating. Discussions about wood chip types and temperature gauges generally make me want to run and hide, as does the prospect of a hulk of bone-in meat demanding 10 hours to cook (which, let's face it, usually ends up taking closer to 12). 

When my husband suggested we try a smoked shrimp recipe from barbecue expert Steven Raichlen's stellar 2016 book, "Project Smoke." I geared up for my usual insolent protest, until my husband described the process: 

Rinse and dry the shell-on shrimp; no cures, no brines — hell, no seasoning. Place them on an oiled rack in a smoker preheated to between 225 and 250°F (or, in our case, in a preheated charcoal grill containing a few handfuls of dry or soaked wood chips). Smoke for 30 to 60 minutes, peel and serve — hot! Or cold! Or with a dilly dipping sauce if you're fancy!

Wait, that's it? 

Simplicity aside, the gentle tinge of smoke lends savory depth to the sweet, toothsome shrimp, which has made this easy yet impressive recipe a favorite for dinner parties and Sunday afternoons. 

"I think smoked shrimp is an excellent entry point to smoking because it's really just shellfish and smoke," said Raichlen, who hosts "Barbecue University" on PBS and has written 31 books, including "The Barbecue Bible" and "How to Grill." "It will quickly and easily lead you to things like oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, all of which are also easy to smoke."

Now I've done it.

Raichlen first came across this century-old shrimp smoking technique while visiting Bornholm, a Danish island in the Baltic Sea and the former smoked fish capital of Europe. 

"If you drive around this relatively flat island, every couple hundred yards you see towering white brick chimneys," said Raichlen. "At one point there were 80 or 90 smoekhouses there, smoking everything from obvious salmon and eel to less obvious shrimp and herring. Being in the Baltic Sea facing the North Sea, it was kind of perfectly located as a source of seafood and a shipping point for dispersing it around Europe."

Smoked shrimpSmoked shrimp (Photo courtesy of Maggie Hennessy )Bornholmers smoke their seafood with local beech wood chips. Alder, which can be easier to find stateside, has a similarly delicate flavor profile that won't overpower the shrimp like mesquite or applewood might. The only drawback is that smoked shrimp can be harder to peel — particularly thinner-shelled shrimp that have recently molted. But you can facilitate this step by deveining the shrimp at the start of the process. To do this, make a lengthwise slit down the back of the shrimp with kitchen shears. Pull out the black vein using the tine of a fork or the point of a bamboo skewer. If this all seems too fiddly, remove the shell altogether, except the tail, and smoke the shrimp following the same method. Check them a little sooner for doneness; they will feel firm when cooked.

Cook's Notes

For those without a smoker, a charcoal grill with a cloche-style lid works great. Raichlen doesn't recommend smoking in a gas grill, however. "The problem is the wide venting in the back of most gas grills, which allows smoke to escape before it has a chance to flavor the food," he said. Certain devices, like built-in or freestanding smoker boxes can help you achieve a partial smoke flavor. In a pinch, you can also wrap 2 cups of wood chips in a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke holes in the top. Position your foil packet under the grate directly over one of the burners. Run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to the desired temperature.

Steven Raichlen's Smoked Shrimp
4 servings, as an appetizer
Prep Time
15 minutes
Cook Time
30-60 minutes


1 pound large shrimp (shells intact, heads on if possible)

Vegetable or grapeseed oil, for oiling the rack

Lemon Dill Sauce (recipe follows)

Lemon wedges, for spritzing





  1. Set up your smoker following the manufacturer's instructions, and preheat to 225 to 250. Add the beech or alder wood (enough for 1 hour of smoking) as specified by the manufacturer. If you're using a charcoal grill, fill a chimney a quarter to halfway with charcoal briquettes. Using a stick lighter, light the charcoal along with your fire starter of choice (we like these tumbleweed fire starters) and burn until they're mostly covered in ash and glowing red. Once you have a hot bed of coals, gently place the beech or alder wood chunks or chips on top using tongs. (If using chunks, 2 to 4; if using chips, 1 ½ to 2 cups). 
  2. Meanwhile, devein the shrimp if desired using kitchen shears or a sharp paring knife, keeping the shells otherwise intact. Rinse, and blot dry. 
  3. Arrange the shrimp on a lightly oiled wire rack and place in the smoker. Smoke until golden brown and cooked through (the shrimp will feel firm when squeezed), 30 to 60 minutes, or as needed, depending on the size of the shrimp.
  4. Transfer the shrimp on their wire rack to a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature. Or eat them hot out of the smoker, or chilled the next day. Serve with Lemon Dill Sauce (recipe follows) or honey mustard and lemon wedges.
Lemon-Dill Sauce
1 cup
Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook Time
0 minutes


½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

2 Tbsp chopped dill

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp grated lemon zest

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper





  1. Combine the mayo, sour cream, dill, lemon juice and zest in a bowl and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl, and refrigerate until ready to serve.



By Maggie Hennessy

Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago-based freelance food and drink journalist and the restaurant critic for Time Out Chicago. Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Taste, Eater and Food52.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Danish Recipe Seafood Shrimp Steve Raichlen