A bowl of Grilled Cajun Shrimp and Grits is summer comfort food at its best. In this twist on a classic, marinated grilled shrimp top cheesy grits, with a drizzle of spicy scallion-garlic butter. (Heat level is totally customizable to your preferences.) Grab a fork and dig in!
Jersey Girl Meets Cheesy Shrimp and Grits
Having been born and raised in New Jersey, Shrimp and Grits wasn’t a tradition that I grew up with. When I migrated to Richmond for college and started exploring Southern American cuisine in both Virginia and beyond, cheesy Shrimp and Grits is one of the dishes I fell in love with.
In fact, I remember vividly the first time I tasted grits.
It was sophomore year and I was at the Jefferson Hotel’s legendary Champagne Brunch. After several trips from our table to explore the bountiful chafing dishes that lined the hotel’s Rotunda, I came across a dish of cheesy grits.
“Oh. Polenta,” my half-Italian, child-of-the-North mind thought. I took a small scoop for good measure, and went on my way.
Back at the table, I took my first bite and instantly regretted not helping myself to more!
Polenta vs. Grits
Despite looking quite like polenta, the texture of the grits was different. While both are made from ground cornmeal, grits had more of a porridge-like consistency than I expected.
The grits were also cheesier than any polenta dish I’d ever had, with a slight bite from what must’ve been an aged cheddar. When the yolk from my Eggs Benedict started mingling with the grits, I’m pretty sure I heard ethereal music in the background.
Ok, so it was probably the brunch harpist. But, the grits really were outstanding!
Curious about what exactly makes grits and polenta distinct? Check out Grits: A Completely Different Thing Than Polenta from The Spruce.
What Kind of Grits Should I Buy?
If possible, you’ll want to find stone ground grits for this Grilled Cajun Shrimp and Grits.
Full disclosure: that’s easier said than done where I live in New Jersey. Most markets here carry instant grits, which are pre-cooked and dehydrated. Sadly, they just don’t have the same flavor or texture as stone ground.
If you’re absolutely unable to source coarse stone-ground, I’d choose “old fashioned” or “regular” grits and follow the package instructions for water quantity and cooking time. While not the same as stone-ground, these grits are preferable to instant.
Whenever I ordered Shrimp and Grits in the South, it was made with white corn grits. I’m told that they’re the most traditional choice for the dish (and a distinction that many cooks are passionate about).
Depending on availability and your preferences, stone ground yellow corn grits can be substituted.
Grilled Cajun Shrimp and Grits: A Twist on a Classic
A traditional low-country Shrimp and Grits recipe doesn’t utilize the grill. The shrimp are sautéed with aromatics in rendered bacon fat, and spooned, with the pan sauce, over the cooked grits.
For summer, I thought it would be fun to make a grilled Cajun shrimp and grits variation. I marinate shrimp in garlic and spices, grill them to a very slight char, and serve them over cheesy grits with a generous spoonful of spiced scallion-garlic butter.
As with my Grilled Shrimp Scampi, I prefer to grill the shrimp shell-on so they stay tender and don’t dry out. The shells are easily slipped off prior to serving, and the marinade’s wonderful Cajun spices will have made their way through to the shrimp without being overpowering.
Quick cooking is key on the grill: overcooked shrimp risk turning tough!
I like to serve this Grilled Cajun Shrimp and Grits recipe with a cold glass of iced tea, Chardonnay, or a light summer lager. It’s indulgent summer comfort food at its best!
Grilled Cajun Shrimp and Grits
Fire up the grill for this variation on Southern Shrimp and Grits! The heat level of Cajun Grilled Shrimp is easily customizable by increasing or decreasing the cayenne pepper in both the shrimp marinade and scallion butter. We find the listed quantities give the dish a mild kick. Feel free to adjust to your preferences!
For the Shrimp
- 1-1/2 pounds large raw shrimp, shells on (about 28-30)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
For the Grits
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup stone ground grits
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese , shredded
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt , plus additional to taste
For the Scallion Butter
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and kept warm
- 1 clove garlic , minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sliced scallions
Marinate and Grill the Shrimp
Devein shrimp: Using a paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, make a shallow cut along the back of the shrimp (the curved side), in the middle, from the tip to where the tails begin. Use the tip of your knife or shears to remove the dark vein. Leave shells on the shrimp.
In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, 1 hour.
Preheat grill over medium-high flame for about 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade, shaking off excess, and thread onto skewers. Discard marinade. Oil grill grates and cook shrimp 2-3 minutes per side until grill marks appear and shrimp are just transparent. Do not overcook.
Peel shells from shrimp before serving.
Make the Grits
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with a 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Slowly whisk in grits. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 40-50 minutes, until tender and creamy, whisking often. Add additional hot water to the pan if the grits start getting too thick before they're tender.*
Stir in unsalted butter and cheddar until melted and creamy. Season to taste with salt.
Make the scallion butter and serve
Stir together 6 tablespoons melted butter, minced garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and sliced scallions.
Ladle grits into serving bowls. Top each portion with shrimp and drizzle with the scallion butter. Serve immediately.
*If you're unable to find stone-ground grits, or if the package directions for the grits you're using differ significantly from those here, follow the brand's cooking recommendations for 1 cup of dry grits.
Originally published July 12, 2017.