Colossal shrimp? Large shrimp? 26/30? What does it all mean? Learn how to decipher shrimp sizes, determine what size and how many shrimp you need for your recipe, and get cooking inspo in this reference guide.
How are Shrimp Sized?
Shrimp sizes are denoted in numbers, such as 21/25 or U/15. When you see a “U” in the count, it means that there are “under” that number of shrimp in a pound. The slash between numbers denotes a range of shrimp in a pound.
So, for example, U/15 shrimp contain fewer than 15 shrimp per pound. 21/25’s weigh in at 21 to 25 shrimp to a pound. As the numbers get smaller, the shrimp get bigger.
Sometimes, you’ll see a sizing term alongside the number such as “Large” or “Jumbo”. For accuracy when cooking, I like to pay closer attention to the number count than the sizing term.
The seafood industry doesn’t standardize these terms, so while one brand or fishmonger might call 16/20’s “Extra Jumbo,” another might call them “Colossal.” Relying on the shrimp count instead lets you know exactly how many shrimp you’re getting when planning a recipe.
Shrimp Sizing Chart
|Common Sizing Term (Varies)||Shrimp Count Per Pound||Approx. Count Per 3 oz Serving|
|Extra Colossal||U/10||2-3 shrimp|
|Super Colossal||U/12||2-3 shrimp|
|Extra Jumbo||16/20||4-5 shrimp|
|Extra Large||26/30||6-7 shrimp|
|Medium Large||36/40||9-10 shrimp|
|Extra Small||61/70||15-17 shrimp|
Do Head-On or Unpeeled Shrimp Affect Shrimp Counts?
According to Louisiana Direct Seafood’s Handbook, shrimp are two counts larger with the head on and 1 count larger with the shells. So, say you buy U/15 shrimp with the heads and shells on. Once the heads are removed, they’ll weigh in two steps smaller at 21/25 shrimp per pound, and when peeled, they’ll be 26/30’s.
I very often buy shrimp with the shells on because I find that they keep the meat juicy when cooking and give them great flavor. So, when I’m shopping, I plan my serving sizes on the next smallest shrimp on the chart from the count on the label.
How Big is a Standard Shrimp Serving?
The FDA lists the serving size for cooked seafood, including shrimp, as 3 ounces. I’ve listed the approximate recommended counts per serving in the table above.
As with any guideline, judge it and adjust based on your guests’ appetites and type of dish you’re serving. For an appetizer, you can often aim toward the lower end of the range, especially if you’re serving other dishes alongside it. If shrimp are the main course, you might round up.
Honestly, rounding up is common here. Our love of shrimp is strong!
Help! My Recipe Just Says “Raw Shrimp.” What Shrimp Sizes Should I Choose?
Most of the time, if there’s no designation, you’ll be fine working within the 36/40 to 16/20 range. It’s a goldilocks range; not too big and not too small for the bulk of recipes. Keep in mind that shrimp cook quickly, and overcooked shrimp can be tough and rubbery. You’ll want to keep your eye on the timer, especially when using shrimp at the smaller end of the range.
When choosing your shrimp size, also consider the cooking method and your personal preferences for shrimp sizes. Grilling shrimp and don’t want to skewer them? Go bigger. Making shrimp salad and don’t want to have to cut the shrimp? Go smaller. Want to make a showstopper impression? Any of the colossal sizes make a stellar presentation.
Here’s a list of cooking methods I’ve found best for various shrimp sizes. Bear in mind that this isn’t a steadfast list, but a general guideline to help with recipe planning.
- Boiled, Broiled, Sautéed, Steamed: All
- Baked/Roasted: U10 to 36/40
- Deep Fried: U10 to 26/30 if butterflying, 31/35 to 70+ if frying whole shrimp
- Grilled: U10 to 31/35 (consider skewering the smaller shrimp in this range)
- Pastes/Fillings: 51/60 to 71+
- Popcorn Shrimp: 51/60 to 71+
- Salads: 16/20 to 71+, depending on the texture you’re looking for in your salad, and whether you want to cut the shrimp.
- Shrimp Cocktail: U/10 to 31/35