You wont believe how EASY Shrimp Cocktail is to make, with only three ingredients including ketchup, lemon juice and horseradish. I’ve also included tip for buying and preparing shrimp, so your Shrimp Cocktail appetizer turns out perfectly!
Shrimp cocktail is one of the most requested dishes at our Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties. Don’t miss our other popular appetizer recipes.
Our tradition every New Year’s Eve is to make a huge buffet of appetizers, and every year without fail, my mom makes a big platter of shrimp cocktail with homemade shrimp cocktail sauce. It’s everyone’s favorite appetizer!
I love shrimp in any form it’s cooked and served. I love warm shrimp (especially in Gumbo and Pad Thai), but cold shrimp served with homemade cocktail sauce is what really has my heart! Did you know shrimp cocktail sauce only has 3 ingredients? It takes a few seconds to make and it’s tastes WAY better than store bought.
I’ve taken for granted the things my mom inadvertently taught me about buying and preparing different types of shrimp, but I’m making note of it by sharing all my tips and tricks with you.
Shrimp Buying Guide:
What type of shrimp is best?
Shrimp are sold in all varieties at the grocery store (large, medium, small, shell on/off, tail on/off, fresh, frozen, etc.). We recommend buying large, tail-on shrimp for shrimp cocktail.
When you place cocktail sauce on a large platter and surround it by shrimp, the large shrimp fill the space nicely, look beautiful, and they are easiest for your guests to grab and eat. The shell makes the shrimp particularly flavorful and easier to grab and eat. You’ll notice nice restaurant serves shrimp this way.
Fresh or Frozen Shrimp?
The shrimp served with your cocktail sauce will be served cold, but thawed and with the tail-on. However, you can purchase fresh or frozen shrimp and pre-cooked or un-cooked shrimp depending on your budget, preference, and location.
If you live in an area where you can purchase fresh shrimp, obviously that would be the preferred option (and I’m insanely jealous of you!)
For most of us, we have the choice of frozen shrimp from the freezer section or fresh shrimp from the seafood counter. The truth is, even at the seafood counter, the shrimp is not “fresh.” It was likely shipped to the store in frozen form and thawed for the display. So it really just depends on whether you want the convenience of thaw shrimp versus frozen shrimp.
Please note: if you buy cooked shrimp from the seafood counter, smell it before purchasing. It shouldn’t have much of an odor, or may smell slightly salty. If it has a strong fishy odor it is most likely past its prime.
To thaw frozen shrimp, place the bag in the refrigerator overnight or pour the shrimp into a bowl and cover it with ice cold water for about an hour. Drain the shrimp and use paper towels to soak up the water.
Cooked vs. Uncooked Shrimp
You have another important decision to make. Will you purchase precooked shrimp or raw, uncooked shrimp? This will depend mostly on personal preference. I prefer frozen, pre-cooked shrimp because I like the ease of preparing it and, as long as you purchase high quality shrimp, I think it tastes just delicious. If you have a Costco nearby, I always purchase their large, cooked, tail-on shrimp from the freezer section.
If you purchase raw, uncooked shrimp, you’ll need to cook and cool it before serving. It’s most important that you don’t overcook the shrimp in this process. For this reason, I recommend steaming it.
To cook shrimp, first make sure you have shrimp with the shell on! This will help insulate the shrimp from the heat. Boil about 5-6 cups of water and a dash of salt in a pot. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour shrimp into the hot water. Allow the shrimp to cook for about 3-6 minutes (be careful not to over-cook it).
What do you need to make Shrimp Cocktail Sauce?
There are only three ingredients needed for delicious and simple shrimp cocktail sauce;
- Ketchup. Use your favorite brand.
- Lemon juice. Fresh squeezed lemon juice is best, but bottled will work. Or check out my lemon juice substitutes.
- Prepared horseradish. Horseradish is sold as creamed or prepared (aka “pickled”). We prefer prepared horseradish because it has a stronger flavor that is needed for great cocktail sauce.
Make Shrimp Cocktail in 3 easy steps:
- Combine ingredients. Add ketchup, lemon juice, and prepared horseradish to a bowl and mix well to combine.
- Taste. Adjust to your preference (more horseradish if you want it spicier and more ketchup if you want it mellower).
- Refrigerate. The sauce can be made and refrigerated for several days in advance. I think it tastes best after it’s been refrigerated for at least an hour, so the flavors can blend. Serve cold with shrimp.
Shrimp Cocktail Platter Presentation:
You can make a simple and elegant shrimp cocktail platter with just 1 lemon and a bit of parsley. Place the cocktail sauce at the center of the platter, surround it by cooked shrimp.
Cut the lemon into wedges or slices and tuck them in between pieces of the shrimp near the outside of the platter. Break off a few small sprigs of parsley and place them around the platter, tucked under the shrimp. Cover the platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make-ahead and storing instructions:
Shrimp cocktail sauce can be made several days in advance. Cover it tightly and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Shrimp cocktail should be kept covered and in the refrigerator when not in use.
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Shrimp Cocktail Sauce
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1 ½ lbs large, cooked, tail-on shrimp* , rinsed with cold water
- Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix well to combine.
- Taste and adjust to your preference (more horseradish if you want it spicier and more ketchup if you want it mellower).
- The sauce can be made and refrigerated for several days in advance. Serve cold with shrimp.
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*I originally shared this recipe December 2015. Updated October 2019 with new photos and improved instructions.
“From scratch!” First ingredient is ketchup. Smh.
Yep–Here’s my homemade ketchup recipe (also linked in the ingredient list): https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/homemade-ketchup/
I used 3/4 C ketchup with two heaping top of prepared horseradish, 1 tsp lemon juice and added 1/2 tsp old bay seasoning. Personally more flavorful and less ketchup taste. The ads popping up on your site made it difficult to write this comment, btw
Several recipes call for ketchup as the base! My recipe which I developed from tending bar in a high end dining place years ago: one bottle of chili sauce combined with equal amount of ketchup! That’s the old school base! Everything else can be used for taste! I made my bloody Marys with horseradish, olive and lime juice! Other ingredients are my secret but easy to figure out! PS…. Use canned tomato juice not the pre made stuff!
Too ketchupy. Needs more horseradish and lemon.
I grew up in the Ozarks, We made this sauce for our fish fry’s. We just squirted ketchup in a bowl, and added horseradish. Lemon is a nice addition. Nothing else is needed!
I am visually impaired. I made this with a hint of salt n pepper. My guest asked where I got it at. All I did was smile. If I can make, you can.
Loved it. FYI – I recommend using the grated horseradish. The creamy kind adds an odd taste.
I can’t count how count my times I’ve made this. Always perfect even when using right away.
Came out very good, I didn’t have any horseradish because I can’t stand the smell or taste. I substituted for mustard instead and added a few other things to flavor. Plenty of hot sauce to bring some heat. I usually doctor a bottle of cocktail sauce for my fried shrimp and oysters but I like making it from scratch now thank you for sharing the recipe
This is almost the same as my recipe. The only difference is I mince celery very finely and add to the cocktail sauce when I’m making it. Don’t know if it will keep any longer than a few hours or maybe a day in the refrigerator because it is always eaten before it has a chance to spoil. The celery seems to stay crisp too. I just love the crunch of the celery! And I also add a very, very generous amount of fresh lemon juice – maybe as much as 1 or 2 tablespoonsful-I like lemon too. Oh, I just thought I might try adding some lemon zest the next time we have this (don’t know why I never considered this before).
I like chili sauce rather than ketchup, so if you google a chili sauce recipe from scratch you’ll likely find what you seek. As far as horseradish, it’s so strong that buying a bottle of it (unless you make your own homemade mayonnaise from scratch) can be wasteful.
What if you have no ketchup and using items not off the shelves to make it. Any good ideas
Ketchup is the main base of this recipe–I can’t speak to any other substitute that wouldn’t significantly change the flavor.
HI, Could you make your own Ketchup from a recipe on line? Once you have that, try taking Horseradish roots and grinding them up for a paste with a little Sslt and Vinegar and you will be surprised of the great flavors you have just created. Don’t forget the lemon in the horseradish sauce you just made and I used old Bay for seasoning 1/3 teaspon, More horseradish like 1/6th of the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce (1 tablespoon) and a little heat such as sriracha or red hots. The old bay really is needed for the shrimp. 🙂 Enjoy
Hi there! I’m super excited to try your slow cooker cranberry meatball recipe, and I am planning to make the cocktail sauce following the recipe above. I just have one question: In step three, is there a typo and you really meant “Refrigerate four days”, or do you simply mean that the sauce keeps well in the fridge and can be made ahead of time without issue? Thanks so much!
Hi Darlene, thanks for pointing out that confusion. You are right, I meant it will keep well in the fridge and can be made ahead of time. Hope you enjoy the meatballs!