Hold Up a Sec: What’s the Difference Between Prawns & Shrimp?

The Venn diagram of shellfish starts here.

April  8, 2022
Photo by Bobbi Lin

I love shrimp—shrimp on the barbie (cue Paul Hogan), shrimp scampi, fried shrimp with French fries, shrimp cocktail, shrimp gumbo, and shrimp sandwiches. But prawns? Prawns are fancy. They’re hard to find, pricy, and somewhat confusing shellfish. Are prawns really shrimp? Are shrimp really prawns? What’s the difference between prawns and shrimp?

Shrimp vs. Prawns

Prawns (for all you scientists, they are a suborder of the dendrobranchiata) and shrimp are generally used interchangeably, but that’s not exactly accurate. Yes, both prawns and shrimp have 10 legs and an exoskeleton, but “their gills are arranged differently, the number of legs with claws is different (shrimp have two pairs with claws and prawns have three), and the segments on their bodies overlap in different ways,” explains Robert DiGregorio, Director of Seafood Quality at Fulton Fish Market.

However, shrimp is a widely accepted term to describe both shrimp and prawns since, as DeiGregorio says, the term “prawn” is often used incorrectly. “For instance, prawn in some places may be used to describe very large shrimp. Dublin Bay prawns are not prawns or even shrimp at all but langoustines, which are more lobster-like,” he adds.

Though there isn’t exactly a hard and fast definition, prawns are generally larger and straighter than shrimp, whereas shrimp tend to be smaller and have more of a curved shape. The best way to tell the difference between the two is to really look closely at the bodies to identify which is which, rather than solely choosing based on a fishmonger’s label.

What’s the Cost?

While location, demand, seasonality, and general market trends will always cause the price of prawns and shrimp to fluctuate, prawns generally cost more than shrimp, particularly in the U.S.

Where Are They Found?

According to DiGregorio, “shrimp are primarily found in saltwater and prawns inhabit more brackish and freshwater environments.” Their habitat ultimately reflects their taste, meaning that prawns are meatier and sweeter, while shrimp are more delicate both in texture and flavor.

Oh wait—you were asking where to find prawns and shrimp in the grocery store? Got it. You already know the deal with shrimp: Medium, large, jumbo, and yes, extra-jumbo-sized shrimp are sold fresh and frozen in just about every grocery store. They’ll range in price from $10 to $30 a pound depending on the size of the shrimp, whether they’re raw or cooked, if they’re unshelled or shelled, and de-veined or not. 

Because they’re less readily available, it’s harder to get a read on the average price of prawns. Weee!, the online grocery store, sells wild-caught prawns for $4.99 per pound, whereas Eataly sells Wild Tiger Prawns (a highly valuable variety) via Mercato for $45 per pound.

How to Cook Shrimp & Prawns

Shrimp and prawns are actually similar enough in both size, appearance, and taste that you can use them interchangeably. Yes, shrimp are smaller than prawns and will cook faster than prawns, but they look just as good as part of a red sauce, seafood-forward pasta dish as prawns do.

Our Favorite Shrimp Recipes

J. Kenji López-Alt’s Grilled Shrimp Scampi-ish With Garlic and Lemon

Grilled shrimp scampi? Yes, please. I will take the char of grilled shrimp over sautéed shrimp any day—try this warm-weather recipe and you will too.

Sheet-Pan Shrimp & Broccoli With Cocktail-Sauce Sauce

Everything you love about the classic  hors d'oeuvre in the form of a family-friendly sheet pan dinner. “The crazy good, crazy simple sauce (thickened right on the sheet pan!) is made from butter, garlic, lemon zest, chicken stock, and (you guessed it!) cocktail sauce,” writes recipe developer EmilyC.

Sautéed Shrimp with Lemon, Garlic & Parsley

For a quick and delicious dinner, make this 20-minute shrimp scampi that balances the earthy, fresh flavor of parsley, the power of garlic, the brightness of lemon (both zest and juice), and the richness of butter. Serve with thick slices of crusty bread to sop up all the sauce.

Vito's Shrimp Scampi

Okay admittedly, this is not shrimp scampi. It’s linguine tossed in a roasted garlic cream sauce and topped with sautéed jumbo shrimp and blistered chopped tomatoes (roughly chopped, vine-ripened tomatoes are best here).

Speedy Shrimp With Horseradish Butter

Two tablespoons of prepared horseradish gives a spicy take on shrimp scampi in this recipe that comes together in the blink of an eye.

Do you prefer shrimp or prawns? What are some of your favorite ways to prepare both? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
  • Charles
  • Ewan
  • Alison
  • Sqsh
Former Food52 Staff Editor


cosmiccook July 6, 2022
New Orleans doesn't see much in the way of fresh prawns, but I avoid Tiger Prawns like the plague! They come from Asia--fresh is best and we're fortunate to get fresh seafood 365. Tiger Prawns supposedly started invading our gulf waters, but I've never seen "fresh gulf caught" TP so don't know if its true. One of our favorite "company" dishes was Ina Gartens' Like others, we cut back on the butter & increase garlic.
Charles April 15, 2022
OK, searched him on YouTube & found the recipe so I could save it to my Food52 favorites (and saved scrolling through all the recipes). Gotta get fresh chorizo (got everything else) so I can make this. I'll post a review when I do but I already know it'll be good.
Charles April 15, 2022
OK, I've missed something. Where is the recipe for Rick Martinez's Shrimp & Masa Grits with Chorizo? I searched on that recipe title & got over 1,100 items - I gave up after scrolling through the first 80 or so. Do I need to look for Rick's YouTube channel?
Kelly V. April 18, 2022
Here's a link to the recipe!
Ewan April 14, 2022
Sqsh is correct, and Mr Dundee gets a gentle ribbing every so often about "that" advert, but they miss out the different definition of Scampi which is mentioned in the article.

In the UK, Scampi, is the breaded and fried tail of the Dublin bay prawn referred to by Mr DiGrgorio. You will sometimes find something described as "Mock Scampi" which is made from Monkfish, which is definitely a fish and not a prawn!

The give away is no red veins in the monkfish flesh. It his sometimes sold by the less scrupulous restaurants AS scampi, which pads out the bill nicely in their favour!
Sqsh April 19, 2022
Good point, I hadn't even noticed the repeated references to "shrimp scampi"! Looking into it, it seems the US is the odd one out here, since scampi is the Italian name for the Dublin Bay prawn/Norwegian lobster/langoustine, so in most parts of the world this is what it refers to. In America, Italian immigrants who no longer had access to true scampi used local varieties of "shrimp" as a substitute, so the term came to be used to apply to dishes cooked in the style of scampi, rather than the scampi itself.
Alison April 11, 2022
I'd like to know what recipe goes with the photo at the top of the article--doesn't seem to be any of the ones given in the story itself.
diana April 14, 2022
I think the recipe for the picture on top is the 'shrimp and masa grits with chorizo' video.
Alison April 14, 2022
I thought it might be, too, but when I pulled up that recipe, the photos did not match the one at the top. I didn't watch the video, but the photo on the static recipe page was pretty different. Oh well!
Sqsh April 11, 2022
A key thing you've missed from this article is the linguistic differences around the world. Here in the UK (as well as Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and a few other places) we mainly use the term prawn, shrimp is only really used for very tiny ones (for instance brown shrimp are a tasty little "prawn" that is traditionally gathered at Morcambe Bay and is made into "potted shrimp", or served in brown butter).

The phrase "throw another shrimp on the barbie" was actually made up for the American audience, as Australians would have called it a prawn. Shrimps would just fall through the grill!

Given that the internet reaches a global audience it's useful to highlight these different uses of words, as it could lead to confusion when following a recipe written somewhere else in the world!
BadMedisin April 10, 2022
In England we pretty much call them all prawns… ;)
Kendellb April 8, 2022
I’m no editor but a picture and recipe with prawns would be a nice add in instead of only shrimp.
Steven W. April 16, 2022
Yes. One of each in its "before" state.