What is Calabash Shrimp? A Guide to This Iconic Southern Seafood Dish

Calabash Shrimp- these fried shrimp have a light and crispy coating. Serve with cocktail sauce and a beer for an amazing seafood dinner.

Calabash is a tiny little fishing town located in Brunswick County, NC. Every summer when I was a kid, my family took a trip to Holden Beach, NC, and we always went to Calabash for fried seafood. I loved to order a seafood platter with a little bit of everything. The shrimp were always one of my favorites. I love the tiny popcorn shrimp, but when I make Calabash Shrimp at home, I usually use bigger shrimp.

Calabash-style seafood has a light and crispy batter which really lets the flavor of the seafood shine. The key to getting a light, puffy crust on fried seafood is to use self-rising flour. The leavener in self-rising flour causes the batter to puff up and it makes a really light crust.

The batter is a simple mixture of self-rising flour, garlic salt, black pepper, and paprika. The amount of seasoning is perfect.

Calabash shrimp is a beloved fried shrimp dish that originated in the small fishing town of Calabash North Carolina. With its light crispy batter coating and briny shrimp flavor, this seafood delicacy has become a signature taste of the Carolina coast.

As a seafood lover and Southern cuisine enthusiast, I’m excited to share the story behind calabash shrimp and provide a guide to making this iconic dish at home. Keep reading to learn all about the history, prep tips, and best places to sample authentic calabash shrimp!

A Brief History of Calabash Shrimp

The tiny town of Calabash, North Carolina sits right on the state border, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Calabash River. This prime coastal location made it a natural hub for fishing and shrimping.

As local fishermen hauled in their daily catch, a cooking style emerged for lightly frying the shrimp to highlight its sweet, delicate flavor The thin, crispy batter sealed in the juices without overpowering the shrimp

While the exact origin story of calabash shrimp is disputed, most food historians agree it gained popularity in the 1940s at demand from travelers passing through the region on Route 17. Roadside seafood shacks popped up to serve the signature dish.

Soon, the cooking technique spread beyond Calabash and became a staple all along the Grand Strand of South Carolina. It also got adopted by restaurants further inland. Yet the name “calabash style” always pays homage to the quaint North Carolina fishing village where it started.

What Makes Calabash Shrimp Unique?

Authentic calabash shrimp has a few defining characteristics that set it apart:

  • Thin, crispy batter – A very light coating of seasoned flour or cornmeal that fries up golden and crispy. This delicate crust allows the shrimp’s natural briny sweetness to shine through.

  • Small shrimp – Traditionally made with fresh-caught “creek shrimp” or “popcorn shrimp” which are extra petite and sweet.

  • Fried fresh – Quality calabash shrimp is cooked to order for peak texture and flavor. Pre-battered frozen shrimp can’t compare.

  • Served in heaping portions – A mountain of fried shrimp is a must for enjoying the full experience. Don’t be shy about ordering extra!

  • Simple seasoning – The batter is lightly flavored with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and other basic spices that complement (but don’t mask) the star ingredient.

  • Modest pricing – Despite its iconic status, calabash shrimp remains budget-friendly and casual. No need to break the bank to enjoy this tasty treat!

  • Paired with hushpuppies – The crispy corn batter fritters make an indispensable sidekick for dunking in that tangy cocktail sauce.

How to Make Calabash Shrimp at Home

Want to fry up some authentic-tasting calabash shrimp in your own kitchen? Here are my top tips for getting it just right:

  • Choose the smallest shrimp you can find, like creek shrimp or popcorn shrimp. Their petite size makes them extra tender when fried.

  • Opt for self-rising flour in your batter to achieve that distinctive light crispness. The leavening gives it an airy texture.

  • Use evaporated milk for a rich, creamy batter that adheres nicely to the shrimp. Whole milk also works in a pinch.

  • Season lightly with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and a pinch of cayenne if you like a little kick.

  • Fry in peanut or vegetable oil at 350°F for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

  • Work in small batches to maintain oil temperature. Drain fried shrimp on paper towels.

  • Serve shrimp immediately once fried while the coating is at peak crispness. Keep batches warm in a low oven if needed.

Of course, round out your homemade feast with a batch of hushpuppies, coleslaw, and chilled beer. Yum!

Where to Eat the Best Calabash Shrimp

While fun to make at home, I also suggest visiting the source for the real deal. Here are some top spots for authentic calabash shrimp experiences:

On the South Carolina coast:

  • The Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood (Myrtle Beach)
  • Captain Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood (Myrtle Beach)
  • Sea Captain’s House (Myrtle Beach)
  • Hook’s Seafood Restaurant (North Myrtle Beach)
  • Hot Fish Club Restaurant (Murrells Inlet)

In the Calabash, North Carolina area:

  • Ella’s of Calabash
  • Beck’s Restaurant
  • Coleman’s Original Calabash Seafood
  • Canyon Hills
  • Captain John’s Seafood House

Inland South Carolina spots:

  • Kickin’ Chicken (Columbia)
  • Pop’s Place (Columbia)
  • Carolina Fish Fry (Lexington)
  • Catawba Fish Camp (Fort Lawn)
  • Dry Dock (Mullins)

Wherever you dig in, be sure to order these shrimp by name to experience the light, crispy signature calabash-style batter. This flavorful Southern fried delicacy needs to be on every seafood lover’s must-try list!

what is calabash shrimp

Try These Other Delicious Seafood recipes:

what is calabash shrimp

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • ▢ 1 1/2 pounds of medium to large shrimp, peeled and gutted
  • vegetable oil
  • Whisk together eggs and evaporated milk in a shallow bowl.
  • Put the flour, garlic salt, pepper, and paprika in a second shallow bowl and mix them together with a whisk.
  • Pour about 2 inches of oil into a Dutch oven. Heat to about 350 degrees.
  • In small groups, dip shrimp in the egg mixture and then coat them in the flour mixture.
  • Fry until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Fry for less time if you are using smaller shrimp. Dont crowd the pan when frying. It will drop the temperature of the oil too much.

Calabash Shrimp Recipe Tips:

  • You can use whole milk instead of evaporated milk.
  • If you want to fry seafood, peanut oil is the best choice, but it can be pricey and hard to find. Vegetable oil is a good substitute.
  • Shrimp cook very quickly. You only need to fry them for a few minutes.
  • Any size shrimp can be used for this recipe. It can also be used for oysters, fish, and scallops.


Pair these shrimp with cocktail sauce for a meal that’s just as good as the best fried seafood place in Calabash.

Calabash Shrimp! It’s so good!

What is calabash shrimp?

You’ll always find mounds of freshly fried Calabash shrimp at Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood in Myrtle Beach. Calabash isn’t just the name of a town, it’s a buzzword for good eating.

How do you cook a shrimp calabash?

In a separate shallow bowl, whisk together flour, garlic salt, pepper, and paprika. Working in batches, dip shrimp in egg mixture, letting excess drip off. Dredge in flour mixture. Fry until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let drain on prepared rack. KITCHEN TIP: Shrimp Calabash is excellent served with cocktail sauce.

What kind of shrimp do you use for Calabash fried shrimp?

Calabash Fried Shrimp – You’ll need these ingredients. We always used what was known as “popcorn” shrimp. They were very small in size and fried up quickly. I’m using a 61/70 count shrimp here. It was the smallest I could get at my local grocery store, but what we sold were even smaller than these.

What is calabash fried seafood?

It’s really simple and easy, and they taste awesome. Lightly battered, lightly fried. Here in North Carolina, it’s a style of frying seafood that we refer to as Calabash style. It’s totally awesome if you ask me. Down along the East coast, very close to the North Carolina and South Carolina state line, there is a small little town called Calabash.

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