What to do with a pile of empty shrimp shells has plagued home cooks for centuries. Should you make stock? Can you stuff them down your Garburator? Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough–our Never Cook Naked columnists–have some thoughts.

A pile of discarded shrimp shells.

Should I save shrimp shells or toss them?

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: What to do with shrimp heads and shells after you’ve extracted every possible morsel of shrimp and drop of juice? Compost them? Put them down the garbage disposal? Use them for stock?—Shell-Shocked

Dear Shell-Shocked: Here’s a rule-of-thumb we use in our house: Once a piece of food has been in someone’s mouth, it’s garbage. Feel free to adopt it in yours.

While we’re at it, here’s our off-the-cuff corollary: You can’t make stock out of table scraps. Those shells have been doused with herbs, spices, oils, sauce, maybe even spittle. Not even Martha can make stock for shrimp and grits out of them.

Can I compost shrimp shells?

To answer your question, yes, you can compost shrimp shells. Many home gardeners swear by shellfish compost. (Caveat: Some public piles won’t accept shells owing to a desire for pristine vegan mulch.) Just make sure your personal pile is far from your house, as shrimp shells do indeed put up something of a stench in the hot sun– although that’s actually the least of your worries, because the more tasty things you toss on the pile, the more furry well-wishers you’ll attract. In our neck of the woods, we worry about bears. You may have to contend with raccoons or chipmunks. Consider yourself warned.

As for putting shrimp shells down the drain, they can–and will–clog the garbage disposal. They also make for an odiferous trash can. Our best advice is to stuff the shells in a zip-closed bag, stash them in the freezer, and save them for trash day, when you haul them to the curb—along with any of that stock you’ve made.

Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Ask us your question in a comment below!

Originally published August 9, 2021

About Bruce Weinstein | Mark Scarbrough

Bruce and Mark are award-winning, international best-selling cookbook authors with thirty-six published cookbooks and over 1,000,000 copies of their books in print. Bruce and Mark have published on topics as diverse as ice cream, ham, barbecue, goat, and vegetarian main courses. They are masters of the air fryer with The Essential Air Fryer Cookbook (2019), and The Instant Pot with The Instant Bible (2018) and The Instant Pot Bible: The Next Generation (2020).
Their You-Tube channel Cooking with Bruce and Mark offers hours of delicious fun and their podcast Cooking with Bruce and Mark reaches 10s of thousands with their culinary antics.
When they are not in the kitchen, Mark teaches lit classes and runs book groups throughout Litchfield County and online while Bruce teaches knitting and designs knitted patterns for both men and women. Find out more about what they’re up to at www.bruceandmark.com

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  1. Garburators are banned in many areas, particularly in Canada.
    They clog drains, give off odour and to rinse them you will waste two gallons of water.
    They are also a strain on waste water systems and in some area they are dumped directly in the ocean or lakes.

  2. I save shrimp shells if they are peeled and deveined first, before cooking. Toss them in the freezer to make stock. I use Emeril’s recipe.