The Ultimate Guide to South Carolina’s Shrimp Seasons + a Classic Shrimp and Grits Recipe

No one said it better than Bubba from Forrest Gump when describing shrimp as the “fruit of the sea.” You can barbeque it, boil it, broil it, bake it or sauté it. Whatever your preference, shrimp is a seafood delicacy and a favorite of Lowcountry locals and visitors alike.

Because of South Carolina’s location and climate, fresh prawns are available to Lowcountry locals for eight months of the year. Starting in May and lasting as late as January, there are three distinctive shrimp seasons.

The first of the three seasons is referred to as roe shrimp season. Typically beginning in May or June and lasting less than a month (depending on the harshness of the previous winter), large, white shrimp, or roe shrimp, that have recently completed the spawning process, can be found in the salty marshes along the coast. If there are enough eggs spawned to produce a good fall harvest, the Department of Natural Resources will open this season to commercial fishermen.

Starting in early June, brown shrimp season typically lasts through August, but significant quantities have also been found in October during years when the brown shrimp population is high. The harvest of brown shrimp by cast nets and seines takes place in the Lowcountry’s tidal creeks in the earlier summer months.

White shrimp, which are the offspring of roe shrimp, reappear from August to December. After spending their first few weeks in creeks, white shrimp move into deeper waters by late October. This season’s peak occurs in September and October and typically produces the largest catch of all three seasons.

Fresh, locally caught shrimp complement just about any dish, but we recommend incorporating them into a southern classic sea-to-table meal. Try your hand at the Lee Brothers’ Ultimate Charleston Shrimp and Grits recipe, as featured in Garden & Gun.

First, gather your ingredients. Then, peel and devein the shrimp, placing the shrimp in a bowl and the shells in a small saucepan.

Add 2 cups of water, the bay leaf, ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of sugar and the cayenne to the saucepan. Then, lightly push the shells beneath the water and cover. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then uncover the pan, bringing the heat to medium low. Let the stock simmer for about 10 minutes.

With a sharp knife, slice the shrimp in half lengthwise.

Put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and add the vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon sugar. Process to a smooth purée, then strain through a fine sieve, pressing the skin and seeds to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the skin and seeds. (You should have 1½ cups of tomato purée.)

Scatter the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is alluringly browned and has rendered its fat, about 8 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small paper-towel-lined plate and cook the shrimp in the bacon fat in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan. Stir occasionally, just until they’ve curled into corkscrews and turned pink (about 2 minutes). Reserve on a plate. Squeeze half the lemon over the shrimp and sprinkle with 2 pinches of salt.

Strain the shrimp stock into the sauté pan, discarding the solids, and stir with a wooden spoon to pick up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

When the stock simmers, spoon off 2 tablespoons and then whisk them into the flour with a fork in a small bowl to make a paste.

Add the tomato purée and the garlic to the pan, stir to combine, and then whisk the flour paste into the sauce. Cook until the mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon.

Turn off heat and fold the shrimp in to warm through. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red wine vinegar. Cut the remaining lemon half into 4 wedges. Serve the shrimp over hot Charleston Hominy, and garnish with the reserved bacon and the lemon wedges.

Charleston Hominy

Pour the milk and 2 cups of water into a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and turn the heat to medium high.

When the liquid simmers, add the grits, butter and ½ teaspoon salt and reduce the heat to medium. Stir every couple of minutes until the grits have become fragrant and are the consistency of thick soup (about 8 minutes).

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often and ever more frequently (about 20 minutes). Bubbles will emerge infrequently as the grits have stiffened and fall lazily from the end of a spoon.

Add ½ teaspoon black pepper and cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring constantly to prevent the thickened grits from scorching on the bottom of the pan (appoint someone to the stirring task if you have to step away—a scorched pot of grits is bitter and a total loss).

If your grits thicken too quickly, or if they are too gritty for your taste, add water by the half cup, stirring to incorporate, and continue cooking until tender.

When the grits are stiff and stick well to the spoon, turn off the heat and stir. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and serve immediately. (Makes 3 cups)