Lonnie Holley: Artist, Visionary, Shrimper

continued (page 2 of 2)

I could almost see them clinging to the hoisted nets as blue claimed the dawn sky, the shrimp that the watermen had left behind. I could see Holley shaking the nets, and catching the left–behinds in a pail. I knew that he’d cook the shrimp in a way that would make them impossible to forget. His cooking, like his art, is all about redemption and gratitude and joy.

“There’s nothing like shrimp day!” he cried, “all that richness, that sweetness, all that glory.”

Barbecued Shrimp

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Lonnie always makes this over a wood fire, but the shrimp can also be cooked over medium–high heat in a cast–iron skillet, or broiled. However, they will not have the same crispy shells or smoky flavor.


  • 5 pounds extra–jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per pound), in the shell
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon hot paprika
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 12 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon African Bird Pepper or cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups cooking oil, preferably coconut or vegetable
  • 2 lemons, quartered, plus more for dipping sauce and garnish
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) of butter
  • Hot sauce, if desired


  • Rinse the shrimp and set them aside. Combine all of the spices in a small bowl.
  • Combine the cooking oil and one half of the spice mixture in a large bowl. Set aside the remaining spices to make the dipping sauce. Add the shrimp to the bowl and toss to coat well. Cut the lemons, squeeze over the shrimp, tossing in between each addition. Add the squeezed lemon quarters to the shrimp and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for four hours.
  • Prepare a wood fire. While the fire is getting ready, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a cast–iron skillet. Add the reserved spices and cook over love heat, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining butter, reduce heat to low. When the butter is melted, transfer the mixture to a dipping bowl. Add a squeeze of lemon, if desired.
  • When the coals are ready, use tongs and work in batches to arrange the shrimp on the grill. Cook for 2 minutes each side and serve, in the shell, with additional lemon and hot sauce, if desired. Some people eat the shells, others peel and discard.

The recipe in this story has not been tested in the Gourmet kitchens.

Molly O'Neill is the author of seven books including Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food, and Baseball , The New York Cookbook , and One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking . Her e-book, This American Burger, the first in a series that documents individual dishes and the people who prepare them, was just published by New Word City.

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