Grilled Prawns with a Citrus Garlic Butter -Al fresco Inspiration

by on April 18, 2010

A rare day off, the sun was out, and the air springtime warm. A day peacefully spent meddling about in the garden, harvesting the last of the sugar snap peas and planting tomatoes and veggies in their stead, throwing in the occasional play session with the dogs. Video it and soundtrack in some music, and it becomes one of the moments to be shown at a birthday or funeral which evoke the crowd’s tears reminding how great life can be.

Extra crunchy charred prawn eyeballs. Oh yeah!

As the sun was dropping, hunger set in and we needed something quick, delicious and al fresco.  After a day like this, the only apropos ending would a meal licked by the flames of mesquite, so with the inspiration for some grilled prawns stemming from the vibrant spring air and from recent visits to The Lazy Ox Canteen where Josef’s magical cooking was still  fresh on our palates, we set to throw dinner together.

Josef has an incredible talent for dishes which have an immaculate vibrance; combining pure ingredient freshness with deft touches of spiciness, bright citrus, or other subtle nuance (try his razor clams and you’ll know exactly what we mean). The spice or citrus never overpower the component they season, merely highlighting enough to make the diner’s eyes sparkle with delight. That what was coursing through our minds as we concocted a butter sauce to use with our freshwater prawns.

Make sure to get the sauce all over your fingers. Worth every lick.

As the mesquite heated up to almost out-of-control hot, we let our noses and tongues guide the way in creating the garlic-butter sauce for the grilled prawns. Gently heating the butter with crushed garlic, adding a little devil pepper for a touch of spice, dried yuzu zest for citrusy brightness, nuoc mam (fish sauce) for umami and because it makes everything better, and a touch of sugar to magnify the grilled prawns’ sweetness.

The prawns were rolled through the garlic butter then sent to grill on the BBQ.  With the coals’ heat on the verge of an inferno, the slightest outburst of oil would ignite a prawn consuming flare-up.  Playing it fast and loose, at moments of flare up, the grill lid would get closed just long enough to starve the flames to help everything settle down, then opened back up again to allow the coals their high-heat oxygen.

Dancing the line between perfect high heat grilling and flare up combustion, the prawns cooked quickly, charring bits of their extremities and at contact points with the grill. After retrieval with the long tongs, the prawns received a final dousing of the garlic butter, beers were opened, and dinner was served.

Some moments and meals in life are perfect due to their simplicity and spontaneity.  It wasn’t pondered over or analyzed in order to to be crafted into that perfect moment.  It just was.  It is as if you get out of your head and allow your soul to be inspired, which is exactly how this meal of grilled prawns turn out to be.

Although in Southern California we are a little ahead of the curve in al fresco opportunities, but it won’t be long before the most of the northern hemisphere is deep into spring and the outdoors beckon. When it does, let the open air inspire your senses and cook without inhibitions. You may just create a perfect meal.


Don’t forget the beer. Viva al fresco!

Grilled Prawns with Garlic Butter

Yield: Serves 2-4.

Total Time: 10 Minutes

The ingredients are approximations since this dish was quickly put together. The recipe is simple and quick. Remember to use your senses as a guide to develop the flavors you love. You can also increase the garlic butter ingredients to make extra for dipping the grilled prawns into while eating.


  • 2 lbs. Freshwater Prawns (or other crustacean of your choice)
  • 1 T Sugar
  • 2 T Grapeseed oil (or other high-flash point oil of choice)
  • 1/2 c (1 stick or 115g) unsalted Butter
  • 6 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 1 or 2 Thai Chilies (or similar variety-adjust amount for spiciness), diced and crushed
  • 1 t Nuoc Mam (fish sauce)
  • 1 t Citrus Zest (fresh or dried ~ yuzu, lime, lemon, grapefruit, etc.)


  1. Heat your grill for high heat, direct grilling. *Grilling note - if using charcoal, natural lump charcoal with cook hotter than briquettes. Competition briquettes hotter than regular briquettes.
  2. Rinse prawn and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and grapeseed oil.
  3. Heat butter over low to med.-low heat.  Add garlic, crushed chillies, and nuoc mam and gently cook for about 1 min.
  4. Pour half of butter mix over prawns then return remaining butter mix to stove.  Add citrus zest to garlic-butter and keep warm on lowest heat. (If you have a warm, indirectly heated spot on grill you can make butter sauce and keep it warm there.)
  5. Gently toss prawns until sugar is dissolved and garlic-butter completely coats them.
  6. Give grill grate one last cleaning scrape, oil grate, and put prawns over direct heat. Grill for about 3-5 minutes, turning at least once. (If you have a flare up, close lid for a minute or so to starve flames of oxygen. Open lid back up to allow coals to stay very hot. If the flare ups are persistent, squirt coals with a little water to tame them. You want to try and keep the coals as hot as you can without having live flames charcoal the outsides of the prawns.)
  7. When prawns are just cooked through, remove from grill and place in a large serving bowl/platter. Pour remaining garlic-citrus-butter over grilled prawns, lay down some newspaper and eat.
Recipe Source:

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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.

Hungry for more? Here’s few more grilled prawn recipes we’ve dug up for you:

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica @ How Sweet April 18, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Such a summery treat! Looks absolutely delicious and I bet it smelled even better!


2 Winnie April 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Love this! Esp. those extra crunchy eyeballs…


3 Deanna B April 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I just got my boyfriend to realize that shrimp (or prawns) with the head on are so much better than those without. I love the butter sauce. I think I’ll try it on grilled lobster since giant Maine lobsters are on sale at my local Asian market and I better the butter sauce would be perfect. I would lose out on the crunchy eyes though…


4 Half Assed Kitchen April 18, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I’ve never seen prawns cooked with heads…butter sauce: mmmm.


5 Happy Cook April 19, 2010 at 12:26 am

Saturday had prawns like this in MIL place, she did with olive oil , tyme, garlic etc….. but then in the oven under the grill.
These look so so yummy too.


6 Migration Mark April 19, 2010 at 1:28 am

Those prawns definitely look scrumptious. The garlic butter with a hint of garlic and citrus looks to be an amazing complement to the already deliciously grilled prawns. Getting really hungry.


7 Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary April 19, 2010 at 3:46 am

Yum prawns! Yum Garlic butter! It’s only 6:46am and I could go for a plate full of those babies!


8 Garrett April 19, 2010 at 7:58 am

God damn, I need a grill or bbq. These look so incredible good.


9 ravenouscouple April 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

that looks so awesome, we’re def. going to have to save this recipe–we eat the crispy skin, the best part!


10 Stephanie (Fresh Tart) April 19, 2010 at 8:44 am

Gorgeous! Great post – I agree completely, some of the best and most fun meals I’ve ever made have been cooking instinctively, tasting as I go, using what’s fresh and on hand. As always, love the photos.


11 michelle April 19, 2010 at 9:15 am

OK. Sounds beyond delicious. Head on is so the way to go. I, myself, cook over mesquite wood that I hauled from Texas to New Orleans. I am oh so familiar with the quick cap for flare up dance. But sooo worth it.


12 White on Rice Couple April 20, 2010 at 10:18 am

Gotta love how mesquite cooks, huh! Nothing like it.


13 Martin April 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

Wow that looks super tasty! So excited for summer seafood cookouts!


14 bunkycooks April 19, 2010 at 12:08 pm

This looks simply delicious! A cold beer and a few napkins…that is all you need! This truly is my favorite time of year. Nothing is better than casual food and more time spent cooking on the grill!


15 Dawn (KitchenTravels) April 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

One of my favorite WOR posts to date. The photos look like something out of Gourmet (sniff). This recipe reminds me a little of the whole salt-baked prawns from Chinese restaurants. Except on those, you can eat the shells, heads, everything. They’re incredible. Anyone know if you have to buy a special type of prawn so that the shells are edible?


16 White on Rice Couple April 20, 2010 at 10:16 am

As far as we know, shells are edible on just about any prawn. Some crustaceans may have a thicker shell than others, making one variety more appealing than another, but that is the only difference we know of.
Another great use for the shells is to make a shrimp stock out of them. Delicious!


17 Dawn (KitchenTravels) April 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Good to know. Thanks! If all goes well, I’ll be making these this weekend.


18 TripleScoop April 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Great post Todd. Love the fresh grilled prawns with slightly burnt tips. The smokey and sweet flavors are great…and nouc mam…how can this not be a a great dish!


19 A Canadian Foodie April 19, 2010 at 10:02 pm

What plug in did you use for th “print this recipe” icon?


20 White on Rice Couple April 20, 2010 at 10:14 am

Valerie- It is a slightly modified version of WP-Print. Love it.


21 Kitchen Runway April 20, 2010 at 12:14 am

All I can say is…YUM! Looks amazing!


22 Manggy April 20, 2010 at 2:38 am

Grilled (good) prawns will always be one of my favorite things ever– allergies be damned, I’ll bear it all just for a big plateful. Our go-to has always been just butter (sometimes even margarine!), salt and garlic, but I love some of the other additions here too (especially the chili pepper!).


23 Chase April 20, 2010 at 5:20 am

These look unbelievable. I’m jealous.


24 Tamar@StarvingofftheLand April 20, 2010 at 6:40 am

You’re killing me here! I’m literally salivating, and I haven’t even had my second cup of coffee. But I can’t quite figure it out — does your food look so good because it IS so good that any picture of it looks delicious, or does it look so good because your photography is so good that it makes any food look delicious. It’s the White on Rice conundrum.


25 White on Rice Couple April 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

It’s symbiotic of course! Thanks Tamar!


26 matt April 20, 2010 at 10:10 am

I am totally jealous. Here I am, living in a great city for seafood, and have never come across shrimp that look as darn good as those. I love the presoaking with garlic butter. The shot with the beer makes me want to fly down and say hi to you guys. And heck, your description of the grilling of these bad boys – just mouth watering. Fantastic guys!


27 The guy April 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

So did any of that flavor in the sauce penetrate into the shrimp meat or was it simply finger seasoning? Seems like a pan crush and 2 hours in your sauce might take these to the next level. I know you were playing it fast and loose though- Just a thought.

Very nice dish!


28 White on Rice Couple April 20, 2010 at 11:27 am

Since the sauce was also poured over the prawns after grilling, the flavors are intermingled when you eat them. Yet there is still a nice distinctive layering of flavors where the sweet flavor of the prawns doesn’t get enveloped completely in the flavor of the garlic butter sauce.


29 Ann April 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Oh Wow, I can’t wait until May when our local spot prawns are in season. I’m definitely making your Grilled Prawns. They look amazing.


30 Tokyo Terrace April 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm

And now I know exactly what I’m doing for a little dinner party this weekend :) We have some beautiful prawns available to us here in Tokyo and these Garlic Butter Prawns would be the perfect way to showcase their delicious flavor. LOVE love love the photos!


31 The Duo Dishes April 20, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Oooh, the toasted eyes are a little scary, but the rest of it sounds good. Maybe it’s that garlic butter. No matter, it’s time to eat!


32 Fuji Mama April 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Oh my goodness. What a perfect way to usher in the grilling weather! (Fingers crossed, we ARE going to get some more, aren’t we? Enough of this rain!) Do you guys have a favorite brand of nuoc mam?


33 Bianca @ South Bay Rants n Raves April 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm

A bunch of friends & I were just talking about how much we love shrimp so it’s nice to see a post about its big cousin! This looks like quite a cookout. I love the pictures!


34 Pat Koss April 23, 2010 at 7:12 am

I have to laugh because I’m a fish sauce convert now. I made some Dirty Rice last night that was a bit blah, so I added some fish sauce and jazzed it up nicely.


35 Elaine @ Cookware Help May 8, 2010 at 5:10 am

These prawns look so enticing and the recipe sounds awesome. I love the combination of flavors of butter, garlic and citrus. I must try this soon. When I was little, we used to boil prawns in peppercorn and just eat them plain with beer. Well, I had a little sip of it, being that I was 7. My parents had most of the beer. Some of the best food out there requires minimal spice addition – because it’s so good on its own. Love the photos!


36 Lauren @ Delicateflavors June 1, 2010 at 4:04 am

That sauce looks absolutely scrumptous! Prawns with the heads in butter sauce with a touch of fish sauce. How can you go wrong? :)


37 Make A Roux June 11, 2010 at 7:12 pm

The prawns looks scrumptious. I would love to know where in San Diego (or SoCal) to find prawns with their heads on. I’m a displaced Cajun and used to bring back Gulf shrimp from trips home, or have them shipped to me. In light of the devastating oil spill, I am looking for a new supply of shrimp/prawns, since I can no longer get them from home.


38 White on Rice Couple June 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

Martin at I Love Blue Sea usually has them and of excellent quality. He ships anywhere in the US and is awesome.


39 Annapet November 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Thank you! This is dinner tonight!


40 Jenny Lee September 1, 2012 at 10:17 am

It was awesome! Thank you so much for this recipe!


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