Published May 1, 2002.
Our test kitchen wanted to see if this assistance was worth its price of $39.99.
The Shrimp Butler measures 9 inches tall and 8 inches long at the base, and it’s made entirely of plastic except for a small, razor-sharp blade safely affixed to the inside of the casing. Shrimp are fed into a slot at the top of the machine and conveyed past the blade and out the bottom of the machine by means of a ridged wheel, the sides of which tighten to hold the shrimp steady when the lever that moves the wheel is pulled. The procedure, then, is to place a shrimp on the wheel, pull the lever, watch the shrimp come flying out of a chute, and then push the lever back up so you can start the whole process again. Each shrimp pops out with its back sliced neatly open, clearly revealing the vein, if any, that runs just under the back of the shell.
If you plan to shell and devein your shrimp before cooking them, the Shrimp Butler will not do this for you. It does certainly facilitate the task of deveining (by revealing the vein) and shelling (by giving you a good place to start from when peeling), but is this assistance worth its price of $39.99?
To answer this question, we recorded the time it took the same staff member (not a test cook) to shell and devein 1 pound of medium-large shrimp prepped by the Shrimp Butler and the time it took to do the job entirely by hand. The staff member took a total of 14 minutes, 10 seconds, to shell and devein the shrimp by hand and 10 minutes, 50 seconds, with assistance from the Shrimp Butler, for a time savings of 3 minutes, 20 seconds.
Do we recommend the Shrimp Butler? While it does make deveining and shelling easier, the degree to which it does so—saving our shrimp cleaner about 3 minutes per pound of shrimp—doesn’t seem worth the expense. The Shrimp Butler must also be taken apart and washed thoroughly, a process that takes several minutes. Washing a paring knife and your hands is much quicker.