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What is Calabash Shrimp?

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Calabash isn’t just the name of a town, it’s a buzzword for good eating. To prepare food Calabash-style requires coating fresh shrimp, fish, oysters, clams or crabs with a light, flavorful batter, then giving them a dip in a searing hot fryer until they are lightly golden. The crispy, nearly gossamer crust delicately puffs and flakes, permitting the taste of the seafood to shine through with a hint of saltiness and just the right amount of “grease factor.” Pair up a fresh-from-the-fryer batch of Calabash seafood with a basket of hot hush puppies and you’ll be adding this dynamic duo to your list of South Carolina crave-worthy dishes.

While it’s true this style of seafood originated in the small fishing town of Calabash, NC, the town practically straddles the state line, hence its prevalence along the Grand Strand. You’ll find the largest concentration of Calabash-style seafood houses along the South Carolina coast, beginning in Little River and stretching down to Murrells Inlet. Of course, the good folks in Calabash insist it’s not Calabash seafood unless you’re eating it in Calabash, but we just shake our heads and keep on battering and deep frying.

Geography and cooking techniques aside, there are other characteristics that define authentic Calabash cooking. In order to reflect true Calabash style, the fried seafood must be served in generous portions. In other words, if your Calabash seafood doesn’t arrive at the table in an eye-popping heap and make you think you should have invited a friend (or two!) along to help polish it off, well, it’s not Calabash.

Also, this dish is not hoity-toity, so the price should be quite modest. (You’ll find Calabash shrimp is a favorite part of many of our coastal seafood buffets, too.) It is likewise traditional to have hot hush puppies as an accompaniment. And the shrimp for Calabash-style dishes are quite small—often referred to on menus as “creek shrimp," "popcorn shrimp" or “baby shrimp.”

So, let’s see: scrumptious, freshly prepared, big portions, affordably priced. Who can resist the allure of Calabash seafood? Nobody, that’s who! There are far too many South Carolina restaurants serving up this regional delicacy to mention them all, but here are a few of the most popular stops, coastal and inland, where fans flock for the Calabash experience.

Grand Strand
The Original Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood, Myrtle Beach
Captain Benjamin’s Calabash Seafood, Myrtle Beach
Bennett’s Calabash, North Myrtle Beach, two locations in Myrtle Beach
Crabby Mike’s, Surfside Beach
Hook’s Calabash Seafood Buffet, Myrtle Beach
Hot Fish Club, Murrells Inlet
Sea Captain’s House, Myrtle Beach

Inland
Catawba Fish Camp, Fort Lawn
The Clock, Greer (Famous for Calabash chicken!)
Daddy Joe’s Beach House BBQ & Grill, Gaffney
Dry Dock Seafood, Mullins
Jumpin’ J’s, Florence
Luvan’s Fish Camp, Conway
Roebuck Fish Camp, Roebuck
Shrimp Boat, Lancaster and Rock Hill

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 30 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.