Ode to Shrimpburgers

Ode to Shrimpburgers.  You might think they’re all the same – shrimpburgers – as common on any coastal South Carolina menu as a burger, sweet tea, or a fizzy coke.  Nothing special, you might think a plain bun, softened by the heat of a steamer; a little lettuce and tomato. That’s it.

Shrimp Shack

But it’s just a whole lot different when you stop by the side of the road after a lazy day at the beach and dine at Hilda Upton’s Shrimp Shack. You’ve probably passed right by it many times on the way to Fripp or Harbor Island. As much as I’ve tried, never ever could I get Hilda to tell me her secret.

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I think the best description of the place is it’s a roadside take-out window on stilts, with just a bench and a couple of tables.  It’s a little like dining in a treehouse. While they were making the movie Forrest Gump, the shack became a real hotspot.  The whole idea originated years ago when Hilda and Captain Bob prepared shrimp burgers in the tiny galleys of shrimp trawlers.  “While offshore, we would fix the burgers by beating them with coke bottles, mix up the shrimp with whatever was on hand, and pan-fry them,” says Hilda.

These tasty burgers are little known beyond our coast.  They are an experience of texture and flavor that happens when perfectly sauteed tender shrimp meet a lightly steamed white bun, a dollop of spicy tartar sauce, and sometimes a little lettuce and tomato.

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I remember summer afternoons when we’d climb into the car and take a ride along Hwy. 21, past fruit stands and women weaving Gullah baskets. We’d head to the beach, all of the windows rolled down, arms brandished out the window, and waving to passersby. One thing was certain, the trip would include a stop at the Shrimp Shack.

Hunting Island

Once at Hunting Island, we’d pocket seashells to bring home and line up on the windowsill as a pleasant reminder of our time at the beach. At the end of the day, we’d head over to Hilda’s for fries and a shrimpburger.  I don’t know how many times I have consumed the whole burger while leaning against the side of my car, using the hood to hold the fries, and sweet tea.

Well, it’s summer in a sandwich. Nostalgic seafood joints serve up more than tasty seafood, they have an allure that keeps us coming back again and again.

By June the confederate jasmine and purple irises had bloomed and faded. Summer had arrived. Strawberries at Dempsey Farms were long gone along with the mouth-watering soft-shell crab sold at Sea Eagle Market.  Now there were plenty of tomatoes for sandwiches, peaches, and ice-cold watermelon.  We’d eat it right out of the fridge – shatteringly icy but oh so refreshing! Baskets of peaches sat on the back porch waiting to be made into cobblers, peach jam, and combined with blueberries for pies.

Summer was when we’d sit for hours under the porch ceiling fan, shucking corn and snapping beans for supper.  Here we could always count on finding respite from the baking heat of a June afternoon.


Hushpuppies and Shrimp Burgers – heaven on earth!

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When suppertime rolled around we’d spread a cloth on the picnic table out back and sit beneath the outstretched limbs of one of the biggest live oaks you’ll ever see. If we couldn’t eat on Hilda’s porch, our backyard retreat was always our sanctuary.

If you’re up for it and want to make your own – why not?  Nothing could be easier.

Shrimp Patties

1 cup shrimp, cooked and chopped

1 tablespoon four

1 tablespoon sesame oil

a pinch of garlic powder, salt, and pepper

seafood seasoning

2 scallions

2 eggs

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup panko

1 beaten egg

fresh parsley to taste

Put the peeled and deveined shrimp in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Pulse until shrimp is fine but not completely chopped up.

In a large bowl, mix the panko bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, seafood seasoning, black pepper, parsley, and scallions and combine.

Add the breadcrumb mixture to the shrimp in the food processor.  Pulse seven times or until all is combined.  Do not overprocess.

Divide the mixture into 4 equal sections. Use a very light touch and form the mixture into four patties using your hands. Place the patties on a plate lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for at least one hour for them to firm up.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat.

When oil is hot, place the burgers in the pan and pan-fry for about 4 minutes on the first side, then flip and continue cooking for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook them.  They can go from cooked to overcooked in a matter of seconds.

Place patties on a paper towel to drain.


Lightly toast the buns and spread a liberal amount of Aioli on each bun.  Add some lettuce, a slice of tomato, and your shrimp patty, and enjoy.

Note: If you love shopping at Trader Joe’s, purchase their crushed garlic in small cubes in their frozen food section and it will save you some time.


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