How to Cook Winkles


You can identify winkles by their colour – they’re dark grey (black when wet) with a white edged opening, and their shape and size – small and rounded. You might confuse them with whelks and dog whelks which are more pointed and much lighter in colour. Both whelks are edible and won’t do you any harm but the texture is very mushy and flavour not as good.

If you head to the seashore with your bucket at low tide, you’ll find them aplenty. I’d advise collecting from rocks, those from sandy areas will just give you more work later to get rid of the sand. Because winkles detach easily from rocks, unlike the hardy, clinging limpets, they like to collect together and hide in damp clefts and under the edges of rocks. Traditionally they are not collected during a month with no R in it. These hotter summer months of May, June, July and August is when they are likely to be reproducing and the cooler months will give winkles with the best and freshest flavour.

This is a typical winkle hiding place!

Step 1: Purge your winkles

Purge your winkles by putting them all into a bucket of seawater. Make sure all the winkles are covered in water, you can do this by using a pan lid that’s small enough to fit into the bucket and pushing it down. If you don’t push this lid down the winkles will make a bid for freedom and those up out the water will end up being sandy and gritty. Leave them soaking for 3 or 4 hours but never for longer that 12 hours.

If you don’t have access to fresh seawater, you can make your own by dissolving 35 grams of salt in 1 litre of water.

Step 2: Steam your winkles

Steam your winkles by putting a small amount of fresh water in a big pan and bring to the boil. You might like to add a splash of white wine, brandy or calvados.

Once the liquid is boiling add the winkles into the pan.  The winkles are small and will pack quite tightly together so it is best to do this in smallish batches.  This will ensure they steam evenly. Steam for 4 minutes, then drain in a colander.

Step 3: Deshell your winkles

Remove the winkles from their shells. You can do this with a specialist winkle pin although a fine skewer or an unfolded paper clip will work just as well.

Take a winkle in one hand and your pin in the other. At the entrance to the shell you’ll see a small, brown, hard flake of shell. This acts as a little door and is attached to the winkle’s muscle, it can’t be eaten. If the ‘door’ is a little open, insert your pin, catch the winkle and pull gently. The coiled body will come out and the door is discarded. If the door is still closed just gently prise it open with your pin.

This is fun for all the family and not as arduous a task as it sounds, I did 100 winkles in about 10 minutes.

Once all the winkles are de-shelled, put them to one side. They can be stored in the fridge like this for a day at most.
This little video shows you how to deshell winkles. Thanks to Rory from EatDrinkRunFun for the video. 

Serve them warmed through in garlic butter or make my favourite, Potted Winkles.



  1. Pauline James

    We invariably pick too many winkles as it is so much fun. Any thoughts on whether you can freeze cooked winkles and if so how much it would impact on the flavour?

  2. If you’re putting them in boiling water you’re not steaming them, your boiling them. There is a big difference.

  3. Blake Newell

    When we cooked the winkles, the critters had shrunk so much we couldn’t reach them with a skewer;
    Tried breaking the shell, but that just loaded the winkle with grit; Out of 10, we lost/ruined 3, so don’t plan on doing this again, unless we find a solution;

    • Perhaps you overcooked them? They only need the lightest steaming. They should still be tender and easily picked out with a toothpick

  4. Anthony Mills

    In northeast of england little place called Newcastle-upon-Tyne we call them willicks not winkles ,i don’t know why ,i have ate these from being a very small child
    I boil them in full pan of water with salt longer the better 30 45 mins and stir them now and again ,let them cool naturally, you can pick them still warm or wait to go cold,if not using them leave in shell in fridge last longer ,deshell when needed ,

  5. How long would you say they last after being cooked? Could I cook them then keep them in the fridge for a few days? I’ve tried googling but no answers 🤞🏻

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