Crack into the perfect crab with a few helpful hints
Best to buy
Crab should smell fresh, with no hint of ammonia. Live crabs should be frisky.
Store it safely
Refrigerate live crabs in a bowl covered with wet paper towel for no more than 12 hours.
Freshly cooked crab can be refrigerated for up to two days.
Quick & easy recipe
Bring 5 quarts (4.7 L) of water to a rapid boil and add each crab headfirst. Reduce heat and
simmer 10 to 20 minutes. Immerse crabs in cold water for a few seconds when done so they
Crab is an excellent source of selenium and a good source of magnesium, vitamin B6, and folic
To clean hard-shell crab, break off the belly flap on the underside of the shell. Pull
shell off the back, starting from the rear. Remove gills from the body. Twist claws and legs
off body. Crack the shell using a heavy nutcracker or small hammer. Cut body into halves. Pick
out crabmeat using a metal pick, small fork, or the pointed tip at the end of the crab’s
leg. Use crabmeat in casseroles, crab cakes, soups, salads, and other dishes, or enjoy cooked
crabmeat with cocktail sauce.
To clean soft-shell crab, first cut off the face, using scissors. Lift the top shell and
pull off and discard the gills. Pull off belly flap.
To boil live crab
Fill a large pan with 5 quarts (about 5 liters) of water and bring to a rapid boil. One at
a time, plunge the crab headfirst into the boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10
minutes for small crabs, 15 to 20 minutes for large crabs. Immerse crabs in cold water for a
few seconds when done so they don’t overcook.
Pan-frying soft-shell crab
Rinse prepared or thawed frozen crab in cold water. Dredge in flour or cornmeal and
seasonings and shake off any excess. Heat oil or butter in frying pan until hot. Add crab and
brown on each side for four to five minutes, turning once.
Broiling crab legs
Thaw frozen crab legs. Cut each leg shell down both sides with a sharp knife. Remove top of
shell, leaving meat in the bottom. Place bottom shells in a shallow baking pan and brush with
butter or oil, seasonings, and lemon juice. Place under broiler for four to five
minutes, just until heated through.
Baking crab legs
Place whole cracked legs in a shallow baking pan. Brush with butter or oil, seasonings, and
lemon juice. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for about eight minutes.
Microwaving crab legs
Wrap whole or split crab legs in a damp paper towel and cook on high for about two
Buying and storing tips
Quality crab is easy to recognize. Fresh cooked crab smells fresh, with no hint of ammonia
odor. The freshest crabs are alive and frisky. Ask how long they have been in the tank, and
choose crabs that have been there less than a week. Discard any crab that dies before you can
cook it. Fresh cooked crab has a bright red shell. Any exposed meat should be white and moist,
not dried out or yellow.
Put live crab in a bowl, cover with wet paper towels, and keep in the refrigerator for no
more than 12 hours. Fresh cooked crab is best eaten the same day you buy it but will keep
safely in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Keep pasteurized crabmeat in the refrigerator for up to six months but not for longer than
four days after opening the package.
To freeze crabmeat, wrap it carefully in freezer paper or plastic and over-wrap with a
plastic bag. Store for up to two months.
To thaw, place the crab in the refrigerator overnight. To thaw more quickly, wrap crab in
waterproof plastic and place in a sink with cool running water, allowing about 30 minutes per
pound (454 grams). For fastest thawing, use the defrost cycle of your microwave. Place crab in
a shallow microwave-safe bowl, defrost three to five minutes per half pound (227g), then allow
to stand for three minutes.
Thousands of species of crabs live around the world, but the following are the kinds most
commonly eaten in the United States. Blue crabs, small crustaceans found along the Atlantic
coast, are particularly valued for their soft-shell phase, when they can be eaten shell and
all. Dungeness crabs, found on the Northwest coast, are large and meaty. King crabs live in
the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea and can grow up to six feet (about 1.8 meters)
across; king crabs have most of the meat in their legs rather than their claws. Snow crabs
include varieties found in both Atlantic and Pacific waters. Rock and Jonah crabs, small crabs
found on the East coast, have a low meat yield. Stone crab, found in Florida and Texas, are
sold fresh, cooked, and frozen. Red crab are small, meaty crustaceans that live along the
You can buy crab live, cooked in the shell, or as picked crabmeat, fresh or frozen, canned
or pasteurized. Crabmeat comes as lump crabmeat (body meat), backfin (smaller pieces of body
meat), and flake (shreds and flakes from all parts of the crab).
*Foods that are an “excellent source” of a particular
nutrient provide 20% or more of the Recommended Daily Value. Foods that are a “good
source” of a particular nutrient provide between 10 and 20% of the Recommended Daily
When cooked (dry heat), Alaska king crab provides 0.4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3 oz. (85g).
When cooked (dry heat), Dungeness crab provides 0.3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 3 oz. (85g).
The information presented in the Food Guide is for informational purposes
only and was created by a team of US–registered dietitians and food experts. Consult
your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any
supplements, making dietary changes, or before making any changes in prescribed medications.