Skip to main content

How to cook soft-shell crab at home

We got a Michelin-starred chef to show us the proper way to cook soft-shell crabs

Soft shell crab La Toque
Megan Menicucci / La Toque

Soft-shell crabs are one of our favorite seafood delicacies. Whenever we see it on a menu, we jump at the chance to order the succulent crustacean, because it isn’t a super common item.

A soft-shell crab is a blue crab that has molted its hard shell. In the spring, the start of soft-shell crab season, crabbers collect the crustaceans and monitor them closely. As soon as they molt, the crabs are removed from the water and packed before the shell can harden.

Though it seems like a daunting task if you don’t cook a lot of shellfish at home, preparing soft-shell crab is actually quite simple, and the payoff is a meal that’s both exciting and more affordable than what you’d pay in a restaurant. To get some expert tips on how to do it right, we employed the help of chef Ken Frank from Michelin-starred La Toque restaurant at The Westin Verasa Napa. He almost always has soft-shell crab on the menu when it’s in season, and he encourages home cooks to try preparing it at home.

“While it’s not necessary to buy them alive, they still need to be fresh enough to smell good,” Frank said. “They should be purchased from a good fishmonger the same day you plan to cook them.”

You’ve probably had your fair share of deep-fried soft-shell crab, likely piled high on a soft bun with lettuce and tomato. But Frank prefers to cook them simply, as he finds that the breading gets in the way of the crab’s delicately sweet flavor. “Cleaning and cooking soft-shell crab is really very easy if you know what to do,” he added. If you’re looking to prepare this gourmet treat at home, follow Frank’s simple cleaning and cooking steps below.

How to clean and cook soft-shell crab

Soft-shell crab La Toque
Megan Menicucci / La Toque

How to clean

There is a little work involved in getting soft-shell crab ready to be cooked, but you only need basic kitchen tools and skills, so it’s nothing you should be intimidated about.

First, trim and clean the crab. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim off the mandible at the front (you’re basically removing the crab’s eyes and mouth when you do this). With the crab belly down on your cutting board, pull up each side of the top shell to reveal the soft, pointy little gills underneath. Trim them away where they meet the body and discard them. Then, turn the crab over and pull away the tail flap, or apron, which curls up under the body at the rear.

How to cook

Now that you have the crab cleaned and trimmed, it’s time to get it ready for the pan. It doesn’t take long to cook, so make sure you keep an eye on it at all times.

  • Heat a couple of tablespoons of butter in a saute pan over medium heat until it just begins to sizzle.
  • Add the crabs, with the white belly down, and cook for three to four minutes in the sizzling butter. The belly will begin to brown nicely when they’re done. Turn them on their backs and cook for another minute. It should look like the photo below:
Soft-shell crab La Toque
Megan Menicucci / La Toque
  • Turn them back on their bellies, remove from heat, and add a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Allow them to simmer in the lemon butter for about a minute before transferring to a plate to serve.
  • Drizzle the crabs with some butter from the pan.
  • Enjoy the entire crab, including the shell, soaking up every drop of butter with soft white bread.

Grilled soft-shell crabs

Blue crab
wpopp / Wikimedia Commons

Since soft-shell crab season coincides with the warmer months, there’s no reason not to cook these crabs on the grill to let the flames do their magic and bring out their flavor. You can eat these crabs as-is, or they can be the main ingredient in a delicious sandwich.

(Recipe from Food & Wine)


  • 12 soft-shell crabs- cleaned and trimmed (see above for cleaning and trimming directions)
  • Vegetable oil for the grill grates
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small shallots, minced
  • 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay works well)
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Light the grill and brush the grates with vegetable oil.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan.
  3. Add the garlic, shallots, and seafood seasoning and cook over high heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.
  4. Brush the crabs generously with the flavored butter and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill the crabs over high heat, turning occasionally until they are bright red and charred in spots, about 4 minutes.
  6. Remove from the grill and serve.

Editors' Recommendations

Amanda Gabriele
Amanda Gabriele is a food and travel writer at The Manual and the former senior editor at Supercall. She can’t live without…
How to cook on a charcoal grill: A beginner’s guide
Everything just tastes better when cooked over charcoal
Man grilling

With grilling season now officially underway, you might be eyeballing that bag of charcoal at the grocery store. Perhaps you're remembering the irresistible flavor of those incredible barbecued ribs you had last summer. Maybe you saw a new charcoal grill model at the hardware store, you just couldn't resist, and now you have questions. Whatever situation you're in, charcoal grilling is always a good idea. If you're used to a gas grill, though, there are differences to know and keep in mind when it comes time to light that fire. This is everything you need to know about cooking on a charcoal grill.
Types of charcoal

The key difference between a gas grill and a charcoal grill is - clearly - the charcoal. Ingredients cooked on a charcoal grill are arguably far superior in taste due to their richer, smokier flavor. While gas grills have metal grates that cover the grill's flames and trap the drippings of the food inside, a charcoal grill captures and transforms those drippings into delicious smoke that works its way into your food. Of course, those drippings and that wonderful smoke come from the charcoal inside. So, which charcoal should you be using for your grill?

Read more
How to open a beer bottle without an opener – you have lots of options
Don't worry, you will get that bottle open
Opening a bottle with a lighter

The crisis? You want to enjoy a beer, but you have no bottle opener. Don't panic, because we're going to get through this thing. After all, it's surprisingly easy to open a beer bottle without an opener. All the bottle opener does is use a bit of leverage to bend the cap, anyway. So let's create some leverage, and then let's drink some beer.

A quick note before we get started: It's easy to open beer bottles using rings, but the potential for damaging your ring or your metacarpal is very high, so we've left that one out.
How to open a beer bottle with a lighter

Read more
The best fried chicken recipe you will ever make
This is simply the best, and you can stop looking for this recipe now
Eating fried chicken

As you know, we love all things fried chicken. It’s the ultimate comfort food no matter the day of the week, no matter the weather. We just can’t get enough of that golden brown and delicious chicken. Keep reading, and you'll find the best fried chicken recipe ... hands down.
The history of fried chicken

Europeans were the first to fry up chicken during the Middle Ages. Fried chicken was considered an expensive delicacy until after World War II and was only served for special occasions. Scottish immigrants were the ones who introduced fried chicken to the U.S., but they didn’t use any seasonings until West Africans added spice blends into the recipe. Since then, it has been a staple in Southern cooking.

Read more