Skip to main content

The definitive guide on how to eat crab, according to an expert

How to eat crab, according to a seasoned pro

Snow crab legs served with melted butter, garlic cloves, lemon slices, grilled corn in cobs and fresh parsley on wooden cutting boards, horizontal view from above, close-up
myviewpoint / Adobe Stock

Crab is always in season. Well, perhaps not in some geographical regions, but most coastal states harvest certain species for large portions of the year. And, thanks to the wonder of refrigerated transport, even the inlanders can enjoy some tasty crab (pair your shellfish with wine, by the way).

On the West Coast, people look forward to Dungeness crab season, reveling in the buttery goodness of this fleshy species. Out east, blue crab and rock crab—among other species—end up on the dinner plate. What unites them all, outside of the obvious deliciousness and pair of pincers? Generally speaking, how you eat them is pretty much the same across the board, and you’re probably not nailing the process.

We sought expert advice from the legendary restaurant Fog Harbor in San Francisco. COO Bob Partrite has two decades of experience there, working with shellfish from the iconic Pier 39 eatery.

Cooking crab legs

Tools

Doing a job right requires the right tools. That’s no different from eating crab, and fortunately, there are many ways to get the job done. “You can use any kind of cracker to open up your crab: a crab cracker, lobster cracker, or even walnut cracker will work,” Partrite says. “Some people like to put their crab on the counter and hit it with a small mallet instead, and that will work, too. No matter the approach you use, be sure to only crack it a little bit to start out with–just until you hear it start to snap–so you don’t destroy the shell.”

Go with a fancy mallet or keep it simple–and decidedly therapeutic–with a blunt basher of some kind. Picks are nice to get all the pesky meat out, but a smaller fork or even a toothpick will do in a bind. “I like to use an oyster fork or shellfish fork to pull the meat out and eat my crab,” Partrite says. “However, some people like to pull the meat out with their teeth. They’ll put the entire shell in their mouth and suck the meat out, and that works perfectly fine too. We have a lot of guests in our restaurant who like to eat crab that way.”

Close-up of crab legs

Squeeze and pop

These are the words you should remember when cleaning out a crab. Apply pressure to the body of the crustacean from top to bottom to loosen the meat before removing it. When dealing with the claw, pop it open at the seam to get out the most meat. “The claw is the meatiest part of the crab, it’s where you’ll get the biggest, plumpest pieces that are perfect for eating straight away,” Partrite adds. “The meat from the body will be shredded instead of the big chunks that come out of the claw and legs. The shredded body meat is great for adding to various crab dishes, like crab cakes or salads. But it’s also just as delicious to eat straight away with a traditional sauce like clarified butter, cocktail sauce, mayonnaise, or some fresh lemon.”

Dungeness crab at market.

Keep the shells

Use the shells to make seafood stock, a great addition to pasta or a base for soups. Simply hold on to them, throw them in a pot with some fresh herbs, and wait it out. The results are worth it and can amplify anything from pasta dishes to soups. When you do make it, throw in the essentials—things like onion, garlic, celery, white wine, carrots, salt, and any of your other favorite herbs.

King crab legs

Eat it fresh with choice condiments

Even when refrigerated, crab meats go bad quickly (3-5 days) and can also stink up the fridge if you don’t store them properly. Your best bet is to eat it fresh, with the right condiments. If you do store, consider an airtight container or even freezing the stuff. While enjoying, get your condiment game in order. Cocktail sauce is great, but also consider making some of your own tartar, cajun butter, or even store-bought buttermilk remoulade. A little can go a long way, as you don’t want to overwhelm the crab flavor. The key here is to accent that buttery, salt-kissed goodness, not overpower it.

Get eating. We have features on how to reheat crab legs and how to cook and clean Dungeness crab. If you’re still hungry, check out our piece on how to cook soft shell crab at home.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The best bars in New York City: Our top picks
Here's where to belly up to the bar in NYC
The Quixote Bar.

If you're known as The City That Never Sleeps, you probably have a few good bars to your name. New York is the ultimate beehive, going strong regardless of the borough or time of day. That makes for a pretty rich NYC bar culture.

Sure, there are trending establishments that draw huge lines—look at you, Double Chicken Please. But there are also excellent dives, tremendous wine bars, and watering holes that make you reexamine the definition of a great cocktail.

Read more
The best gins and gin mixers for no hangover
The best hangover cure is to never get one in the first place
Spanish gin tonic

No one drinks alcohol because they’re looking forward to a hangover. Most people drink because they enjoy the flavor and maybe want to get a little bit of a buzz on at happy hour. Sadly, even with the best intentions, sometimes we overdo it, forget to drink a few glasses of water and take a few ibuprofens, and end up with a headache so bad it feels like our head is going to explode and a gurgle-filled, upset belly that makes us think that we ate a bowl of lava the night before.

And while having a few too many beverages is a guarantee you’ll end up with at least a little bit of a hangover (especially the older you get), there are ways to reduce those chances. If you’re sipping on alcohol with more congeners, there’s a better chance you’ll have a headache the next day.

Read more
How to age fish at home (your new favorite hobby)
Aging can enhance and preserve the flavor of fish. Here's how the pros do it
Aged fish by PABU

You’ve definitely heard of aging beef and curing pork into charcuterie goodness before, but maybe you’re not familiar with another protein that can be aged to texture and flavor perfection: fish. While the aging process for fish is typically much shorter than that of meat (think 24 hours compared to three weeks), letting it rest before cooking or serving it as sushi gives it a more toothsome texture and deeper, richer flavor.

To learn more about how to age fish and why it’s so beneficial, we turned to Ben Steigers, the former executive chef at Boston’s PABU. The restaurant has since closed, but it specialized in traditional izakaya, like seasonal small plates, tempura, house-made tofu, and fresh sushi and sashimi, some of which was made even more delicious by employing aging techniques. If you want to try it for yourself, follow Steigers’ careful instructions on how to age fish at home.
The benefits of aging fish

Read more