Savory Saturday: How to Cook Crab

The soft waves threatened the fire in the makeshift pit as the tide slowly rose and lapped at the flames. We set a metal bucket teetering on two lit logs while the water boiled rapidly inside. Nearby, our crabs sat in a bath of ice, numb and unaware of the hot bath that soon awaited them.

A flat rock, just a few feet from our fire on the beach, became our picnic table, where a simple green salad and a large bowl of melted butter, diced red chile, minced garlic and fresh dill sat. It was rustic, simple and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Fresh crab has a clean taste that gets much of its charm from the melted butter that’s often served with it. They are simple to cook, fun to crack into, and in season right now.

Four Live Crabs


Whichever method you choose for cooking your crab, it is best to keep the crabs on ice before you start. The ice keeps the crab lethargic and makes the act of dropping them in boiling water or a pot to steam less traumatic on them and you. Always pick up the crabs from the back and grasp firmly onto their bodies to avoid being pinched.

The easiest and most common way to cook crab is to submerge them in boiling, salted water. The water should taste of the ocean in fact, you could even use the very water that the crabs lived in.

Cook the crabs for 10-15 minutes or until they float. Remove the crab from the pot with tongs then immediately place them in a bowl or pot of ice water. This stops the cooking and helps to release the meat from the shell.

You can add aromatics to the pot if you like: fresh or dried herbs, beer, wine, onion or the classic Old Bay seasoning.


The other option is steaming. The process is very similar to boiling except that there is only a couple of inches of salted water at the bottom of a large pot. You can use a steamer basket insert or just pile the crabs in with the bottom crab getting more boiled then steamed while holding the others up. This method takes about 15-20 minutes for the crab to cook through.

Crab Steaming in Pot Over Fire


Once cooled, you’ll need to clean the crab. Locate the triangular panel on the backside of the crab and lift to remove it. Now, hold the crab body and remove the top shell. Some people like to clean the shell and use it for serving, I usually discard it, in the same way, some like to save the crab “butter” that you’ll see inside the crab to season soups and stocks or just to eat. That, I generally throw away too.

Remove the gray, feathery gills and throw those out. At this point, rinse the crab thoroughly with cool water to clean the interior. Using your hands or a large knife, break the crab in half and place those halves on a platter for serving.

Give people plenty of crab crackers and a few of the crab’s own claws for digging out the meat.

What to serve crab with

With a meal of fresh crab, very little else needs to be served. I like my crab with plenty of warm bread, a simple green salad with lots of fresh herbs and a red chile butter (recipe follows) that has plenty of garlic, a bit of heat and fresh dill swimming throughout.

Cooked Crab on Plate with Lemon and Garnish

Red Chile Butter for Crab

Enough butter for 3-5 crabs


  • 1 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red chile (less if you don’t like much heat), finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill


Combine everything and keep warm until the crab is ready.

Can be made two days in advance then remelted just before serving.

Need some delicious homemade bread to go with your crab feast? Check out the Craftsy class Artisan Bread Making with Peter Reinhart.

What’s your favorite way to cook crab?

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