01 of 09
Start With Fresh, Lively Crabs
Live crabs ship surprisingly well when handled properly and kept on ice, but there is something about the local crab season that can't be beat. For me, that means Dungeness crab pulled out of the Pacific Ocean. The season for Northern California starts in November and runs into summer, but those first crabs in November and December always taste the sweetest.
No matter what crabs you have on hand, use this guide to get them ready to eat.
Crabs kept on ice or in the fridge will be lethargic, but... even they should respond to being picked up or moved around with a bit of leg movement at the very least. If you're choosing crabs from a tank or cooler, look for feisty specimens.Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Boil or Steam the Crabs
Boiling is more common, but I prefer steaming crabs - they emerge from the pot less water-logged and more filled with their own crabby juices.
To Boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt so it tastes as salty as the ocean. Add any spices or herbs you like (Old Bay has plenty of adherents, for example, and it's easy to make a homemade version, too). Add the crabs and simmer until they are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the crabs.
To Steam: Bring about... an inch of salted water to boil in the bottom of a large pot. Set a steamer basket in the pot and the crabs in the basket or, if you have a lot of crabs, simply pile them in. Cover the pot and steam until the crabs are cooked through, 10 minutes for small blue crabs and 15 for larger Dungeness and up to 20 minutes for even bigger crabs.
See more about How to Cook Crabs here.Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Let the Cooked Crabs CoolRemove the crabs from the pot and let sit until cool enough to handle. I've been known to rinse them quickly under cold water to move things along. Other people where latex gloves so protect themselves from the heat of the shells.Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Remove the ApronThe "apron" on a crab is a triangle of shell on the bottom of the crab (on males it is smaller, narrower, and more pointed; on females it is bigger, wider, and more rounded). Remove the apron by grabbing the point towards the front of the crab and pulling it off.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
After you've pulled off the apron, you will see a small hole between the body and the top shell, or carapace, at the back of the crab. Hold the body with one hand and pull off the top shell by grabbing the shell where that small hole is.
The liquid that will come out is called "crab butter" (it's the fat from the back of the crab) and many people save it for use in soups or even as a dipping sauce for the crab itself. If you want to reserve the crab butter, make sure to hold the crab... upside-down and pull the body up and out of the top shell so the shell collects the liquid.
I usually discard the carapace, but some people like to clean the shell is use it to serve crab salad.Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
Remove GillsOnce the top shell is gone, you'll see the crab's insides. Along the top are two rows of opaque, feathery gills. These are not tasty. Simply pull them all off and discard them.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Remove MandiblesThe mandibles, at the front of the crab, need to be removed - simply snap them to break them away from the crab's body and discard them.Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Rinse Crab CleanThe remaining parts of the crab (besides the shell) that you don't want to eat are the guts. In the world of cleaning animals, crab guts are pretty innocuous. Simply rinse them out under cool running water.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Cleaned Crab Ready to Pick and Eat!
You now have a fully cleaned crab. After you've done one or two, they go pretty quickly. A cleaned crab is ready to serve, if you're having people pick crab meat themselves (this is how I tend to roll, offering guests homemade aioli, alongside the crab butter, for dipping), or ready to pick if you are going to use the crab meat in another dish like crabcakes or gumbo (see How to Serve Crab for ideas).
Smaller cleaned crabs can be served whole, but you'll want to break up larger crabs for... people to work from or if you're going to pick the crab meat before serving. Most crabs can broken in half or into quarters by hand. Use a large knife to cut apart bigger or tougher crabs (or to save your hands).
See How to Crack and Pick Crab for further details.