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How to Cook and Shell Crab

    What you’ll need

    Large pot, wok, roasting pan, grill, or skilletLarge pot, wok, roasting pan, grill, or skillet

    Wooden mallet, kitchen scissors, metal nut crackers, or a sturdy chef’s knifeWooden mallet, kitchen scissors, metal nut crackers, or a sturdy chef’s knife


    Steam, boil, grill, roast, or stir-fry frozen, partially thawed, or fully-thawed crab clusters or legs.

    Steaming crab: Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water. Add aromatics like garlic, scallions, ginger, bay leaves, or herbs and bring to a boil. Add crab, cover, and steam for about 4 minutes for thawed crab and about 8 minutes for frozen crab.

    Boiling crab: Fill a large pot with water. Add aromatics like garlic, onion, ginger, herbs, bay leaves, or a seafood boil spice blend and boil until the liquid is flavorful. For a traditional crab boil, add corn and baby potatoes with the aromatics and cook until tender. Add the crab and simmer until heated through, 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the level of thaw.

    Grilling crab: For bairdi crab, split the legs down the center and brush with garlicky olive oil. For Dungeness crab, separate the legs and brush the body with garlicky oil. Grill over hot coals or high heat until the shells are lightly charred. Add soaked wood chips for a smoky flavor.

    Roasting crab: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss crab with aromatics and oil, spread out on a sturdy roasting pan and roast until lightly charred and heated through.

    Stir-frying crab: Separate the legs from the body and break into sections. Cut the bodies into 2 pieces. Heat oil in a large wok or skillet until almost smoking. Add aromatics like garlic, ginger, chilies, and herbs, and stir fry until fragrant. Add crab and stir fry until heated through and coated with flavorful seasonings.

    Clean, strong hands can do most of the work of extracting crab meat, but kitchen scissors are great for splitting hard shells and metal nutcrackers, a wooden mallet, or a sturdy chef’s knife make easy work of getting at the succulent claw meat. Your little finger or a seafood pick or chopstick is great for getting at the knuckle meat.

    There is an abundance of meat in the legs, knuckle joints, and body. Pick the large lumps of crab meat from the body, avoiding the hard white shells. One Dungeness crab cluster (half body with legs and claw) yields a generous ½ cup (4 ounces) of picked crab. One bairdi crab cluster (half body with 4 legs) yields a scant 1 cup (6 ounces) of picked crab meat.

    Be sure to save your shells to make a stock.