How to Crack and Eat Crab Legs
It's no secret: Crab legs can be difficult to eat, which is why learning how to crack crab legs is worth it to ensure you pull out the delicious pieces of meat without shards of shell. If you're eating a whole crab, you'll also want to learn to extract the rich brown meat nestled in the cartilaginous channels in its body.
In this article, we'll look at how to prepare your crab legs, how to crack crab legs without tools and how to eat your crab legs correctly.
Before You Start
Before diving into how to eat crab legs, there are a few things to consider.
Fresh vs. Frozen Crab Legs
You can either purchase fresh, chilled or frozen crab legs. In most cases, you'll receive frozen crab legs because it's easy to maintain their quality and freshness. The crab gets cooked, dipped in a below-freeze and then rinsed to add a protective layer.
There are three common types of crab legs available on the market, each with a distinct texture and flavor:
- Dungeness crabs: The meat of the Dungeness crab is sweet, tender and slightly nutty.
- King crabs: The shell is spiky and thick, so you need tools to extract the meat. Once you dig in, you can expect pieces of sweet, lobster-like meat.
- Snow crabs: These legs are easy to crack and filled with sweet, briny meat.
Crab Legs vs. Whole Crabs
The type of meat found in the body and legs of a crab is different. The claws and legs have milder white meat, while the body has richer brown meat.
Some crabs get delivered to you whole, which affects how you cook and eat them. You'll generally remove the legs from the body and then extract the meat from each part.
How to Eat Crab Legs
You've received your order of crab legs — now you want to know how to eat crab legs at home. Let's explore how to eat Dungeness, king and snow crabs:
1. Gather Your Tools
Before steaming and eating your crab, you need to gather the following tools:
- Steamer pot
- Long tongs
- Crab zipper, kitchen shears or scissors
- Crab cracker or nutcracker
- Crab pick or fork
- Wooden mallet
Use a large Instant Pot and a steamer basket if you don't have a steamer pot. If you are eating Dungeness or snow crab legs, tools like scissors and a wooden mallet may be all you need to crack through the shells. King crabs have a harder outer shell, so you may need a crab cracker and gloves or a dish towel to break through the spiny shell.
2. Steam Your Crab Properly
Crab legs generally come frozen. Defrosting them first will help them steam faster, cook evenly and preserve the tender texture of the meat. Thaw them in a bowl overnight in the refrigerator for the best results.
Fill a large pot with an inch or two of water and place your steam basket on top. Add salt to your water. Some people like to add bay leaves, lemon wedges and other ingredients to add flavor. Bring the water in the pot to a boil, then add the crab legs to the steam basket. Steam for 4 to 5 minutes until heated through.
3. Break the Crab and Separate the Legs
If you're eating a whole crab, you must separate the legs from the body first. Removing the legs from the body first will make it easier for you to eat your crab and get to the meat in the legs and claws. Crabs generally have 10 legs — eight for walking and two for swimming. Some, like the king crab, have eight legs.
In most cases, the legs will pull away from the body fairly easily. Take hold of the legs, twist and pull them away from the crab's body. Crabs with hard shells may require a crab cracker or a mallet to help them separate from the body.
4. Split the Crab Legs at the Joints
The amount of work that goes into splitting open your crab legs depends on the crab you're eating. Smaller, softer crabs require less work to break apart, but the king crab takes more effort. You can split open your crab legs using these easy steps:
- Pick up your crab with both hands. Use gloves or a dish towel to protect your hands if the crab is spiky.
- Twist the crab at the joint and pull the tendon out.
If you need help applying pressure to the joints, you can use a cracker or even the flat side of a knife to apply pressure to the joint.
5. Crack Open the Crab Leg
Once you've broken apart your crab legs at the joints, you can split them open to get to the meat. If you have a crab zipper, insert it into the crab leg and run it down the soft part of the shell to open the leg. Plenty of household kitchen tools can serve the purpose of a crab zipper — a sharp knife, kitchen scissors or a fork.
Depending on the type of crab, you may need to use different methods to split the legs open. For example, king crabs have a harder shell, which a crab cracker can easily break through. Want to know how to crack crab legs without a cracker? You can use a mallet or knife to pressure the shell and break it open.
6. Remove the Meat and Repeat the Process
After you've cut your legs open, you can extract your meat. Peel back the shell of the crab to reveal the meat. Tools like a fork or a crab pick work well to remove the meat. Do this for every crab leg.
Ensure that the meat has no shell pieces as you extract it. As you get closer to the tip of the crab leg, there will be less meat. If you are eating a smaller crab, you may leave the meat at the tip — it may be more work than it's worth.
7. Crack the Claw
Many people like the meat in the claw best because it is the sweetest. You can also use a mallet or crab cracker to apply pressure and break into the crab's claw.
Start by applying a small amount of pressure to crack the shell and then build up the amount until you hear the shell crack. If you press too hard, you risk shattering the crab shell — no one wants to pick through shell pieces to get to the meat. If you're worried about juice spraying everywhere, you can wrap a dishcloth around the claws first.
8. Serve and Enjoy
You can enjoy your crab once you have extracted all the meat from the shell. Check that there are no pieces of shell or cartilage left over in the meat. Arrange your crab meat on a plate with lemon wedges and your favorite dipping sauce. A popular choice of dipping sauce is melted butter and lemon sauce.
If you prepare a spread for dinner or lunch, there is a range of delicious side dishes that pair well with crab that you can serve up.
Bonus Tip: Don't Forget to Pick the Body Meat!
If you're eating a whole crab, you can also enjoy the rich brown meat in the crab's body. Start by breaking it in half. You can also break it down further into quarters. You may break it apart with your hands, but you can also use a knife or mallet for tougher crabs. Use a pick or fork to extract the meat from the different channels in the crab's body.
Crack and Eat Crab Legs Like an Expert With These Tips
Now that you know how to crack and eat crab legs, you can enjoy this delicacy in the comfort of your home. You can order a selection of crab legs and have them delivered straight to your door.
We stock high-quality king crab legs, snow crab legs and Dungeness crab legs that we sustainably source directly from the Pacific Ocean. Our products include step-by-step instructions to help you cook and enjoy your crab legs. Place your order today!