Crab 101: Buying, Preparing and Cooking Fresh Crab

 In Crab Cooking

Fresh Crab

Even if you do not live near the beach, you can still enjoy the delicious taste of fresh crab by picking some up at your local fish market or grocery store. On the North American West Coast, the Dungeness crab is known for its succulent and plentiful meat, the snow crab for its briny and sweet flavor, and the Alaska King Crab for its sweet leg meat and silky texture. The Blue Crab is popular on the East Coast, richly flavored, and found on many restaurant menus with a soft shell available in the spring and summer months. Here is all about how to buy crab, cleaning crabs, cooking crabs, and how to eat crab! 

How to Buy Crab

If you live in a coastal community, it will be easy to find a local fish market and head over there for fresh crab galore. Living near a coast will allow you to procure fresh crab easily. If you do not live near the coast, you can visit a local fish market, grocery, or an online vendor. Crustaceans such as lobster or shellfish are marketed as live and very perishable, so it is best to buy crabs in season and from local waters.

When you buy crab, look for crabs actively moving around and stay away from any that seem sluggish. Also, be sure to survey the hygiene of the holding tank, making sure it looks clean instead of murky water or algae present. The meat of a crab is typically ¼ of its total weight, and when you hold it, it should feel robust, which signifies it is full of juicy meat instead of shell. When you buy crab, select female crab if possible, as they are often meatier and contain roe, which is considered a delicacy. 

Tips Before Cooking Crab

After you buy fresh crab and before cooking crab, it is worth noting that they should be kept alive until just before they are cooked to keep the crab meat as fresh as possible and free from any toxins. When a crab dies, it quickly releases bacteria into the digestive system, making it toxic, so keep it fresh! It is acceptable to cook the crab in boiling water or plunge into ice water before cooking, whatever you prefer. 

Cleaning Crabs

Before cooking crab, it must be cleaned, and the insides and gills must be removed beforehand. After this, the crab can be boiled, grilled, or steamed. No matter what way you end up cooking crab, it is bound to be delicious! Here are instructions on how to boil, grill, and steam crab:


To boil the crab, you will need a large pot, sea salt, sturdy tongs, and seasonings you would like to add to the recipe. The crab may be boiled full and live or half-baked. Here is how we recommend boiling crab:

  1. Add 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water, and be sure to use enough water to submerge the crab completely.
  2. Add a cup of white wine or a cup of beer to the pot, as well as any seasonings you would like to use to add flavor. Bay leaves, garlic, parsley, tarragon, salt, and pepper, or even a more commercial product such as Old Bay seasoning will work well also.
  3. Grab the crab at the carapace, or center of the back, with tongs.
  4. Submerge the whole crab, making sure it is covered with water, bringing it to a boil once again, and cook for up to 20 minutes.
  5. When you are finished cooking the crab, remove the cooked crab from the pot and cool it in cold or iced water to prevent the meat from sticking to the legs.
  6. Lift the top shell by pulling up from the back to clean the crab. Remove the spongy stomach and gills underwater, pulling away from the crab. Rinse it well, then crack the body in half. After this, continue rinsing the crab until it is clean, then crack the legs away or leave the crab in halves. 


By steaming crab, you are able to retain its juices and prevent them from becoming too saturated with water. Here is how to steam fresh crab:

  1. First, bring salted water to a boil in a large pot.
  2. Next, if you plan to use the broth, replace the one cup of water with a cup of white wine or beer, two garlic cloves, sprigs of parsley, bay leaf, and a couple of tarragon or thyme sprigs as well. 
  3. Then place the crab in a steamer basket and cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on the crab size.
  4. Finally, using tongs, remove the crab from the steamer and cool in an ice bath.


Before grilling, the crab may be steamed or par-boiled to be cooked about halfway to make cleaning easier. Here are some instructions to make your cleanup process easier.

  1. Steam to par-boil water and crab for 5 minutes, allowing it to cool, then be cleaned. 
  2. Brush both halves of the crab with grilling oil, topping with thyme, garlic, and rosemary, then place them onto the grill. 
  3. Set the oven to about 400°F and leave inside until the crab is cooked through and browned, which takes about 4 minutes per side.


  1. First, Brush the crab with flavored or herb-infused melted butter.
  2. Next, you can visit your neighborhood farmers market or grocery and place the seasoned crab in a hot oven set 450°F (or even 500°F) until they are browned, sizzling, and cooked through, taking approximately 10 minutes. 

How to Eat Crab

If you are wondering how to eat crab, here is the process step-by-step. First, remove the meat by breaking the crabs into halves or quarters. You should be able to do this with your hands, but you may need to use a more heavy-duty kitchen utensil with tougher shells. Next, pull the legs away from the body, twisting and pulling the fresh crab. After this, you can use a seafood fork or skewer to remove the crab meat from the uncracked claws. When finished, use a small and narrow seafood fork to remove the meat from the cracked claws and freeze or dispose of it. 

Wrapping Up

Now that you know how to buy crab, prepare crab, clean crabs, and cook crab, we recommend trying out new and classic fresh crab recipes, such as crab cakes! At Stiltsville Fish Bar, we offer delicious king crab legs and homemade blue crab cakes on our menu. Give us a call or visit our website to check out our menu and make a reservation today! We know you will love our delicious seafood entrees, and we look forward to hosting you soon! 

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