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How to Cook and Crack Whole Crab: A Step-by-Step Guide

April 16, 2023

Whole Crab on a plate

Choosing and Preparing Crab for Cooking

Cooking whole crab, whether it's Dungeness, King, or Snow crab, is an exciting culinary journey. This guide will cover key aspects such as how long to cook crab, how to cook live crab, cooking frozen crab, and various methods like cooking crab in the oven. Let's start with the basics and then delve into different cooking styles.

Choosing the Right Crab

Selecting fresh crab is crucial. For Dungeness, King, or Snow crab, look for lively specimens with a fresh ocean scent. Avoid any with a strong fishy odor.

Preparing the Crab

  1. Cleaning Before Cooking: For live crabs, numb them in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. Flip and remove the apron, then dispatch quickly with a knife. Rinse thoroughly.

  2. Frozen Crab: Thaw frozen crab in the fridge overnight before cooking.

Cooking Methods

  1. Boiling: A universal method for all types of crab. Fill a large pot with salted water, bring to a boil, and cook the crab for 15-18 minutes for medium-sized and 20-25 minutes for larger ones. The crab turns bright orange when done.

  2. Oven Cooking: Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the crab in a baking dish with a bit of water, cover with foil, and bake for about 15-20 minutes.

  3. Cooking King Crab: Since they're often pre-cooked and frozen, they just need to be heated through for about 5-7 minutes in boiling water.

Cracking and Eating the Crab

  1. Post-Cooking Cleaning: Remove and discard the gills and mandible. Optionally, clean out the tomalley.

  2. Breaking and Cracking: Separate the crab into sections and crack the claws and legs using a nutcracker or a heavy knife.

Serving Suggestions

Enjoy your crab with melted butter, lemon, and your favorite sauces. Pair with a crisp white wine or light beer.

Final Thoughts

Whether you're cooking live, fresh, or frozen crab, the key is in the preparation and understanding the cooking times. Remember, each type of crab might require a slightly different approach, but the joy of cracking and savoring the meat remains a delightful experience. Happy cooking!


Q: How long should I cook a live crab? A: A medium-sized live crab typically needs to be boiled for 15-18 minutes. For larger crabs, extend the cooking time to 20-25 minutes. The crab should turn a bright orange when fully cooked.

Q: Is it necessary to clean a crab before cooking? A: Yes, it's important to clean live crabs before cooking. Numb the crab in the freezer for 15-20 minutes, then remove the apron and dispatch the crab quickly. Rinse it under cold water to remove any grit or dirt.

Q: Can I cook frozen crab without thawing? A: It's recommended to thaw frozen crab in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. This ensures even cooking and preserves the crab's flavor and texture.

Q: How do I cook crab in the oven? A: To cook crab in the oven, preheat it to 375°F (190°C). Place the crab in a baking dish with a bit of water, cover with foil, and bake for about 15-20 minutes.

Q: What's the best way to cook King crab? A: King crab legs are often pre-cooked and frozen. To heat them, boil for 5-7 minutes. You can also steam, grill, or bake them.

Q: How do I clean crab after cooking? A: After cooking, remove the apron, gills, and mandible. You can also rinse out the tomalley (the greenish-brown substance) if you choose not to eat it.

Q: Can I cook different types of crab the same way? A: While the basic cooking methods like boiling and baking apply to most crabs, cooking times may vary. For instance, King crab requires less time since it's usually pre-cooked.

Q: What are some good serving suggestions for crab? A: Serve cooked crab with melted butter, lemon wedges, and various dipping sauces. It pairs well with a crisp white wine or light beer.

Q: How do I crack open a cooked crab? A: Use a nutcracker or the back of a heavy knife to crack the claws and legs. Gently extract the meat with a small fork or crab pick.

Q: What should I look for when buying live crab? A: Choose a crab that's lively and has a fresh, sea-breezy smell. Avoid any that have a strong, unpleasant fishy odor.

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