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How to Pick a Crab

The beginning of summer means the start of blue crab season for the East Coast. While blue crab is popular among many of the Atlantic states, it is just one of the many crab varieties you can choose to serve in your restaurant. Before you start offering it, however, it is important to learn how to eat a crab. This means mastering the technique of “picking,” or removing the crab meat from its shell. If you’re new to serving crab, keep reading for buying guidelines and serving suggestions, and check out our video on how to pick a crab.

How to Pick a Blue Crab

1. Remove the claws and legs by twisting them off at the base. Set them aside.

2. Peel back the apron found on the underside of the shell using a knife.

3. Detach the top shell from the bottom portion.

4. Remove the gills by peeling them away from either side of the body.

5. Use a crab mallet or claw cracker to crack open the claws and access the meat.

6. Enjoy!

What to Know Before You Start Serving Crab at Your Restaurant

Once you’ve decided to include crab on your menu, your first step is to choose what kind of crab you want to serve. Some options may be more accessible to you than others based on where they are found. Additionally, summer is not crab season everywhere, so keep this in mind if you want to serve fresh crab.

Commonly Served Crabs and Their Availability

  • Blue crab is found on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico from June to October.
  • Dungeness crab can be found from central California up to Alaska from November to July.
  • King crab is found in Alaska and British Columbia from October to January.
  • Snow crab is found in the northern Pacific and Atlantic states from October to May.
  • Stone crab can be found in Florida and parts of North and South Carolina from October to January.

How to Buy Fresh Crabs

Buying live crabs is the best way to guarantee freshness. Once dead, crabs quickly become toxic because bacteria from their digestive organs enters the meat. Coastal locations have markets or wharves that are excellent for buying live crabs. While there, look for suppliers with clean tanks that are free of algae and murky water. Similarly, seek out tanks with aerators that maintain oxygen levels and keep the crabs lively. Sluggish crabs could be sick or close to death, so it is best to avoid selecting them.

Blue Crab

Be sure to choose crabs with all of their limbs. A missing leg would be an unpleasant surprise for your customer who wants to pick a whole crab!

If you can, hold the crabs and squeeze their shells. Meaty crabs have firm shells and heavy bodies. At the same time, a lighter crab with a brittle shell could be immature and contain less meat. Generally, the meat of a crab makes up ¼ of its total weight, so remember to choose crabs that are large enough for your intended portion size.

While female crabs are meatier than males, some parts of the country put bans or limitations on the amounts of females that crabbers can catch. This encourages reproduction and prevents supply depletion. As a result, you may be limited in the amount of female crabs that are available to you. Find out what the restrictions are in your area so you know whether to ask for male or female crabs when you are at the market.

How to Store Crabs Before Cooking

Once you’ve selected your live crabs, chill them as soon as possible until you are ready to cook them. Putting them in an open container of salt water in your refrigerator lets oxygen in and keeps these sea creatures alive.

When buying crab in non-coastal areas, it’s best to find an online vendor with high turnover and rapid shipping. That way, your crabs come to you before they become unsafe to eat. Because shipped crabs are often no longer alive, it is very important to keep them chilled before cooking.

How to Eat a Blue Crab

Cooked Crab

The most popular methods of cooking crab are boiling and steaming. Fully cooked blue crab is bright red-orange in color and has opaque meat. Once it is cooked, you can start picking.

A great crab picking experience includes more than just plain, cooked crab. Seasoning your blue crab with a spice blend can enhance its natural flavor for an extra kick. Also, offering melted butter and lemon or lime wedges gives your guests the opportunity to alter the taste to their preferences. To round out the meal, try providing a simple salad with light dressing and citrus flavors.


Now that you’ve learned how to eat whole crab, you can bring crab picking to your restaurant. Providing your customers with whole crabs gives them a hands-on experience that other dishes can’t achieve. While this meal choice could fall flat if a patron doesn’t know how to access his or her crab meat, educating your servers and hosts can help prevent this. For this reason, serving whole crab is a great way to keep your guests and staff engaged.

Posted in: Seasonal | Kitchen & Cooking Tips | By Christine Potts
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