How to Cook a Crab

Four Methods:Humanely Killing a CrabSteaming a CrabBoiling a CrabGrilling a Crab

Crabs make a simple and elegant dinner. Since crab can be expensive if you're eating in a restaurant, try cooking crab at home. If you're pressed for time, you can ask the person at the seafood counter or market to kill the crabs before you take them home (you'll just need to use them immediately). You can also humanely kill your crabs at home before cooking them. Once your crabs are ready for cooking, decide if you'd like to steam them to keep their sweet flavor. You can also boil crab to cook it quickly. Crabs also do well when cooked on the grill.

Method 1
Humanely Killing a Crab

  1. Image titled Cook a Crab Step 1
    Freeze your crabs. Place your crabs in the freezer for several hours. The cold air will numb the crabs and cause them to move around much slower. This makes it easier to handle the crabs when killing them and may even dull their pain. Remember that once they're desensitized to pain, you should kill them immediately so they don't recover and feel pain again.[1]
    • If your crabs are larger, they'll take longer to freeze.
  2. 2
    Check for signs of sensitivity. You'll know your crab has frozen long enough when it's easy to handle or manipulate. The crabs shouldn't be moving their limbs at all or react when you touch near their mouthparts.[2]
    • Try tapping a crab's shell. If the crab's eyes don't react, then the crab is desensitized.
  3. 3
    Spike the crab to kill it. You can quickly pierce the two nerve centers on a crab to immediately and painlessly kill the crab. Place your immobile crab on a non-slip mat so that it's on its back. Lift up the tail flap. You should see a hole that looks like a small dot. This is directly over a nerve center. Take a knife (or awl) and spike into this tiny hole at an angle of 85°. Do this again for the front nerve center.[3]
    • The front nerve center is located in the shallow depression at the front of the crab. Insert this spike at an angle of 60°.
    • The whole spiking process should take less than 10 seconds. You can then cook the crab according to any method you'd like.
  4. 4
    Consider buying and thawing frozen crab. If you don't want to worry about cooking a very fresh crab or killing it yourself, buy frozen crab legs and claws. These are steamed before they're frozen so all you need to do is heat them back up. To thaw your frozen crab you can either:[4]
    • Place the frozen crab in the fridge and let it thaw overnight
    • Place the frozen crab in a container of cool water that's set in your sink or on the counter

Method 2
Steaming a Crab

  1. 1
    Bring a pot of water to boil. Choose a large stock pot that can hold a steamer in the bottom. It should also have a tight-fitting lid. Fill the pot with about 1 inch of water and place the steamer in the bottom. Cover the pot with the lid and bring the water to a boil.[5]
    • If you don't have a steamer insert, twist a long sheet of foil into a rope and place it in the bottom of your pot twisted into a figure 8.
  2. 2
    Add the crabs to the pot. Use tongs to pick up a crab from behind so that one tong arm is on its belly and the other is on its back. The legs of the crab should hang on both sides of the tong arms. Set the crabs onto the steamer rack.[6]
    • You should put the crab on the steamer so that its back is facing up towards you.
  3. 3
    Steam the crabs. Cover the pot with the lid and bring the water back to a boil over high heat. Let the crabs steam for 1 minute. You should reduce the heat to medium-high and let the crab keep steaming until it's cooked (about 15 more minutes for 2 pounds of crab).
    • You can figure your cooking time as being about 7 minutes for each pound of crab that you're steaming.[7]
  4. 4
    Remove the crabs. Lift the crabs out of the pot using your tongs. Set them in a colander over cold running water or submerge them in a bowl of ice water till they're cool. Avoid handling the crabs while they're still hot since the water inside the crabs may be boiling hot.
    • Be careful with dripping hot water as you lift the crabs out of the pot. Consider lifting the crabs up, letting them drip for a second, then transferring them to cold or ice water.

Method 3
Boiling a Crab

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    Check the size of your pot. Select a large stock pot that has a lid and place your crabs into the pot to see if they all fit. There should still be 3 or 4 inches of space near the top of the pot once your crabs are in the bottom. Remember how far up the sides your crabs come.[8]
    • Remove the crabs and set them aside while you get the water ready.
  2. Image titled Cook a Crab Step 2
    Bring water to a boil. Fill the pot with water so the water is 2 or 3 inches over where the crabs were. Cover your pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. You'll notice steam escaping from under the lid when the water begins to boil.[9]
    • For even more flavor, consider boiling the crabs in a vegetable stock. For a simpler flavor, you could just add a a sliced lemon to the water.[10]
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    Add the crabs and boil them. Carefully lower the crabs into the pot of boiling water. Cover the lid with the pot and set a timer for 15 minutes (if you're cooking one or two 1/2 pound crabs) or 20 minutes (if you're cooking larger crabs). Once the water begins to boil again, lower the heat so the water is only simmering.[11]
    • You'll need to watch the pot of boiling crabs while they cook. Make sure that the water is always at a lively bubble. Avoid boiling the crabs for the entire cooking time since this can make the crab meat tough and rubbery.
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    Remove the crabs. Use tongs to lift the crabs out of your pot. Place them in a colander so the hot water will drain out of the crabs and into the sink. If you'd like to dress your crabs quickly, run cold water over them while they're in the colander.
    • Use caution when handling boiling water and the cooked crabs. Use oven mitts to hold the tongs (especially if your tongs are metal) since the tongs may heat up as well.

Method 4
Grilling a Crab

  1. Image titled Cook a Crab Step 7
    Prepare your grill and crab marinade (if using). Heat your grill to high using direct heat. While the grill is heating, gently hit the crab shells with a rolling pin to slightly crack them. This will help the marinade soak in more. To make a marinade, combine olive oil, salt, and garlic (all to taste). Coat the crabs in the marinade.[12]
    • You can make the marinade ahead of time (up to 3 hours before grilling). This will give the crabs more flavor.
    • If you don't want to marinate the crabs, you should at least cut the shells of King Crab legs and cover them with a little oil. This will keep them from sticking to the grill and will make it easier to get to the meat.
  2. Image titled Cook a Crab Step 8
    Grill your crab. Place the crabs directly on the cooking grate of your grill. You may want to use tongs to set the crabs on the grill if you're worried you'll burn yourself. Try to arrange thicker or whole crabs on the hottest part of the grill (usually in the center). If you're using pre-steamed crabs that were frozen and thawed, grill them for 4 minutes and then turn them over using your tongs. Grill them for another 4 minutes.[13]
    • If you're using fresh crabs that you just killed, grill them for 10 minutes and then turn them and cook for another 10 minutes.[14]


  • Keep a few windows open since the fishy crab smell may linger for a few days if your kitchen isn't well ventilated.
  • Remember that live crabs may pinch. Use caution when handling them.

Article Info

Categories: Crab