It’s Crab Season: 5 Tips & Tricks For Better Crab

The Dungeness crab is delicious if cooked with care. Here are 5 tips to think about.

Dungeness crab is delicious if handled with care. Caution! Avoid crab caught in bays contaminated with heavy metals.

It’s crab season in the Pacific Northwest and time to get those pots in the water. No pots? Not to worry, because you can take your pitchfork to your favorite bay and find crabs hiding in shallow water as the tide goes out. Be sure to purchase a license and follow the crabbing rules.

If you have access to a boat you can make a crab ring and actually fish for crabs in shallow water or set pots out in deep water to pick up later.

Tip 1, Keep crabs alive while fishing. When you catch crab, toss them into a 5 gallon bucket. There’s no need to have water in the bucket yet. Continue crabbing until you’ve reached your limit. You can cover the crabs with a water-soaked burlap bag but do not cover with water because they will deplete the oxygen from the water and die. Fill a second 5-gallon bucket with clean saltwater and use the water to cook the crabs.
Tip 2, Cooking crab Before cooking, you have two choices; split the crab or cook it whole. To split the crab:

  1. Set crab on a hard washable surface
  2. Place a flat shovel or machete blade against the shell (line it up from eyes to flap)
  3. Then push to cut the shell.
  4. With fingers, remove the back, gills, loose bone and soft material.
  5. Wash all debris from the crab.

You can cook crab on your stove top but most crab enthusiasts purchase a propane crab cooker because it can then be cooked outside and brings the water up to boiling quicker. Here are the steps:

1. Pace crabs in a large pot
2. Cover the crabs with ample fresh saltwater
3. Carefully remove the crabs
4. Bring the water to a full rolling boil
5. Drop crabs one at a time into the boiling water
6. When the water returns to a boil start your timer and cook the crabs for 12 minutes if cut or 18-20 minutes whole..
7. Carefully remove the crabs and place them in cold ice water to cool.
Tip 3, Cleaning whole crabs and Removing the Crab Meat.
1. For whole crabs, (when cool enough to handle) place the bottom side of the crab in your left hand. Insert the right thumb under the flap of shell near the bottom edge of the crab. Now you can use that flap to help pull the back off of the crab
2. Pull the gills away from the shell and wash off the loose parts of the crab. (You can reserve the yellow pulp, called crab butter, to flavor a sauce.)
 Crabs, whole of halved, can now be pulled apart at the joints. Use a cleaver to break each section and shake out the meat. Some people use a nutcracker and  pick for this purpose. When finished “cracking crab,” pick through the crab meat and remove any shell particles. These sharp pieces of shell can cut your gums while eating.
Tip 4, Storing the crab meat.
1. If there’s any crab meat left after shelling the crab you can place it in a plastic bag or glass jar. Some people prefer to fill the container with water and freeze it until use. We simply place the crab in plastic bags squeeze the air out and seal the bag. A Seal a meal® can be used also.
2. Whether in water or a sealed bag, crab does not keep well for a long period of time. When stored in water crab loses its flavor. When stored in a dry bag the crab becomes less tender.
Tip 5, Cook then freeze. We have found that crab keeps as long as a year when made into crab cakes, partially cooked and then frozen in airtight bags. This morning when I started to do this  post I checked our freezer and found one last bag of crab cakes dated 09/15/13. They are still moist and fairly tender so we’ll enjoy them tonight. So here’s our recipe for crab cakes. Enjoy!

Crab Cakes
Serves 3
Simple to make, easy to enjoy.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
12 min
Total Time
22 min
  1. 1 egg
  2. 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  3. 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  4. 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  5. 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  6. 1 tablespoon minced green onions or scallions
  7. 8 ounces crab meat
  8. 1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
  9. 1 tablespoon cooking oil or butter
  1. 1. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, tarragon, and scallions.
  2. Gently stir in crab meat, being careful not to break up meat.
  3. Gradually mix in cracker crumbs, adding slowly until desired consistency is achieved. They will be wet and need careful forming; about the size of a large cookie.
  4. 2. Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Form crab mixture into 4 patties. Place patties in skillet, and cook until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes on each side.
  1. I have tried several recipes and this one provides the flavor and consistency we enjoy. covering them with flour before cooking helps brown them but makes them a little messier to work with. When using butter to cook the cakes it's a little more difficult to get the higher temperature needed to keep them from getting greasy. Be sure to get out all the shells and enjoy.
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