How To: Pick a Crab (The Ones From The Ocean)

June 25, 2008 at 5:18 pm 4 comments

It’s summer! If you’re from Maryland or the general Delmarva region, you know that summer means steamed crabs and more Old Bay than you can shake a stick at. As a Baltimorean, I keep Old Bay on hand year-round, and never leave the country without it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Old Bay, head to your local grocery and pick up a tin yellow box of the most amazing spice mix ever, sent directly from heaven, to be used mainly on dead crustaceans (but also good on just about anything). And here follows instructions for anyone who has not had the pleasure of personally cracking open their own seafood, namely steamed crabs, and scooping out the disgusting innards to get at those delicious, delicious meats.

You will need: a sturdy butter knife, a wooden mallet (should come with the crabs), newspaper or brown paper to cover your table and avoid mess, a cold drink, lots of napkins or paper towels.

1. Start with the legs. So take your freshly steamed, Old Bay-crusted crab and look at its legs. If they didn’t fall off during cooking or transportation, your crab should have eight little legs (four on each side) and two big pinchy claws on the front. Pull off the little legs one at a time, and try to twist it at the joint. If you do it right, some meat will come out on the end of the leg that was separated from the body. If not, don’t worry, you’ll get it later.

2. The claws. Pull the claws off with a twist the same way you did the legs. Use your little wooden mallet and butter knife to crack open both parts of the claw (the pinchy end and the part on the other side of the joint. See diagram.) Pull the thumb-like part of the claw off, and all the meat should come with it. If not, pick it out of the claw shell with your fingers. 

 3. Open that sucker up. If you flip your legless crab torso over, you will see a little peninsula-shaped tab called the “apron”. Stick your butter knife under the tab and pry it away from the crab body, using it to separate the top of the crab shell from the body. And voila! The top piece of the shell can be discarded or used to hold all the gunk you’re about to scoop from the body. Or you can save it, wash it, and glue some googly eyes to it or paint it and turn it into a kitschy ashtray.

4. Remove inner gunk. So now you have a crab body with a lot of stuff in it. You are probably looking at some yellow goo (unknown), feathery-looking things (lungs), and squiggly stuff (intestines.) Some people eat the yellow goo, also called “mustard” (though be warned, it is not mustard.) Scoop out the mustard and intestines with your fingers, and pull off the feathery-looking things lining both sides of the body. DO NOT eat the lungs or intestines. Personally I wouldn’t recommend the mustard either, though it won’t harm you.

5. Get the meat. Break the body in half, down center where you just removed the gunk. Now you’ve got two symmetrical crab halves*. Take one half and turn it 45 degrees so you’re looking down at the side where you just broke it. Take your butter knife and use it to cut down the middle of this section, splitting it. If you got a good one, you will now have lots of white, lump crabmeat staring back at you. Get in there with your fingers and pick it out, any way you can. *Repeat this with your other crab half. Delish!

Some people may think that eating crabs this way is disgusting and barbaric and would prefer to stick to crab cakes and fishsticks and whathaveyou. Well honestly, eating crabs is a group activity where half the fun is the hunt for the meat and is enjoyed best with friends, family, corn on the cob, and cold beer. Keep the good times rolling by making sure to never put your fingers near your eyes, avoid all strenuous activity and action rides for at least three hours, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.



Entry filed under: Alison, How To. Tags: , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. parkrangerolivia  |  June 25, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    DelMarVa! REPRESENT.

    ALSO: I highly recommend Old Bay on french fries, with plenty malt vinegar and ketchup.

  • 2. Tim Cameron  |  June 26, 2008 at 2:20 am

    Old Bay sounds awesome, but I am hell of confused. So you put the seasoning on before you extract the meat? Or did I read that wrongly?

    Also, fresh crab dipped in butter is the most sublime thing in the whole world. One of my favourite memories is of catching crab with my uncle off a tiny island near Vancouver, and eating it half an hour later. Nothing tastes as good as totally fresh crustacean.

  • 3. alisaurus  |  June 26, 2008 at 11:41 am

    yeah in MD they are usually steamed and covered in the old bay before you crack them open. That way, the shell is all crusted with spices, it gets on your fingers, and is transferred to the meats when you pick it out.

  • 4. How To Pick a Blue Crab | Faster, better...  |  June 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    […] how-to on picking a Maryland blue crab, from a Baltimore more | digg […]


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