How to Cook Crab - 4 Easy Ways

Boiling and Steaming, Grilling and Roasting Crabs

Fresh Live Crab
Photo © Owaki - Kulla/Getty Images

Fresh, sweet crab is the sign of different seasons in different parts of the country. Whether you're cooking up summer blue crabs in Maryland or winter Dungeness crabs in California, the sweetest, most tender crab is just-cooked. You can often buy crabs already cooked and cleaned, but the best-tasting crabs are crabs you've cooked yourself. Chilling crabs after cooking them doesn't ruin the flavor, but it does diminish it a bit. The good news is that cooking crabs is super easy—just give one of these simple recipes a try.

How to Boil Crabs

Boiling is the most common way to cook crabs and a favorite method for all varieties.

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make sure to salt it enough so it tastes as salty as ocean water. Some people swear by adding beer or white wine to the water. Add any seasonings you like—Old Bay has its fans, that's for sure—and then the crabs.
  2. Add the crabs as quickly after one another as possible, so they cook for the same amount of time. Bring the water back to a boil and cook until the crabs start to float. Depending on the size of the crabs, this will happen in 10 to 15 minutes or so.
  3. Use tongs to remove the crabs and set them out until they're cool enough to handle.

How to Steam Crabs

Steaming crabs since helps them hold onto their own tasty juices and keeps them from becoming water-logged as can happen with boiling.

  1. Bring an inch of salted water to a boil in a large pot.
  2. Put the crabs in a steamer basket or insert, or simply pile them into the pot and let the bottom crabs boil slightly and act as a platform for the other crabs to steam.
  3. Cover and cook 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the crabs. Remove the steamer or pull the crabs out of the pot with tongs.Let them sit until cool enough to handle before you clean and serve them. I've been known to give them a rinse under cool water to speed up the process.

Never cleaned crabs before? See How to Clean Crabs.

How to Grill Crabs 

You need to clean crabs before you grill them. It's quicker to boil or steam them first so they're half-cooked and the grill is finishing them off and adding some fire-rich flavor. 

  1. Boil or steam the crabs as outlined above for about 5 minutes, let them cool, then clean them.
  2. Toss the whole cleaned crabs (or halves or quarters depending on the size) with some olive oil and maybe a minced clove of garlic or two, plus some chopped rosemary or thyme leaves if you like.
  3. Set them on a hot grill until cooked through and browned, about 4 minutes per side. (Do you happen to have soft-shell crabs? See how to grill them here.)
how to cook crab illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

How to Roast Crabs

You need to start with a hot oven, so preheat it (at least 450 F) first thing.

  1. As with grilled crabs (above) you need to quickly boil or steam them and clean them first (unless that is, you're the type of person who can clean a live crab).
  2. Toss the cleaned crabs with some oil or melted butter, and aromatics or spices or herbs you like (minced shallot or garlic is yummy, but so is a mix of minced ginger and green onions).
  3. Set the crabs in a mainly single layer in a roasting pan and cook in a hot oven (450 F or even 500 F) until the crabs are browned and sizzling (and cooked through), about 10 minutes.

Once you have some cooked crabs, see How to Eat Crab like a pro and get ideas on How to Serve Cracked Crab.