How to Grill Soft-Shell Crabs

A Fun Twist on a Late-Spring Favorite

Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs

The Spruce / Molly Watson

You may well have your preferred method of boiling, steaming, or frying soft-shell crabs and want to look no further. If, however, you're ready to try something a bit different, you should know that grilling soft-shell crabs is super easy and results in sweet and just very slightly yet wonderfully smoky crabs. The other benefit? Prep work and cleanup are minimal.

Soft-shell season for blue crabs on the East Coast is usually in late spring and early summer.

How to Grill Them

  1. Start with a medium hot grill (you should be able to hold your hand about an inch over the cooking grate for 3 to 4 seconds before pulling it away from the heat) and fresh crabs.
  2. You'll want to keep melted butter, or oil, and a brush handy, too.
  3. While the grill heats, rinse the crabs in running cool water. If you asked your fishmonger to clean them for you, you're all set. If not, you need to clean them (don't worry, this is a fair piece easier than cleaning crabs with tougher shells): use a pair of sharp kitchen scissors to cut off their faces, just behind the eyes.
  4. Then lift up the edge of the top shell on one side of the cut to reveal the beige gills and pull them out.
  5. Repeat on the other side with the other set of gills.
  6. Flip the crab over and pull off the "apron" on the bottom, it will be a long, skinny triangle on males and a wider one on females.
  7. Pat your crabs dry and they're ready to grill.
  8. Liberally brush the crabs all over with melted butter or your oil and set them on the hot grill.
  9. Cover the grill and cook until the crabs are lightly browned on the cooking grate side, 4 to 5 minutes.
  10. Flip the crabs over, brushing with more butter if you like, and cook until they are browned on the second side and cooked through about 10 minutes total.
  11. Use tongs to remove the crabs from the grill.

How to Serve Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs

Serve grilled soft-shell crabs hot, warm, or at room temperature. That they don't need to be eaten straight off the grill makes entertaining with soft-shell crab a casual affair. 

You can serve them with more melted butter or, for a delicious change, a garlicky aioli or red pepper rouille.

Grilled soft-shell crabs also work wonderfully in sandwiches (in place of the more traditional fried soft-shell crab). Tuck the crab into a sourdough bun drizzled with more melted butter. It's also tasty with plenty of one of the spreads mentioned above or, another option that adds a real burst of summer flavor is a slather of fresh pesto. No need to gild the lily beyond that, you want to taste the crab most of all.