Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs

Soft-shell crabs cooking on a charcoal grill

The Spruce / Molly Watson

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 3 crabs
Yields: 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
271 Calories
31g Fat
0g Carbs
0g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3
Amount per serving
Calories 271
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 39%
Saturated Fat 19g 97%
Cholesterol 81mg 27%
Sodium 243mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 9mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Although boiling, steaming, or frying might be your go-to cooking method when making soft-shell crabs, grilling them is also a simple and quick method to enjoy sweet and very slightly smoky crabs. Our succulent meal requires very little preparation work—depending on whether your crabs are cleaned—and the cleanup is minimal.

Soft-shell crabs are crabs that have just molted their old shell and are still soft to the touch because the new one hasn't hardened enough. Different from their hard-shell counterparts, these animals can almost be eaten in their entirety without the need to pick the meat from the shell. Our easy preparation highlights their natural flavor with a touch of buttery sweetness.

While frozen soft-shell crabs are available year-round, the most delicious ones are harvested from late spring through early summer on the East Coast. Because they are small, they don't provide a lot of meat so an appetizer portion would be two to three crabs per person. If serving them as the main course, then three to four per person would be a reasonable serving size. This recipe is based on an appetizer serving six people.

Ingredients

  • 18 soft-shell blue crabs (cleaned)

  • 8 tablespoons butter (melted, or neutral cooking oil)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Rinse the crabs in running cool water and reserve. Heat a grill to medium-hot—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.

  3. Pat the crabs dry with paper towels. Liberally brush the crabs all over with melted butter or oil and set them on the hot grill.

  4. Cover the grill and cook until the crabs are lightly browned on the cooking grate side, about 4 to 5 minutes.

  5. Flip the crabs over, brush with more butter, and cook until they are browned on the second side and cooked through, or about 10 minutes in total. Use tongs to remove the crabs from the grill.

  6. Enjoy!

How to Clean Soft-Shell Crabs

When buying the crabs, ask your fishmonger to clean them for you. But if you're home and realize the crabs are complete, simply follow these easy steps:

  • Cut off their faces with pair of sharp kitchen scissors, just behind the eyes.
  • Then lift up the edge of the top shell on one side of the cut to reveal the beige gills and pull them out.
  • Repeat on the other side with the other set of gills.
  • 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.
  • Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

How to Serve Soft-Shell Crabs

Serve grilled soft-shell crabs hot, warm, or at room temperature. Because they're equally delicious at any temperature, this dish makes a great casual affair recipe. Here are a few options on how to serve these tasty bites:

  • Arrange the crabs on a big plate and place a bowl of melted butter in the center. Alternatively, use a garlicky aioli or rouille sauce to dip the crabs in.
  • Use grilled soft-shell crabs in sandwiches. Tuck the crab into a sourdough bun drizzled with more melted butter, or add a tablespoon of fresh pesto or remoulade.
  • Use soft-shell crabs in wraps, spreading some lemon butter before adding the crabs and a few fresh and pickled vegetables.
  • Arrange 2 grilled soft-shell crabs in a small corn tortilla, drizzle with fresh lime juice, and garnish with fresh cilantro and red onions.
  • Serve 2 to 3 soft-shell crabs per person alongside a simple pasta dish like cacio e pepe, or an even easier aglio e olio.