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How to Pick and Eat Blue Crabs, with How-to Videos

Updated on March 3, 2012

for your crab boil and other crab recipes

We love seafood at our house, and we especially enjoy Lowcountry recipes. There’s just nothing much better than sitting down to a tableful of steamed blue crabs with a few friends or family members, or enjoying this succulent flesh in other crab recipes. Table etiquette pretty much flies out the window during a “crab pickin’” session, and that's just part of the fun. Getting all the bits of tasty flesh is not a simple task, however. As famous author James Michener said in Chesapeake, “Crab meat so good, the crab don’t want to let go of it!” I think Michener was onto something there. Even so, the rewards are worth the effort.

After your crabs have been cooked, drain away the liquid and dump them onto a table that’s been covered with a couple of layers of newspaper. This is definitely a dining experience for outside, since the process is rather messy.

You’ll need a wooden mallet, a set of nutcrackers, a nut pick, and a butter knife. It won’t take you long to decide which tools work best for you. Also, place seasonings, melted butter, and cocktail sauce on the table. Actually, however, true crab aficionados like their crabs plain, with maybe just a bit of dry seasoning to dip the meat in.

If you’ve prepared your crabs the way I suggested, by cutting them in half before cooking, picking will be fairly simple. Just tear off the legs and the back, if it’s still attached. Dig into the sections of the crab with a butter knife or pick to retrieve the meat.

If you’re dealing with a whole cooked crab, pull off the claws and legs. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and a little piece of meat will come off with a leg. Eat it or start a pile. This brings up another point – will you eat as you go, or will you save all your crab meat to eat at one time? Decisions, decisions. I never seem to get full if I eat as I go, so I like to save all my meat to enjoy after shucking.

Now, flip the crab over onto its back. Insert the knife point under the edge of the apron and pry it off. This will allow you to remove the back, or the top shell. Inside you’ll see inedible stuff like the gills and the mustard – a potentially toxic substance that looks like…well, like mustard. Do not eat this! In some crabs, the mustard is harmless, but in others, it's not - depending on where the crabs were harvested. Scrape all this gunk away with your knife.

Next, break the crab in half to get to all the wonderful white meat. You can use your knife or your nut pick, along with your fingers, to get it all out.

Once you’re done with the body meat, start on the claws. You can use the mallet to crack the claws, or you can use the nutcrackers. Actually, the best way to get to the claw meat is to place a knife edge against claw and strike until the top shell splits, while the meat remains intact. This takes some practice. In the center of the hunk of claw meat is a tough piece of cartilage. Make sure you don’t swallow it in your haste to down some yummy crab.

Once I have accumulated a nice pile of crab meat, I wash my hands and get a fork. I like to drizzle just a little melted butter and lime juice on some of my crab, and the rest, I eat plain. My husband likes to place a bit of crab on a saltine with grated horseradish and a dash of lemon juice. Most of the rest of the family like their crab meat with my homemade cocktail sauce. Experiment until you discover your favorite.

OF course, any crab you don't eat right away can be used later in crab soup, crab chowder, crab bisque, crab au gratin, crab dip, crab casserole, or my favorite - crab cakes. You'll find plenty of great recipes for crab dishes in seafood cookbooks.

When you’re done with the crabs, place all the shells in a thick plastic garbage bag and close it tightly. Trust me – the crab remains won’t smell very appealing the next day.

To remove the crabby smell from your fingers, wash your hands with lemon juice, rinse well, then wash with soap and water.

There really is no ONE correct way to pick crabs. After you've practiced with a few, you'll develop your own picking style. The best way to learn is on-the-job training! Below are a couple of videos to get you started.

We caught these blue crabs.
We caught these blue crabs.

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