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Types of Crab Meat
We love the meat from blue crabs! When we visit the coasts of Georgia and Florida, we often catch our own. We boil or steam the crabs and enjoy a seafood feast. If there are any leftovers, we pick the meat to use in crab recipes, including crab cakes, crab dip, crab spread, crab salad, and casseroles. If we don’t have any crabmeat on hand when I get a craving for the stuff, I have to resort to purchasing it from a supermarket or fish market. As you probably already know, crab meat is expensive. In fact, some of it is very expensive, like $50 a pound. That’s often the case with jumbo lump crabmeat. Do you need to buy the most expensive type of crabmeat for the best flavor in your crabmeat recipes? Not necessarily. If you’ll read the guide below, you’ll see what I mean.
Meat can come from several parts of blue crabs. It can be retrieved from the claws, the legs, the fins, and the body cavity. The size, texture, color, and flavor depend on which body part the flesh came from. The size can range from tiny flakes to large, meaty chunks. The texture can be somewhat different, too, as can the color. The meat from the body is usually white, while the meat from the claws is often light brownish, sometimes with a pinkish hue.
Which tastes the best? The flavor of the different types of crabmeat is subjective. Some people prefer the more delicate flavor of body meat, while others prefer the taste of the meat from the claws. Claw meat usually has a more pronounced, “crabbier” flavor.
Canned Crabmeat vs. Fresh Crabmeat
Unless you buy live crabs and steam and pick the meat yourself, the best choice for buying crabmeat is the refrigerated type. It usually comes in a can and is pasteurized. Canned pasteurized crabmeat is usually wild caught and might come from the U.S., Venezuela, Mexico, or China, Indonesia, and other Asian waters. The crabs are cooked, picked, and canned. Then the cans are heated and quickly chilled. The resulting product has a refrigeration life of months, if left unopened.
You can also buy picked crabmeat that hasn’t been pasteurized. It usually comes in plastic containers and has to be refrigerated. Some cooks think it has a superior flavor to pasteurized crab meat, but it doesn’t keep as long. It’s usually best to use this type of crabmeat within about ten days.
No matter which type of crab you choose – pasteurized or fresh packed – it’s fully cooked and ready to eat. Of course, you can also use it in lots of yummy crab recipes!
You can buy refrigerated or frozen crab claws. They’re available with part of the shell removed, with the pincers left intact. Most of the meat is exposed. These are great to use heated and served with drawn butter, or served chilled with cocktail sauce. They can also be battered and fried in hot oil.
Crab claw meat can be purchased in refrigerated cans. In this case, there’s no shell. The meat is ready to eat as is or to use in recipes. The meat is firm, so it doesn’t fall apart easily when combined with other ingredients. Also, because of its strong flavor, it doesn’t get lost among spices and herbs you might want to use in your crab recipes. Another advantage of buying claw meat is that it’s usually the cheapest of all types of crabmeat.
I use crab claw meat in dips, spreads, and fritters. Sometimes I also use it in casseroles and quiches.
Special crab meat is extracted from the crab’s body, without the meat from the claws or the rear swimming fin muscle. It’s white in color and has a sweet, mild flavor. To be honest, I rarely use this type of crab meat, but many cooks and chefs prefer it for their crab cakes, crab fritters, and crab tacos.
Backfin Crab Meat
Backfin meat is usually a combination of small chunks and shreds of crab. It’s creamy white in color and has a delicate flavor. It’s often used for crab cakes because it provides larger pieces that stand out, along with smaller pieces that blend well with the other crab cake ingredients. It can also be used successfully in dips, spreads, casseroles, chowders, and soups. I like to use backfin crab meat in my crab stew, which is a mixture of cream, diced potatoes, onion, green and red bell peppers, garlic, celery, butter, flour, and saffron, along with some “secret” spices. I also use this type of crab inmy crab rangoon, too.
Lump Crab Meat
Lump crab meat is the term usually used to describe a mixture of entire lumps of meat from smaller crabs, along with broken lumps. The meat is sweet, mild, and white, but it’s not as expensive as jumbo lump crab meat. Some brands might also include some pieces of body meat in the mix, especially if the product is labeled as “super lump crabmeat.”
Jumbo Lump Crabmeat
Jumbo lump crabmeat is the most expensive type of crab meat, in most cases. This meat comes from the muscle that operates the swimming fin, located at the crab’s rear end. Each crab produces only two chunks of jumbo lump crabmeat. When the meat comes from extra large crabs, it’s often referred to as colossal or mega jumbo lump crab meat.
Jumbo lump crab meat is snowy white in color and has a very mild flavor. In crab recipes, the size of the lumps is often more important than the flavor. The flavor isn’t really that much different than you’ll get by using lump, special, or backfin meat, but you’ll get big chunks of crabmeat that stand apart from your other ingredients. I always use jumbo lump crabmeat in crab crepes.