How to Cook Crab Legs
Plus, a guide to the different types of crab legs.
By Carlos C. Olaechea for Food Network Kitchen
For many people, crab legs are a symbol of luxe dining. Crab legs at a reception, for instance, let you know that you’re in for a special meal and usually signal that there are some other luxurious delicacies in store. However, you don’t have to wait to go out to eat or be invited to a special event to enjoy this succulent treat. Cooking crab legs at home is a lot easier than you may imagine.
Types of Crab Legs
While there are many varieties of edible crabs throughout the world, only a few species are generally harvested for their legs. This makes choosing the best crab legs to cook at home a much simpler task than choosing a type of fish or even a cut of beef. Below are the most widely available types of crab legs you can find in supermarkets and fish mongers.
King crab legs are one of the most popular types on the market and usually a big draw at seafood buffets. Funnily enough, they are actually not crabs at all, but a close relative that adapted the crab’s features for its own survival. Much of their enormous size (some are as wide as five feet!) comes from their extremely long legs, and this is what they're prized for. On the pricier side, their meat is firm and holds together when you remove it from its shell, almost like lobster. Their tough shells also require some tools to crack open. However, many fishmongers may split the shells, making it easier for diners to enjoy without the extra hardware.
Snow crabs get their name from their snow-white meat, which is also sweet and has very fine, delicate fibers. Their legs are smaller than king crab legs, contain less meat and are much more affordable. You can break into their shells without any special tools because they're smooth and thin.
While these crustaceans are known for their huge, meaty claws, those claws usually come with much smaller legs attached, and their flesh is sweet, juicy, and has large fibers almost the size of angel hair pasta. Stone crabs are harvested carefully and sustainably, making their legs and claws scarce and therefore one of the priciest options in this list. As their name implies, their shells are as hard as stone and usually need to be cracked with a heavy-duty hammer in the kitchen. Luckily, most suppliers will crack the shells before the crab claws (or legs) go to market.
How to Buy Crab Legs
Unless you live close to the source, chances are that the crab legs you purchase will be frozen. Many crab legs, especially king crab legs and stone crab claws/legs, are also precooked. Some crab legs are frozen raw. If you’re unsure of whether or not your crab legs are precooked or raw, ask your fishmonger or read the label on the package. Crab legs must be completely cooked in order for them to be safe to eat.
How to Prepare Pre-Cooked Crab Legs
Arguably, the best way to fully enjoy the sweet, juicy meat of these sea creatures is with a simple preparation that doesn’t mask or fight with the crab’s natural flavors. People usually enjoy crab legs cold or hot.
Enjoying Cold Crab Legs
You can enjoy all crab legs cold, although it's the most traditional way to enjoy stone crabs, in particular. All you have to do is defrost them, then eat them. To defrost them in the refrigerator, place your frozen crab legs in a colander set over a bowl and let them sit on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator overnight. By the morning, you can enjoy delicious crab legs with breakfast, if you want. If you just picked up some crab legs and want to eat them right away, simply stick your crab legs in a colander and place it in the sink under cool running water for about 15 minutes or until they legs are defrosted.
Enjoying Hot Crab Legs
If you'd like to enjoy them warm, the easiest way to heat them up is to boil them. If you’re starting with frozen crab legs, simply place them in a large pot, tucking them in and bending them so they all fit inside. Cover with cool water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, the crabs should be heated through. If you’re working with thawed crab legs, bring a pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add your crab legs and blanche for about two to three minutes. It’s okay if the crab legs are piping hot all the way through. After you remove them from the pot, the residual heat will finish the job.
How to Prepare Raw Crab Legs
Whether you’re lucky enough to get fresh-off-the-boat crab legs or you snagged some raw frozen legs, you’re going to need to cook them before digging in. It’s important to thaw your crab legs before you cook them. This ensures even cooking and thorough cooking.
The simplest approach to cooking crab legs is to boil them. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil and add about four to six legs (depending on size). Make sure to tuck in the legs and bend them, if necessary, so that they’re all underwater. Cook for about four to five minutes and enjoy.
If you want to enjoy them cold, have a large bowl of ice water nearby. As soon as you remove the legs from their cauldron, dunk them in the ice water and let them chill for about five minutes or until you’re ready to eat. Of course, there are a myriad of other ways to prepare crab legs, so we rounded up a few of our favorites below.
Spicy Peppered Crab Legs
This recipe includes many East Asian elements, including oyster sauce for added umami.
Old Bay King Crab Legs
King crab legs and Old Bay seasoning are a perfect match in this simple recipe.
Low Country Boil
Try Kardea Brown's approach to a traditional Southern seafood boil.