5@5 - Blue crabs 101
August 22nd, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Need to snap out of the end-of-summer blues? Joshua Morgan suggests the Marylander way, with a blue crab feast.

Morgan, a Maryland native, is the founder of Hammer & Claws, a three-day, all-you-can-eat crab festival that involves approximately 40,000 Maryland blue crabs and 1,750 pounds of Old Bay seasoning.

Blue Crab 101: Joshua Morgan

1. A traditional crab feast starts with picking the best and biggest crabs from the Chesapeake Bay.
Try to find a reputable vendor who can provide quality Maryland crabs. Male crabs are ideal for crab feasts. They are also called Jimmies. You're looking for "Number One Jimmies" - "Number One" means the biggest of the catch.

2. Crabs are most popular during the middle of the summer - June/July - but that's also when crabs are most expensive
If you have the patience, wait until the end of summer, when demand for crabs falls. Not only do the prices drop, but the crabs are much bigger and heavier. Eating crabs at the end of the season means they have molted multiple times and are nice and fat.

3. Making crabs is much easier than you think...
...As long as you follows some simple, but essential instructions. When you bring your live crabs home, make sure to keep your crabs alive (the ideal temperature for crabs is 50 degrees Fahrenheit). They must be alive when you cook them, so be sure to discard all dead crabs.

4. Crabs should always be steamed, never boiled.
And as I said earlier, it's a super simple process. First, get a large pot and fill it with water. You can add a little malt vinegar and beer for some additional flavor. Add a steam rack so the crabs do not touch the water. Place the live crabs in the pot, and coat them with a considerable amount of Old Bay spice. Layer them on top of each other, making sure that all crabs are covered in Old Bay.

Steam the crabs for approximately 20 minutes or until the blue crabs are bright red. The crabs have a pigment in their shells that turn bright red when cooked. Be sure to check the joints of the legs and claws to make sure there is no blue left.

5. To eat your steamed crabs, you will need the following:
A table covered in newspaper, crab mallets, a sharp knife (only for the experts who want to get all the meat possible) and plenty of Old Bay. Some people like to dip crab meat in butter while others like malt vinegar. And of course you need lots of beer.

To learn how to pick the perfect crab and how to crack the perfect claw, please follow along in the videos below:

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


    May 13, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  2. omdmp

    GAAHHHH!!!! If only I had more PTO from work. For 160 lbs, I can put a dent in some all you can eat crab.

    August 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  3. AMi

    The cost of blue crabs in the summer is NUTS! Especially when you can catch them for basically free. The price drops ALOT July 5th. Wait until October for the best. Remember to throw back the females and dont support businesses selling females.

    August 26, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  4. carol

    You all are making me homesick!!! Can't get a decent blue crab here in Ok if you life depended upon it. Having grown up on the Bay, when I could walk to the boat yard and pick up a shedder Jimmie for fish bait (for 25 cents or less), I remember the day my parents (not exactly well versed in crab) tried to steam a mess, over-filled the big pot, and had ticked off crabs erupting from the pot and crawling all over the kitchen floor, just LOOKING for a vulnerable toe or two. Thought I'd laugh myself to death, which my parents didn't appreciate. Ah, the memories....

    August 26, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  5. The_Mick

    Most of us Marylanders do not throw away the yellow "mustard," a delicious fatty substance shown when the crab was cleaned. And most don't bother using a mallet at all – the butterknife is THE tool. The normal coating is usually a mixture of Old Bay AND SALT. Some who steam them at home don't put much seasoning on the crabs when they're steamed – some people don't like it – but provide a shaker or a bowl and spoon at the table to add extra seasoning. Those who say they like them boiled and seasoned Louisiana style – more power to you! But the texture of steamed crabmeat and the less-covered-over-by-artificial-flavors and less-diluted taste of Maryland Steamed Crabs and Crab Cakes has a lot going for it!

    August 25, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Beth

      Speak for yourself – I'm from Annapolis and I could pick crabs all day (and have) but I will NEVER eat the mustard!

      August 29, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  6. JoeD

    My Crustacean Top 6
    Lobster- New England
    Blues & crab cakes- Baltimore
    Stone Crabs- Florida
    Crawfish- Louisiana
    Dungeness crabs- West Coast [SF & North]
    Alaskan King Crab- Alaska

    August 25, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Frank

      I grew up on Long Island (in the 50s and 60s) and we always called them "blue claw crabs" as opposed to "blue crabs." Anyone else call them blue claw crabs?

      August 25, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  7. Stephanie

    I have had Old Bay steamed blue crabs in Florida and Zatarain's Crab Boil boiled blue crabs in Louisiana - and Crab Boil boiled crabs is so much better. Old Bay tastes like cr*p compared to the seasoning mix in Crab Boil. I am seriously being objective here, the Louisiana-style is much much much much much better. Try it, you'll like it!

    August 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm |

    Sorry but O-BAY is nasty!!! give me CRAB BOIL (actually name) anyday for my crawfish, crabs, shrimp, potatoes!!!! oysters raw on the half shell YUMMM!!!!!! and some of us down in metairie la (5 miles from new orleans) use a mixture of mayo and ketchup for dipping our boiled seafood. Melted butter is for lobsters in my book..

    August 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  9. DDSilks

    I enjoyed my trip to San Francisco when we went for a walk on Fishermans Eharf. They were selling large crabs in a cardboard dish, and what a treat!

    August 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  10. Joe Blow

    Old Bay is for weenies who have no idea what good food tastes like. In southern Louisiana the shake on spice of choice is Tony Chachere Original Creole Seasoning. Tony's let's you know you're alive, via your tatse buds. And the shrimp, the crawfish, and the blue crabs are all boiled with Zatarain's Liquid Crab Boil Concentrate, never steamed. As for the crab cakes, the whole state of Maryland is not worth a single Louisiana crab cake. As for the real Marylanders not using a knife to pick blue crabs, that is just false. Every Maryland old-timer carries his Carvel Hall crab picking knife with him no matter where he goes.

    August 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Whizerd67

      LOL..You haven't a clue!
      I bet a years salary that I can make one MARYLAND Blue Crab crabcake, and it will blow ANY of your LA crabcakes away.
      In fact, I'd bet you would agree to sell your whole pathetic state to me for a dozen of them.
      Stick with your shrimp and crawdads(which I WILL say are probably the best Ive ever eaten...credit where credit is due), because you have absolutely NO idea how to cook crabs or make crabcakes from blue crab.

      ~Blessed Be to all~

      August 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Jeff

      Louisiana Crab Cakes lol. Is this a joke?

      August 24, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Benny

      And of course all of it is first marinated in 10w40 fresh from BP

      August 26, 2012 at 4:41 am |
    • fatal42

      90% of the crabs eaten in Maryland come from Louisiana !!!!

      August 26, 2012 at 11:30 am |
      • squid

        Actually, 90% of "maryland" crabs come from North Carolina

        August 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
        • Troll Patrol

          87.42% of all statistics are made up on the spot. Back it up or back off.

          August 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Cyndy

    Crab catch is actually down this year contrary to what DNR has published. Know quite a few commercial crabbers that have stopped going out. Expect prices won't be dropping anytime soon!

    August 24, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  12. Cyndy

    You don't need a knife to eat crabs. Real Marylanders don't!

    August 24, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  13. codifex

    Mmmm... the smell of seafood and the sea. The sound of crabs cracking on beer bottle clinking. The sharp taste of Old Bay Seasoning with some melted butter. The Magothy and the Severn Rivers. God I miss it.

    August 24, 2012 at 6:34 am |
    • Mary

      Me too....

      August 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  14. ComeOnMan9

    Can I please have some sympathy please. I live in Florida and they don't steam and eat crab like we do from the Mid Atlantic states. The crab is cheap and unsized but often sold dead and not very good. Now they do garlic crab down here and that is righteous but it still aint good old blues with Old Bay. If I saw somebody boiling crab, I think I would beat them. A sin. Steam only.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Cyndy

      Get some Old Bay and do it yourself! Had to so that when I was stationed in GA (where they also boil the crabs)

      August 24, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • Hogan's Goat

      The only time I was involved with cooking blue crabs, they had a big plastic trash can full of live crabs, a tub of boiling water, and a broom handle. You stuck the broom handle into the trash can and six crabs would snap on to it, then you dip them in the water until they turn loose. Simple, and nobody lost any fingers. I agree steaming is probably better, but not as finger-friendly.

      August 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  15. NODAT1

    couple dozen steamed crabs in the pan with corn potatoes and sausage , picnic table covered with paper, cooler filled with beer, music playing add some friends and enjoy the weekend good times on a perfect Sunday afternoon in Maryland and dont forget the old bay with Cayenne pepper added for a little extra kick

    August 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  16. Paul in San Francisco

    I lived in Baltimore for several years – their crab is pretty good but doesn't hold a candle to a nice fresh roasted dungeness – has to be roasted, soooooo much better than steamed. Old Bay is for shrimp...

    August 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • codifex

      Dungeness crab does have some meat on it but... Blue Crab has the flavor. Also, Old Bay goes on ANY seafood especially crabs. Don't forget to include Live Chincoteage Oysters.

      August 24, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • mike k.

      Dude Old Bay goes on everything, including but not limited to: chicken, pasta, vanilla ice cream, Bloody Marys and, if you're feeling amorous, the little lady.

      August 24, 2012 at 8:30 am |
      • the little lady

        Mike, if you ever put that hot stuff on my you know what while we were doing god knows what, I'd take an oyster knife to you. After I stopped screaming in the bathtub, that is.

        August 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
        • Capt. White

          Another definition of a Hot Momma...

          August 25, 2012 at 4:35 am |
  17. cpc65

    These guys are viscous and highly aggressive! They don't try and run away and hide like other crabs. They will come right after you. Those claws are mighty painful too.

    August 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Hogan's Goat

      VICIOUS – viscous means slimy

      August 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
      • Go Ducks

        Actually calling something viscous means that the liquid resists flow and is thicker than water to nearly solid in nature such as glass.

        August 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  18. Tully

    I moved from Maryland to Hawaii 6 years ago, haven't been back since. I love it out here, but man do I miss summer crab feasts!! And—just to make me jealous—my pop called a couple of weeks ago to say he had just bought 2 doz jumbos from Crabs-to-Go on Rt 50!! Argh!!

    August 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • cpc65

      You enjoy paying $8.00 for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread?

      August 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
      • menehune1

        you don't milk unless you're a baby cow, and i bought a loaf of white bread yesterday at Times in honolulu for $2.49 + 4.6% sales tax

        but yes it is more expensive here

        August 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  19. Treshombres

    My kids catch them off my dock here in St. Mary's County MD. They may not be the easiest crabs to pick but they are the tastiest. I brown my butter to bring out the sweet taste of the backfin meat.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Cyndy

      Gonna have to try browning the butter for our next feast. Thanx.

      August 24, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  20. Thomas macko

    And i put old bay on any thing just cant by it here on this rock would any one like to send a dozen to me ill send back much aloha in return.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • menehune1

      i saw Old Bay somewhere here recently.... I think it was Safeway yes it was

      August 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Giraffe

      Safeway and Whole Foods both carry it.

      August 24, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  21. Thomas macko

    As a born and raised on jersey shore and living on maui i miss the blue crab i was a lic. Crabber in va. Good stuff here if you dont mind paying the shipping cost.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  22. Mildred

    Oh... I had my first bucket of crabs this past May just outside of Baltimore... it was *wonderful*

    August 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  23. sbp

    Couldn't be easier, except for the instructions. Step one: do NOT fill a large pot with water if you intend to steam. Put in a little water.

    August 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  24. Canteloupe

    You've all got crabs.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  25. LA

    Come on down Sir, we're open for business

    August 23, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Sir Biddle@LA

      I'll actually be in New O in mid-September. Any recomendations?

      August 23, 2012 at 11:41 am |
      • LA

        Deanies Seafood. Very good and locally owned. Drago's Seafood. Acme Oyster House. GW Fins.

        August 23, 2012 at 11:49 am |
        • Sir Biddle

          LOVE Draggos oysters!

          August 23, 2012 at 11:57 am |
        • Sir Biddle

          Ever been to Pascal's Manale Restaurant? Awesome raw bar and great pepper shrimp.

          August 23, 2012 at 11:59 am |
        • billyo

          goin' to NOLA end of sept. where is deanies?

          August 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Canteloupe

      You obviously have crabs as well.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  26. LA

    "Crabs should always be steamed, never boiled." Apparently, this guy has never been to Louisiana. Fyi..you should just pour the seasoning on your hands instead of the crabs. What a waste of good seafood.

    August 23, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Sir Biddle

      I'll take a double order of the boiled Deepwater Horizon crabs please!

      August 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
      • King Mackerel

        I dub thee Sir Biddle, of the Order of the Boiled Deepwater Horizon Crabs. Rise, good Sir Knight.

        August 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
      • Darrell

        Well Sir the the reason for a lot of rich Louisiana crabbers has been Maryland crabs eaters. For the last two decades my family has been shipping Louisiana crabs to the Chesapeake bay area. Chesapeake bay is as polluted as the gulf ever will be with far less crabs.

        August 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • LA2

      I guess this guy steams Crawfish too like Lobster!!!! COME ON MAN!!!!!

      August 23, 2012 at 11:34 am |
      • SK8Z

        Dude, who steams lobster? You don't know squat about seafood.

        August 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • K

      Marylanders do not like boiled crabs. Pouring water out of crabs is not appetizing. Plus the meat takes on a different texture. I've tried boiled crabs in New Orleans and let's just say that was my first and last time. But if you guys like it like that then so be it. Give me mine steamed and coated in Old Bay.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
      • LA

        You should have drove further south.

        August 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
        • Southern Belle University

          Or you could have driven ... or maybe you should have derived.

          August 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  27. SeriousDelicacy-WithBEERs

    P.S. Good Sides -
    > ears of Corn (broken in half buttered)
    > chunks of a good dark bread (No butter etc) whole wheat, pumpernickel, the like, (not Rye)
    > french fries (in moderation), same for potato or pasta salads
    > leave Max room for the Meat! and the Beer!
    OH – Plan a Long Afternoon with Friends-Family to MAX the EnJoYment !!

    August 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Cyndy

      Steam the corn on the cob right along with the crabs and the crab seasoning!

      August 24, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  28. SeriousDelicacy-WithBEERs

    Good tips & Demo! this too should help–
    > the grey gills are slightly toxic – getem all off
    > after separation from the key end – leave red top shell upside-down to stash all the junk!
    > plentiful supply of paper towels (for beginners) less for experienced (and cold Beers!!!)
    > always a Wet paper-towel for fingers after cavity clean-out (some of DO Like the Mustard)!
    > TherZ Meat in dem Legs too! (gently break joints opposite the way the joint moves, pull)
    > Never Miss an "All You Can Eat Special" NEVER!
    > And OH!! – Same Delicious Blues from Maine to Florida – Esp Mid-Atlantic!!
    EnJoY !!

    August 23, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Methinks anything pulled out of the water off the coast of the upper Eastern seaboard is slightly toxic.

      Eat Alaskan crab!

      August 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
      • Sir Biddle@Jdizz

        I'll put some hurtin on some Alaskin King crabs whenever I can afford it!

        August 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • SUJ

      Don't pull the backfins off until after the crab is cracked in two. Using them as a handle twist and pull – the whole chunk of backfin will be right there.

      August 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  29. Meh

    Old Bay = flavored salt
    good stuff

    August 23, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Kingcrabmeat

      Anyone who live around the Chesapeake Uses Wye River seasoning. It IS the original and Old Bay is just a copy.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  30. Poman Rolanski

    Too much work and too little reward – gimme a pizza

    August 23, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      With a side of Diabetes!

      August 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Hasher Iva

      @.@ Go back to your pizza and leave us crab affectionados alone.

      August 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • mike k.

      more for me

      August 24, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • s kel

      Ok u must be a west coster (la type) go eat your carboard pizza fake food youngster and leave maryland crab eating to people who like real food. Mummm steamed crabs , with a sauce of viniger mustsard sugar and jo, old bay, or wye river seasoning.

      May 13, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  31. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Some owns share in the Old Bay seasoning company. It's mentioned 4 times in this short article.

    August 23, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Nice typing, Jdizz.

      Should read "Someone owns shares of the Old Bay......"

      August 23, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • K

      I think that's just because the author is from Maryland. We worship that stuff here. When I lived on the west coast I wanted to try crab in San Fran, but changed my mind when I found out there was no Old Bay. Crabs are crabs without it.

      August 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
      • codifex

        Spent a couple weeks in the Seattle area and loh and behold – they did have Old Bay but didn't associate it's name with it's finer points. Let's suffice it to say some do now.

        August 24, 2012 at 6:50 am |
      • Go Ducks

        Ive lived on the west coast most of my life, and I've never heard of this Old Bay stuff until i looked at this blog. I've always just had dungeness, alaskan king, and red rock crab a few times all boiled and dipped in clarified butter. I'll have to try to get some of this magical Old Bay, and try crab steamed.

        August 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  32. Sir Biddle

    I'd hit It! And then pick it! Then eat it!

    Gotta love Maryland crabs. Will fully admit that this midwesterner who moved to the East coast has taken to this local treat 100%. Best to wait until after Labor day when they are fat and the prices are low. This has been a good year for Chesapeake crabs – no of those imported southern ones needed around here.

    August 23, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Meg Ryan®

      You've got crabs.

      August 23, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • NOLA

      Keep in mind that a good percentage of the Maryland are shipped in from Louisiana.

      August 23, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
      • Kingcrabmeat

        Mainly when they are off season in the bay. Another thing happening is the good crabs from the Chesapeake and Carolinas are trucked up to New York City for top dollar and to make up for this, Crabs from the Gulf of Mexico are imported to the North Atlantic states.

        August 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
      • Whizerd67

        You are out of your freakin mind. The only ones that would even attempt to buy crab from LA are the fake commercial outlets. Noone from Maryland would touch a crab from LA, and don't have to. We have MORE, and BETTER crab.
        Go take a couple of more sniffs from that sinkhole.

        ~Blessed Be to all~

        August 24, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • SUJ

      Amen to the fat crabs. I miss the good 'ol days when #1 Jimmies went for $35 in the D.C. area.

      August 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
      • SUJ

        A Bushel

        August 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
        • Whizerd67

          Havent been back to Dundalk for awhile..I'd imagine the price is about $100 a bushel or more by now*sigh*
          The UPSIDE to that is...
          Go in any Bay tributary, or the bay itself, with some string and chicken necks, and get as many as you want!
          THATS what I'm talking about.
          Ok..I have to go and plan a six-hour trip back now....y'all got me hungry...damn you*L*

          ~Blessed Be to all~

          August 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
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