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The Best Ways to Prepare and Enjoy Different Types of Crab

The Best Ways to Prepare and Enjoy Different Types of Crab

May 1st 2020

The Best Ways to Prepare and Enjoy Different Types of CrabUnderstanding the differences between popular crab varieties such as king, Dungeness, blue, snow, and soft-shell crabs can help you discover the best ways to cook and enjoy them.

They say variety is the spice of life, and even among the thousands of different food types available to humans, there is plenty of variety within a single category. Crabs are a great example of this, with more than 5,000 known varieties of sea crabs. While you might not sample them all in a lifetime, there are certainly plenty of popular options to choose from when you hunger for a briny feast.

The trick to getting the most out of your dining experience, however, is being able to identify the different types of crab and cook them accordingly. Which crabs will you make tonight and how will you prepare them for optimal enjoyment?

King Crab

This crab, found in the cold waters of Alaska, is prized for its size and abundant meat, and the red king crab is the most harvested of the 121 recognized species of king crab. With an average size of six pounds and the propensity to grow significantly larger, it's no wonder crab lovers appreciate this aptly-named king of crabs.

Cooking king crab can be tricky for two reasons. First, the flesh is delicate, which is why it is often pre-cooked and then frozen. Unfortunately, overcooking can make it tough, so you really need to know if you're getting fresh or frozen, as the pre-cooked variety merely needs reheating. When purchased fresh, these crabs can be boiled, steamed, or grilled and enjoyed with a bit of melted butter to bring out the natural flavor.

Dungeness Crab

This Pacific Northwest crab is another meaty variety that tends to be smaller than king crabs, at about eight inches wide on average, but larger than blue crabs. Boiling or steaming are ideal if you buy them live, and it doesn't take long, just about 5-10 minutes until they're cooked through. The east coast equivalent is the meaty Jonah crab, which is often sold as parts (legs or claws, for example).

Blue Crab

Although this northern Atlantic crab makes for a popular summer dish, these crabs, known for their bright blue claws, can be found year-round. The meat is noted for its sweetness, and blue crab is often cited as the most popular type among connoisseurs, despite that they produce little meat and it can be difficult to get at.

Steaming is the preferred cooking method, because the shell turns bright red when fully cooked. In Maryland, locals prefer to season blue crab with the 18 herbs and spices found in McCormick's Old Bay seasoning before going at them with mallets.

Snow Crab

If you watch Discovery's Deadliest Catch, you probably know this type of northern crab as opilio. The legs and claws are the star of this small, sweet crab, and because the parts are frequently pre-cooked and frozen to preserve the delicate meat, reheating is the primary cooking method, after which you can dip away.

Soft-Shell Crab

If you've had blue crab, you already know what you're getting here, as soft-shell varieties are simply blue crabs that have molted and have not yet grown new shells. As a result, they can be cleaned, trimmed, cooked, and eaten whole—no messy mallets necessary. The soft bodies of this delicacy lend themselves well to grilling or sautéing, and they work great for sandwiches.