How to Prepare Dungeness Crab

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Learn how to cook and prepare live, freshly caught Dungeness crab for delicious seafood recipes.

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Today’s post is all about how to prepare Dungeness crab. Almost a month ago now I was in the cooler coastal climate of Reedsport, Oregon. Every summer my family goes up to visit my grandparents and we get to go crabbing.

Even though I’ve been crabbing for years, the whole process of preparing the freshly caught crab was a mystery to me. Tasks are usually divided and I never ended up learning each step.

I thought this year it was high time I tried everything.

Dungeness Crab

Starting a day of crabbing | Winchester Bay, Oregon

Dungeness crab season starts in December and lasts until August but we’ve gone crabbing in September as well with good results. But there are always good years and bad for both commercial and casual crabbers.

The last couple of years it’s been hard work getting a decent amount of crab. Spending five hours pulling pots and only getting 5 crabs is a LOT of work.

Starting a day of crabbing | Winchester Bay, Oregon

But this summer each pull yielded 1 to 5 crabs per pot. That makes the day a lot easier because pulling the pots is just the beginning.

Crabbing Pots

You need a shellfish license to crab, which puts a limit of 12 crabs per person. Female crabs have a wide and round abdomen flap and have to be thrown back.

Male crabs have a narrow abdomen flap and need to meet the minimum size requirement (5 and ¾ inches). You can read more about crabbing from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife if you’re interested.

If you were able to catch my Instagram story of my day crabbing, it was an 8-hour day. We’re all usually tired by the time we get to pick the crab.

What to Look For

It’s exciting when you catch a huge crab. But size isn’t an indicator of the quality and quantity of meat.

Deep purple, very heavy, and barnacles: these guys are pumped up and every inch of them is full of meat. In fact, it can be a little hard to get big perfect chunks out because of how packed the shells are.

Light in color and in weight: the new guys on the block. They’ve recently shed their shells and are living in a roomy new crib they’ve yet to fill out completely. They still taste good, but you won’t get as much meat out of them.

How to Prepare Dungeness Crab

Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com

I always think of The Little Mermaid when preparing crab. They go into a pot of heavily salted and boiling water live. How much salt you add to the water is up to your personal taste and discretion, but I like it to mimic ocean water.

Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com

Cover the pot and boil for 20 minutes. The color of the crab will change from deep purple to a bright orange-red. Fish them out and run some cold water over them to cool them off faster.

Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com

Let them cool off for a little before gutting them because they stay hot. It’s much easier to watch a person cleaning a crab then try to explain it, and that’s where this video will come in handy.

Place one hand on the crab’s back and the other on the abdomen. With your thumb, pull back the abdomen flap. Then grip the two separate sides of the crab and pull up and push down at the same time.

Dump the green crab guts, or “crab butter” in the trash. Pull off the mandibles and the gills and throw them out too. The gills are long, slender, and tough feeling. To me, they look a little like the garlic cloves toward the inner portion of a head of garlic, only much bigger.

Split the crab in half and then rinse it thoroughly under running water.

Picking the Crab

Take a seafood cracker and picks to crack the shells and pick the meat out. I’ve never practiced any particular way of doing this. Just try to get big chunks out instead of shredding the meat.

If you don’t have seafood utensils, it’s possible to use the crab itself to get the meat. I’ve used the claws to crack the shells and the sharp tips of the legs to pick the meat out.

Eating

In Oregon, the two ways we always eat crab is in a Crab Louie Salad or in omelets for breakfast. This year I got to make crab cakes though because I have a hard time digesting salads. I used this crab cake recipe from Serious Eats and it was wonderful because it’s all about the crab.

Team Dungeness or Team Maryland Blue?

According to cooks and chefs on both sides of the continental US, blue crab is the undisputed winner for making crab cakes. It’s richer and sweeter than Dungeness, which is more delicate and takes on other flavors better.

I can’t compare because I’ve never had blue crab before, but Dungeness have a clean saline taste. When we were younger, we would sometimes cook the crab out at the beach with ocean water. It’s still cemented in my mind as the best possible way to enjoy crab.

Over here in the Bay Area, Dungeness crab is extremely popular and is considered a traditional part of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

What’s your favorite crab dish? I actually haven’t tried many things outside of what I always eat so I would love to hear about your favorites.

5 from 1 vote

How to Prepare Dungeness Crab

Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab for delicious seafood recipes.

Ingredients

  • water
  • Morton Kosher Salt, rock salt, or sea salt
  • live crab

Instructions

  • Add water to a large stock pot (or your biggest pot available). Fill the pot about 2/3rds of the way full.
  • Salt the water to your personal taste.
  • Heat the water on high until boiling.
  • Carefully drop the live crab into the water. How many you add will depend on the size of your pot. You don’t want them to be over crowded and there should be enough space for them to breathe and not be pressed together. Cover and reduce heat to medium and let cook for 20 minutes.
  • Use tongs or a hook to carefully remove the crab. They will be extremely hot. Rinse with cold water and let the crab sit for 5 to 10 minutes, allowing them to cool a little before cleaning.
  • Place one hand on the crab’s back and the other on the abdomen. With your thumb, pull back the abdomen flap. Then grip the two separate sides of the crab and pull up and push down at the same time. 
  • Dump the back of the crab and the green crab guts, or “crab butter” in the trash. Pull off the mandibles and the gills and throw them out too. The gills are long, slender, and tough feeling. To me, they look a little like the garlic cloves toward the inner portion of a head of garlic, only much bigger.
  • Split the crab in half and then rinse it thoroughly under running water.
  • Take a seafood cracker and picks to crack the shells and pick the meat out. I’ve never practiced any particular way of doing this. Just try to get big chunks out instead of shredding the meat. If you don’t have seafood utensils, it’s possible to use the crab itself to get the meat. I’ve used the claws to crack the shells and the sharp tips of the legs to pick the meat out.
Author: Megan Wells
Course: Main Dishes
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | www.megiswell.com

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Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | How to Clean | How to Boil | How to Cook Whole | How to Eat | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | #dungenesscrab | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | How to Clean | How to Boil | How to Cook Whole | How to Eat | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | #dungenesscrab | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | How to Clean | How to Boil | How to Cook Whole | How to Eat | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | #dungenesscrab | www.megiswell.com
Learn how to prepare Dungeness crab + Video. | How to Cook | How to Clean | How to Boil | How to Cook Whole | How to Eat | Seafood | Shellfish | Oregon | Fish & Wildlife | Ocean Life | #dungenesscrab | www.megiswell.com

Join the Conversation

  1. 5 stars
    I seriously would have no idea what to do with the live crab, even though I love crab legs! This was super helpful.. although I think I’ll take you along if I go crabbing LOL

    1. It’s literally the only live animal I know what the heck to do with so I thought it would be cool to show the whole process. I’m your gal if you ever go crabbing!

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