I never understood the hype surrounding blue crabs until I visited Maryland one summer with my husband, who is a native of the Free State and a staunch blue crab supporter. We went over to his high school buddy’s house and spent hours drinking cheap beer and picking steamed crabs on the porch—it was a timeless, fun, and memorable summer afternoon. Putting together your own crab feed at home is easy: Boil a mix of water and vinegar or beer, season the crabs with plenty of Old Bay, and steam them until bright red. Throw down some newspaper and serve with melted butter, corn on the cob, and plenty of cold brews. Then, get picking with our step-by-step photo instructions. Lynyrd Skynyrd in the background is optional.
Special equipment: You will need a seafood mallet to crack the claws and extract the meat.
What to buy: We like jumbo male crabs for this recipe because they yield more meat (to justify the tedium of picking them), and choosing males over females limits the environmental impact on both the species and their habitat.
Game plan: Fresh live crab should be purchased and cooked the same day—the crabs can only be stored in the refrigerator for a few hours once taken out of their holding tanks. Do not cook dead crabs.
- 1Fill a large pot with the water and vinegar or beer (you should have about 1 inch of liquid). Place a steamer rack inside the pot. (If you don’t have a steamer rack, lightly bunch a long piece of foil so that it looks like a rope. Then make a figure eight out of the foil rope and set it in the pot.) Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat.
- 2Using tongs, carefully place 3 crabs on the rack in an even layer belly-side down and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Old Bay. Top with the remaining 2 crabs belly-side down and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Old Bay. Cover with a tightfitting lid and return the liquid to a full boil, about 1 minute. Continue to steam until the crabs are cooked through, about 10 minutes more.
- 3Using tongs, remove the crabs to a large bowl or serving platter. Immediately sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Old Bay.
- 4When cool enough to handle, clean and crack the crabs: Working 1 crab at a time, remove the large front claws by twisting and pulling them from the body; set aside.
- 5Turn the crab belly-side up with the face closest to you. Using your hands or the tip of a butter knife, lift the triangular piece of shell at the tail of the crab (the apron), break it off, and discard it. Pick up the crab with your hands, place a thumb in the hole where the apron was (you may need to pry it open with a butter knife), and pull in one motion to remove the top shell (the carapace) from the rest of the body. Discard the carapace.
- 6Turn the crab belly-side down with the tail closest to you. Remove and discard the soft, pointy gills from the body. Using a butter knife, cut the front (mouth) of the crab off and scrape away any remaining bits of gill and viscera (often called “mustard”) left on the body of the crab.
- 7Flip the crab over and hold it so that the legs are horizontal and your thumbs are firmly placed on the belly, then snap the crab in half. Starting at the back fin of the crab, pull the delicate bits of shell away and pick out the meat inside the body. Carefully pull the legs away from the body and pick out any meat attached to the leg joints. Twist the legs to crack open the shell and pick the meat out. Pick the shell from each chamber in the body of the crab and pull out the crabmeat.
- 8Break each claw in half at the joint. Using a seafood mallet or the handle of the butter knife, firmly tap the shell of each piece until it breaks apart. (Don’t hit the shell too hard or it will splinter into the crabmeat.) Wiggle the pincer and gently pull it away from the claw. Serve with melted butter for dipping.