An Eastern Shore Guide to Cracking Crabs

By Natalie Hay, in All Communities

The smell of Old Bay and melted butter is making your mouth water. Armed with a mallet and table knife you can’t wait to begin devouring that oh-so-sweet crab meat. You crack open a beer, look down at the pile of perfectly steamed, bright red crabs, and think… “Where on Earth do I start??”
This is the point where many first time crab-crackers take the mallet and start whacking away. If you do this, you’re likely to end up with an unwelcome collection of hard shell in your meat and a whole lot of frustration. But don’t worry, I am here to help. And as a Marylander, it’s safe to say that I have a small amount of authority in the art of cracking crabs.
First, start by flipping the crab over so that it is belly up. Take your table knife and insert it under the “pouch” so that the pouch flips up. From there, you should be able to insert the table knife under the shell, and pull the whole top shell off.
What you’re looking at now is…pretty gross. You should see the gills surrounded by a yellowy-brown “mustard.” If you’re a salty Eastern Shore native- you may eat the “mustard” and actually like it, but it’s not for the faint of heart! The gills slightly resemble crab meat, and some rookie crab-pickers often go for the chewy morsels, but the truth is they should be discarded as well.
Start pulling the legs off of the crab one by one. If you gently pull close to the crab’s body, a good hunk of meat should come off at the base of the leg..especially on the back fin! Now you get to use the mallet! Break up the rest of the leg by taking a good whack at it with the mallet. For some smaller sections of the legs, you may want to break them apart by hand. Each section of the leg has a nice hunk of meat in it. The claw can be the most satisfying, with big pieces of meat in every section. However, even the smallest legs have delicious meat in them, so don’t skip over them!
Now that you are starting to get some crab meat I should tell you that there are two types of crab-pickers: the eat-as-you-go crab-pickers or the save-til-the-end crab-pickers. Some people like to eat the crab meat as soon as they pull it from the crab, while others like to save the crab meat and collect it into a pile so that once they are done cracking they enjoy a big reward. I personally eat the crab meat as I go, because I don’t have the patience to wait until the end! Whichever strategy you choose- I highly recommend dipping the crab meat in warm, melted butter and throwing on some more Old Bay- because you can never go wrong with more Old Bay. Others opt for apple cider vinegar, while some choose to eat the crab meat straight-up with no sauces, spices, or fixins. Either way, you’re in for a treat!
Back to the crab- once you have pulled off all of the legs and removed all of the meat from those, you can go back to the body. Break it in half so that you can more easily reach the area where the legs were connected to the body. Get any of the meat that may not have come off with the leg. Pick around all of the nooks and crannies- you don’t want to miss any of that delicious meat!
Once you are sure you’ve picked the crab dry… grab another!
Happy cracking!
Need help finding crabs in the area? Maryland and Delaware are chocked full of crab houses and seafood restaurants touting freshly steamed blue crabs this time of year. A few favorites for you to consider:
The Surfing Crab: 16723 Coastal Hwy, Lewes, DE
Claws Seafood House: 167 Rehoboth Ave, Rehoboth Beach, DE
The Crab House: 19598 Coastal Hwy, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Mickey’s Family Crab House: 39610 Jefferson Bridge Rd, Bethany Beach, DE
Captain Mac’s Fish House: 3720 Lighthouse Rd, Selbyville, DE
Crab Bag: 130th Street & Coastal Hwy, Ocean City, MD
Lazy Susan’s Hot Fat Crabs: 18289 Coastal Highway, Lewes, DE

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