How To Cook Crab Legs (3 Ways)

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Learn how to cook crab legs with three easy methods — boiling, steaming, and baking! Whichever you choose, they all result in perfectly warmed-up crab meat in under 10 minutes. And if you need guidance on how to select and use the most popular types of crab legs, I’ve got plenty of tips in this post.

Cooked crab legs on a tray
Photo: Gayle McLeod

Fresh crab is every seafood lover’s dream. And the good news is that crab is super easy to cook at home. Why? Because the crab you purchase from your local fishmonger is already pre-cooked and frozen. Many people don’t realize this. But crab is immediately cooked and flash-frozen to preserve its freshness when it’s caught. So when it comes time to cooking crab, you’re simply warming up the crab legs, which takes just a few minutes! 

You can serve up crab with a delicious crab dipping sauce (which I’ll talk more about below) or use the fresh crab as a protein for a crab salad, bowls, and more. The fact that crab is pre-cooked also makes it a cinch to serve a crab boil dinner that looks fancy but is shockingly easy.

Three types of crab legs on a table

Different Types of Crab Legs

There are over a dozen types of crabs you can eat across the world. But your local market will most likely have the options below. Let’s talk through these.

  • Dungeness Crabs: This is the most common crab used for home cooking and one you’re probably used to seeing. Good news — Dungeness crab legs are typically sold in clusters of three to five legs and are reasonably priced. Plus, their meat is tender and mildly sweet with a hint of nuttiness, which is great for making recipes like crab salad or a crab dip!
  • King Crabs: Although king crab is a bit more expensive and sold individually, it’s worth it for serving up crab legs on their own for a seafood boil (with some good ol’ butter). Their meat is sweet and tender, almost like lobster tails, and since their legs are much larger, you get twice as much meat as Dungeness crabs.
  • Snow Crabs: If you’re not using king crab, snow crab is the next best option for large legs. Their meat is sweet, savory, and a bit briny. But the best part is that snow crab legs’ meat is a beautiful white compared to the king crab’s pop of red. The only downside is that they’re becoming more expensive due to climate change and a population decline.

How To Cook Crab Legs (3 Ways) 

There’s no one best way to cook crab legs, it’s more so preference with the methods below. Just keep in mind that you can overcook crab legs where the meat will become rubbery. So stick to the timings below. 

Boiling Crab Legs: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the crab legs in the pot, gently bending at the joints if needed, to make sure they’re completely submerged in the water. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they’re heated through.

Boiling crab legs in a pot

Steaming Crab Legs: Fill a large pot with an inch of water, and place a steamer basket on top. Bring the water to a boil. Place the crab legs in the basket, and steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until heated they’re through.

Steaming crab legs

Baked Crab Legs: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Arrange the crab legs in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on size), or until they’re heated through.

Baking crab legs

How Many Crab Legs Per Person?

If you’re hosting a seafood or crab boil, you’ll need to figure out how many crab legs per person. An easy way to calculate this is to remember that one pound of crab legs is 2 to 3 clusters (depending on the variety). Each cluster includes crab legs, a claw, and a part of the shoulder. 

Then, estimate about one pound per person and two pounds for an extra-hungry person or for seafood lovers around the table. And if you’re serving a “surf and turf” type of meal with filet mignon, a half pound is plenty.

Helpful tip: There’s a bit more meat in king crab legs compared to other varieties. So if you’ve got big seafood eaters, this could be a great option to buy with fewer legs.

Ingredients for eating crab legs

How To Eat Crab Legs 

While you may need a crab cracker to break open King crab and Dungeness crab legs, your hands are likely all you’ll need for Snow crab. Just break the crab leg at the joint, then press down with your thumb to crack open the middle of the leg shell. Pull off one side of the shell and you should be able to pull the crab meat right out.

  • To serve — Have a dipping sauce, lemon wedges to squeeze lemon juice on top, and maybe a dash of old bay spice. This is the most simple and tasty way to enjoy fresh crab legs and enhance their natural flavor! You could also save the crab meat to make these crab-stuffed mushrooms for the best holiday appetizer.
  • For the crab dipping sauce — Stir together melted unsalted butter, fresh garlic, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. This simple combination is the best to pair with any seafood, especially fresh crab. Reference the image above for dipping sauce ingredients!
Dipping crab in butter sauce

More Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most flavorful way to cook crab legs?

If you’re boiling or steaming the crab, aromatic ingredients that pair well with crab are bay leaves, peeled garlic cloves, black peppercorns, or lemon wedges. Just keep in mind that a lot of seasonings won’t penetrate the shell and reach the meat. Instead, I recommend adding any seasonings after the meat is removed from the shell.

How to cook frozen crab legs?

If you’re cooking frozen crab legs, you have two options. One, you can let them thaw in a large bowl (covered) in the refrigerator overnight or thaw them in a large bowl of cold water for about 30 minutes. Second, you can add extra cooking time to each method if you don’t want to defrost the legs.

How do you know if crab legs are cooked or not?

Remember that crab legs will already be pre-cooked when you purchase them. You’re just warming them through at home. But if you follow the instructions for each below, you’ll end up with hot, tender, opaque, and flakey meat on the inside.

Cooked crab legs on plates

I hope this post showed you how to cook crab legs successfully! I’d love to hear how yours turned out and what your favorite method is in the comment box below.

A tray of cooked crab legs and lemons

How To Cook Crab Legs (3 Ways!)

5 from 3 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Total: 10 minutes
Servings: 2 people
Author: Lisa Bryan

Description

Learn how to cook crab legs in under 10 minutes with three easy methods — boiling, steaming, and baking!

Equipment

Ingredients 
 

  • 4 clusters of snow crab or Dungeness crab legs (or 6 individual king crab legs), thawed

Crab Dipping Sauce

  • cup melted unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions 

  • Boiling Crab Legs: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the crab legs in the pot, gently bending at the joints if needed, to make sure they're completely submerged in the water. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, or until heated through.
    Boiled crab legs
  • Steaming Crab Legs: Fill a large pot with an inch of water, and place a steamer basket on top. Bring the water to a boil. Place the crab legs in the basket, and steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until heated through.
    Steamed crab legs
  • Baking Crab Legs: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Arrange the crab legs in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on size), or until heated through.
    Baked crab legs
  • Crack the legs open. Once the crab legs are cooked, use crab crackers or kitchen shears to open them up. Dip the crab meat in the garlic butter sauce and enjoy!
    A tray of crab legs and sauce

Lisa’s Tips

  • Add a bit more time to each cooking method, if the crab legs are still frozen. 

Nutrition

Calories: 83kcal | Protein: 18g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 42mg | Sodium: 830mg | Potassium: 202mg | Vitamin A: 24IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Keyword: How To Cook Crab Legs
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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10 Comments

  1. I used the boiling method for my snow crab legs with a few dashes of salt (& also butter) per the time they stated (I think 10 to 15 min) bc mine were not frozen & oh my goodness… So delicious & succulent!!! The best crab legs EVER! & I only used melted salted butter with a squeeze of a couple of lemon wedges & it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!

  2. Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing! What’s the difference in taste and texture among the three? Also, when steaming, do you cover the pot? Thank you!

    1. Hi Sonia – yes, I cover the pot when steaming. In terms of taste, I mention a few differences in the post above. :)

  3. Hi Lisa, I purchasing some snow crab legs this weekend and have a question. Which method worked best for the crab legs to come out of the shell easiest? Thanks!5 stars

    1. Hi Susan – They’re all pretty equal in that regard. Just make sure you grab yourself those crab crackers I have linked in the recipe card. They make opening the crab legs infinitely easier! Enjoy. :)

  4. I feel a bit silly that I had no idea cooking crab legs was simply warming them up! I warmed some king crab legs up in the oven and they were delicious with the garlic butter. Thanks!5 stars