How To Cook Crab Legs (3 Ways)
Updated Oct 25, 2023
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
More Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
How To Cook Crab Legs (3 Ways!)
- Crab Crackers These definitely help to get all the meat out!
- 4 clusters of snow crab or Dungeness crab legs (or 6 individual king crab legs), thawed
Crab Dipping Sauce
- ⅓ cup melted unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Add a bit more time to each cooking method, if the crab legs are still frozen.
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