CrabFest – How to Make Awesome Steamed Crabs at Home

Steamed Maryland Blue Crab
We recently went to a Crab Fest at a local restaurant.

We didn’t plan it this way, but we developed a slow, sweet crustaceous-y, cocktail-y buzz on the restaurant’s patio — sometimes basking in the warmth of the full sun, sometimes in the refreshing shade of an umbrella, and finally in the combined glow of candles, neon, and Christmas lights overhead — over the course of ten hours.

It was, in a word, “epic.”

(You can peep the full gallery from the event on TheDeliciousLife.)
Steamed Crabs with Old Bay
We had so much fun that we want to do it again, but this East Coast-style CrabFest is a once-a-year event, something of a novelty because we are, well, we live in Los Angeles.

So we have to do it ourselves.

It was our first time, so we thought there was some magic recipe for the “seasoning” on the crabs. Then someone told us that it’s just “Old Bay.”

Good grief. That’s all?!
Old Bay Seasoning

The rest doesn’t take much — throw newspaper across a table, grab a few mallets and most importantly chill some beer. We’re guessing that the hardest part of the whole thing is sourcing the crabs, but we’re happy to do it with whatever type of crabs are available to us here on the West coast.

Actually, the hardest part (for us CrabFest n00bs, that is), is opening the crab and getting at the pockets of perfectly sweet crabmeat inside. We have a pictorial How-To below. It ends, of course, the way we did. Sit next to a native and let him “show you how it’s done.”

How to Open a Steamed Blue Crab

How to Open a Steamed Crab
In the pictures above, from left to right:
1. Say “hello” to your little friend.
2. Turn him over to get at the “apron” (the underbelly). This is a boy crab! (No really, it is.)
3. Slide a fork or knife under and pull down that little (I mean “huge,” honey, huge!) thing.
4. Lift up the body like you’re raising the hood of a tiny crustacean car.
5. Pull off the body (and toss the empty shell)
6. Split the body
7. Pull the halves apart
8. Scrape of the gills (the feather-looking things)
9. Pick out the meat from inside the halves of the body. (Or just pretend like you just don’t know how and have someone else do it and feed you :D)

Steamed Crab Backfin

Steamed Blue Crabs

from Old Bay

Steamed Blue Crabs Ingredients

1 dozen live blue crabs
½ cup Old Bay Seasoning

Steamed Blue Crabs Directions:

In a pot with a raised rack (minimum of 2 inches high), add equal quantities of water and vinegar to just below level of rack. Bring to a boil.

Carefully layer crabs on rack; sprinkle each layer with Old Bay. Cover and steam 20 to 30 minutes depending on size of crabs or until crabs turn red.

by Sarah J. Gim on July 6, 2010 · 18 comments

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

My Man's Belly July 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

YUM! I’m with you on having someone else do the dirty work and feeding me.

BTW…you can get the live crabs from 99 Ranch Market here in SoCal. One bit of warning though…they are much easier to pick up after they’ve been steamed than when they’re live in the tank (voice of experience talking).


Noelle July 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I love Dungeness, and I’d prefer to eat those on a regular basis… I’m all over that. Let’s do it again!


Larraine July 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

With all due respect, it is NOT called a Crab Fest. It’s a Crab FEAST! Also it’s not complete without some corn on the cob. Just saying…. By the way, Blue Crabs are FAR superior to any other crab!


don-d April 27, 2013 at 3:27 pm

well you never had peeky toe crabs / sand crabs !east coast RI.

Nick July 9, 2010 at 10:15 pm

My feelings regarding crab;
-the meat is (IMO) sweeter than lobster, less likely to rough/rubbery, harder to get
-blue crabs have superior flavor, dungess are more meaty
-go with the female crabs, they have more roe inside the shell
-cats love the little bit of meat in the crab legs
-pick crabs that feel dense; at places like asian markets where you can literally pick up the crabs with tongs, do that
-refrigerate crabs prior to cooking to sedate/ quiet them down
-in china, people steam crabs without any seasoning, them dip the crab meat in either chinese black vinegar (not too much though) or in a sauce made from some scallions thrown into burning hot oil in a little saucepan with a little soy sauce and sesame oil.

~happy eating!


Jackie at July 9, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pass me a napkin, I’m diggin in! LOL Those crabs look just fabulous. I can imagine how succulent the meat must have tasted. Wish I had some now….


charlotte July 10, 2010 at 5:44 am

“go with the female crabs, they have more roe inside the shell”
hee hee hee. I dare say that they do have more roe. i’d be quite concerned if i saw crab roe in a male.
sorry, i’m a maritime/atlantic native, and thus have the appropriate sense of humor.

that crab fest looks fantastic, but can be turned into a boil up by adding a few delicious things: a couple lobsters, clams, shrimp, potatoes and corn on the cob. And, of course, a nice bit of fiddle music.


patti July 10, 2010 at 7:19 am

I have to concur, blues are the original Hon. I’m from B-mpre (Baltimore, Md) and I love crabs, Dungeness, peeky toe, but the Blues are the best for a crab feast. Don’t forget your Natty Boh!


Erin July 11, 2010 at 9:35 am

do you really need a fork???


TasteSpotting July 11, 2010 at 9:43 am

mymansbelly: thanks for the tips!

noelle: i guess…next year?! :D

larraine: you are SO right. it *was* a feast of epic proportions! but, the event was branded “CrabFest VI,” the sixth one that the restaurant has done

nick: so much more love for crab than lobster…i don’t like lobster at all!

jackie: we wholeheartedly encourage you to make some yourself! and we wholeheartedly you to take awesome photos and post them to tastespotting ;)

charlotte: so totally want to do a full crab/lobster boil, too! and a clambake! never get to do those over here on west coast!

patti: WE DID HAVE NATTY BOH! i had no idea what it was at the time when everyone was like, omg they brought in natty boh for this?! and they were talking about beer.. haha

erin: you’re at least the third person who’s commented about the (rookie) use of a fork in the photos… we actually just did that because it was easier to “show” what we were doing at each step!

but i did mention that the whole “picking out the crab meat” would have been so much easier if i had a pair of chopsticks ;)


Lynne July 17, 2010 at 8:27 am

OMG! I am craving some steamed crabs right now! As a native marylander, I must say that here we call it a crab feast and it is an all you can eat affair. I have worked in crabhouses every summer for 10 years during college and the immediately following. The female crabs are less desireable and usually only used in shecrab soup. Most places sell the females at a cheaper rate, if they sell them at all. Believe me, the males are what you want. I can’t even begin to count how many novices I taught to open and pick steamed crabs – a fork was never a part of the process, but if it made it easier for you – go for it. You might get funny looks from the natives though.


Lisa July 23, 2010 at 3:55 am

hmm I did a very similar type of post the day before you did yours (= Great minds think alike. Are you a local Marylander? Nice job!


Eddie January 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

HAHAHAHAHA! You used a fork! HAHAHAHAThat’s a first.
Check this out. It’s not my site but this restaurant makes awesome cakes and ships them.


Eric July 13, 2011 at 12:35 pm

OK, you got the basics, but let’s make this easier. Use a knife, and after step 5 do the following instead. Scrape the gills off both sides, use the knife and make two cuts in the shape of a “V”, to cut out the mouth area. Clear out most of the yellow (sometimes grayish or orangeish) insides. This is called, “Mustard”, more on that later. Then split the crab in two. You will find this way is faster and easier. However, you will find people who do not like the “Mustard” at all. It is very strong tasting. So, you can clean the crabs BEFORE cooking. Yes, BEFORE cooking. You will need a pair of very thick gloves and a very strong SHORT knife. You take the crab, angle it face down and drive the knife into the very back of the shell, right along the edge between the top and the bottom. You pry up the shell and remove it. Grab and break off both sides of the mouth. Remove the gills, turn the crab over and remove the “skirt” or sometimes the “bonnet”. The male crab has a thinner one, the female crab has a wide one. Leave all the legs attached. Now, rinse the crabs and clean body cavity. This removes all the “Mustard”. They are now ready to cook. This is very IMPORTANT. You use VERY LITTLE crab spice. Just a light dusting. Because they no longer have a shell, just a little spice will be fine. Cook the same way, but only of 20 minutes. I have been eating crabs for 40 years, both ways; they do taste different, but both are delicious.


Annapolis jimmy August 27, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Dont eat females! It kills the population…


eacmacro August 28, 2012 at 7:44 am

This is too funny! When you’re a born-and-raised Marylander, it’s a REQUIREMENT that you know how to fully clean a blue crab…without tools! Why, most of the babies here have a crab placed in their hands….kidding. Seriously, though, these things are made for easy opening! Sweet and Succulent…I can eat at least 12-15 in one sitting! I recently steamed my own for my family, first time ever! I have to say, it was a blast trying to keep them contained in the pot. We must do this again!


inaminutejim July 23, 2013 at 7:50 am

I know of a guy from NJ who says his whole family eats steamed crabs on a regular plate? I have seen him do it to. I’m from DE .I go in elbow deep when eating steamed crabs…more old bay please for dipping meat in !!! newspaper works just fine


Donna Spencer March 10, 2016 at 8:52 pm

Other than chocolate there is literally nothing in life that I love more than Blue crabs. Ooops! My husband…
I am born and raised in Maryland and been pickin crabs like a pro since probably age 7. No really…

The adults used to put the kids at a table by themselves so that they would not drive them crazy wanting the parents to pick the crab for them. Me however; was the only kid SKILLED enough to eat at the table with the adults. LOL I could keep up with the best of them adults.


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