Crabs are one of the world’s most delicious and expensive seafood. From Cajun-seasoned boils to steamed spider crabs, this crustacean’s flavor is limitless. So, it’s not surprising to ask: what does crab taste like?
Let’s crack open this shellfish and discover which crab is the tastiest!
Crabs are crustaceans classified as decapods. They have a pair of pincers, stalked eyes, and four pairs of legs. Some varieties even grow a fifth pair that acts as paddles. These shellfish also have tough exoskeletons or shells. With their unique looks, it’s no surprise that crabs belong to the same family as shrimps and lobsters.
Over 4,000 crab species are thriving in either freshwater or seawater. They also vary in size, from tiny pea crabs to 12-foot-long spider crabs. But whatever the size, many people will agree that crabs play a big part in many cuisines.
Crabs are famous for their versatile flavor. The most prized are the legs because of their fleshy meat and satisfying snaps. Any leftover crab meat makes for delicious appetizers in crab cakes. Crabs also have starring roles in seafood bisques. And don’t throw away the shells just yet – you can boil them to make a savory broth.
Although cheaper than lobsters, crabs aren’t something you’d buy on weekly grocery runs. But when it comes to luxurious types like king crab or spider crab legs, they can fetch a hefty price. Sometimes, the crab legs alone can be more expensive than a whole lobster.
Crab meat has a delicate, salty flavor with a slightly sweet taste. Although crab has a fishy taste, it’s not overwhelmingly fishy.
It offers a briny flavor as if you’re tasting the ocean. If you’ve never had crabs before, the taste is close to white fish like Pollock or cream of dory.
For the best flavor, crabs should always be fresh before cooking. If you live near the coast, finding fresh crabs shouldn’t be a problem. It’s also cheaper to buy these shellfish directly from docks. But for landlocked areas, your closest choice is frozen crab meat. It’s not as delicious as fresh crab meat, but it’s the next best thing.
Crabs have firm, juicy, and meaty flesh. Despite being moist, the meat holds its shape together during cooking. Cooked crab meat also breaks apart easily but is never mushy.
Not all crabs are edible, and some can even be toxic. Luckily, it’s safe to assume that most crabs sold in fish markets are good for eating. But how do you tell the crabs apart? More importantly, how do you know which one is the tastiest? Let’s take a closer look at these crustaceans.
Dungeness crabs have purple shells and white-tipped claws. They are common in waters near California and the Pacific Northwest. Though they are medium-sized crabs, most meat comes from their claws. These crabs are West Coast favorites and are the main ingredient in Crab Louie. And since the Dungeness crab is a sustainable species, the crab is a popular choice in its local areas.
Despite their names, blue crabs aren’t entirely blue. Instead, they have gray shells with bluish claws. Like all crabs, blue crabs turn red after cooking. What sets these crabs apart, aside from their color, are their extra paddles. Blue crabs are strong swimmers, typically found across the Atlantic. These crabs are locals along the Chesapeake Bay and put the “crab” in Maryland crab cakes.
“Soft shell crab” is actually a culinary term for freshly molted blue crabs. Also called “softies,” these crabs are only available for a limited time. It’s best to catch softies during their peak season from April to November. Even then, the crabs are only soft for several hours, so you must cook them immediately. Soft shell crabs are deep-fried whole for sandwiches or crunchy snacks.
King Crabs rule the Bering Sea and have a unique appearance. Aside from its spiked shell, this giant crab’s most delicious feature is its legs. The crab legs can grow up to nine feet, serving the meat in one long juicy strip. King Crabs are best eaten fresh and paired with garlic butter. Sadly, the harvest season for these crabs is closed due to limited supply. So, you won’t be seeing King Crabs in fish markets anytime soon.
The King Crab’s closest rival is the Japanese spider crab or snow crab. This crab swims in neighboring waters close to Japan. Spider crabs have local names called “takaashigani,” meaning “long-legged crab.” And true to their name, these colossal crustaceans can grow up to 12 feet long – even bigger than the King Crab! But due to their size, the crabs are challenging to cook and thus considered delicacies. Like King Crabs, spider crabs taste best when steamed fresh.
Horsehair crabs look like smaller and hairier versions of King Crabs. Despite their petite stature, these hairy crustaceans pack tons of flavor. Horsehair crabs are sought-after in Japan, especially in Hokkaido. Aside from their taste, people go after the crabs’ “kani miso,” or gut glands, which look similar to miso paste. Many people liken the glands’ taste to foie gras.
Rock crabs are the Dungeness’s smaller cousins found in the same waters. Unlike other crabs, which turn red after cooking, rock crabs already have red shells. And like their cousins, most of the rock crabs’ meat comes from their claws. Because of this, most fishermen would snap the claws off and toss the crabs back into the water. No worries since the crabs regenerate their claws after a year. Aside from their meat, rock crabs have delicious roe, which is the main ingredient in she-crab soup.
Peekytoe crabs, or “picked toe crabs,” are small crabs fished in Maine. They got their name because of their tapered legs. Once considered pests by fishermen, they are now one of the most popular crab varieties. While they may not have a lot of meat, these crabs still taste delicious in crab cakes, soups, or dips.
Brown crabs look like rock crabs with their red shells and black-tipped claws. Unlike rock crabs, brown crabs live in the Mediterranean and all the way up to Norwegian waters. Brown crabs also have white meat in their claws and legs but brown meat inside their shells. This combination offers a complex blend of flavors, which is handy for crab pasta.
Coconut crabs are technically not crabs but oversized hermit crabs. They are giant edible land crabs that can open a coconut husk with their claws. So, it’s no wonder there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm for catching these Pacific crabs. Despite their pincers, these crabs are local delicacies often stewed in coconut milk. And because of their size, coconut crabs have lots of meat which is great for sharing.
Many people will agree that blue crab is the tastiest for two reasons. First, it has the sweetest meat among crab varieties, making it perfect for crab cakes. And second, blue crabs produce scrumptious seafood snacks – fried soft shell crabs!
King Crab has a rich and sweet flavor. Its meat has firm and flaky textures that maintain its shape even when cooked. These crab legs are perfect for seafood boils, with firm chunks of meat after every snap.
Crab legs taste like the rest of the crab – sweet, salty, and incredibly juicy. Some crab varieties have more meat in their legs than their main shells. In contrast, others have meatier interiors and thinner legs.
When cooked, blue crab has a meaty white interior and brownish meat in its claws. The blue crab has a delicately sweet and salty flavor. Meanwhile, the claw meat has a nuttier taste. The blue crab’s texture is soft and buttery, similar to scallops.
Soft shell crabs have the same briny flavor with hints of sweetness and tanginess. But what really contributes to these crabs’ taste is their texture. When fried, soft shell crabs have crunchy exteriors with moist and buttery meats.
The coconut crab contains most of its flavor in its abdomen. This part is very fatty and has sweet and nutty flavors. Coconut crabs also taste like lobsters with their saltiness and flaky texture.
The answer depends on your preference. Although lobster is the more “luxurious” meat, it doesn’t necessarily taste better. Crab meat is sweeter, while the lobster is distinctly salty. Most lobster meat is in the tail, yet crab meat comes from claws and legs. And when talking about texture, both are firm and flaky.
Imitation crabs or “surimi” are fake crab strips. They taste identical to real crab with their sweet and salty flavors. Though they’re fake, crab sticks actually use natural ingredients like white fish paste. Imitation crabs are good substitutes if you want the crab’s flavor but not the actual meat.
When it comes to cooking crab meat, it’s low effort and high reward. Even a simple boil is enough to bring out the shellfish’s flavor. So what more when you add a bit of effort and ingredients? In a matter of minutes, you can have a plate of delicious crabs! For more tasty ideas, check out the most popular uses of crabs in recipes:
A seafood boil is a common way of serving crabs. This recipe prefers crab legs mixed with shrimp, mussels, and clams. After cooking in a broth, adding sausages, corn, and potatoes increase the flavor. Boiled crab legs taste sweet and savory, especially when dipped in butter. Seafood boils come in family style, so they’re great for sharing.
Crab cakes are huge in Maryland and use locally-caught blue crabs. The good news is that you can make this dish with any crab! The crab meat is pre-cooked before mixing with mayo, mustard, and Old Bay seasoning. Binding the ingredients together are panko crumbs. Crab cakes are pan-fried and served as appetizers next to tartar sauce.
Chili crab is Singapore’s unofficial national dish. All the credit goes to Cher Yam Tian, who came up with the idea in the 1950s. The secret to this crab dish is three words: chili, tomatoes, and eggs. Chili crab’s signature red sauce packs sweet, spicy, and savory flavors. Also, this dish won’t be complete without mantou buns soaking up any remaining sauce.
If you snag some soft shell crabs, you must serve them deep-fried! After cleaning and seasoning the crabs, dredge in flour and let the hot oil do its work. And then, place the crunchy crabs between two slices of bread dressed in mayo and lettuce. Each bite is crispy and juicy enough to reconsider your love for chicken sandwiches.
Bisque is a smooth and thick French-style soup. While traditional bisque uses shell paste, you can also use lobster, shrimp, or crab. Unlike regular soup, bisque needs milk and a lot of heavy creams. Though incredibly creamy, crab bisque is also aromatic with a rich, savory taste. Eat crab bisque with oyster crackers and roasted vegetables.
Crab linguine is a Venetian recipe that puts crabs front and center. It’s easy to cook and uses simple ingredients like tomatoes, white wine, and olive oil. To add flavor, you have garlic, cream, and cooked crab meat. The result is a creamy and savory pasta bursting with sweetness from the tomatoes and crabs. Here’s an extra tip: add some crab broth or leave the shells in the pasta for an even richer crabby flavor.
The simplest way to cook crab is to boil or steam them in Old Bay seasoning and douse them with garlic and lemon. This cooking method preserves the crab’s flavors best. And without additional ingredients, the crab taste definitely stands out. With this recipe, you’ll get sweet and savory, with the lemon adding just a tinge of acidity.
Unfortunately, not very long. Crabs are caught fresh, immediately sold, and cooked, all within 24 to 48 hours. Often, fishermen submerge crabs in iced water to temporarily sedate them for shipping.
There’s a reason why crabs should be crawling before cooking. As long as the crabs are alive, the meat remains fresh. Once dead, the organs release bacteria that immediately decomposes the crab.
The first thing you should do is pre-cook the crabs by steaming or boiling them. This method prepares the crustaceans for storage and makes them last longer.
Like fresh crabs, you should eat cooked crab meat immediately. Place any leftovers inside an airtight container and store them in the fridge. The crab meat should last for at least three days while freezing it can keep it fresh for up to a year.
Any ammonia smell is a definite sign of a bad crab meat taste.
Crabs are expensive because they must be fresh. In landlocked areas, crabs can also fetch higher prices because of shipping fees. Another explanation is a low supply and high demand.
Lobsters taste close to crabs but with a saltier flavor. Other white-meat fishes like Pollock and cream of dory also taste similar. At the same time, imitation crab is another excellent copycat.
Yes, they have the same briny flavors, but crab is obviously sweeter than lobster. Unlike crab, lobster meat is also firmer and flakier.
Crabs have a notably sweet and salty flavor. Sometimes, the meat has hints of nuttiness, depending on the variety. And when cooked, crab meat remains moist, firm, and flaky. Blue crab is an obvious favorite, with King Crabs coming at a close second for their crab legs.
Most people also claim that crab meat’s flavor is close to white fish or lobster. But what does crab taste like compared to lobster? The difference isn’t actually too diverse, but crabs are definitely sweeter. On the other hand, lobsters tend to be on the salty side. Both have flaky textures and are equally delicious in their own right.