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How to Cook Crab Legs

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Discover how to cook crab legs perfectly with these easy and delicious recipes! From boiling and steaming to baking and air frying, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks to make your crab legs juicy, flavorful, and tender every time.

cooked crab legs on a plate with fresh lemon and butter

First, decide if you will be preparing snow crab or king crab.

The Difference Between Snow Crab and King Crab Legs

Snow crab legs are sold in clusters and typically by the pound. They are much easier to handle and crack because they have a smooth shell. There are usually at least 4 legs in each cluster. King crab is usually sold in bundles of 1 or more legs.

King has a sweeter and more delicate flavor than snow crab. It is also considered to be more succulent and tender.

King crabs can grow up to 6 feet across and can weigh up to 18 pounds, while snow crabs are typically smaller and weigh around 1-2 pounds. Snow crab meat is white to light pink in color, while king crab meat is a deeper red.

Snow crab is harvested year-round, but king crab is typically harvested in the fall and winter.

snow crab legs on a flat surface

How to Buy and Shop

Most crab will come precooked and often frozen. Sometimes, if it’s sold thawed, then it has been thawed from frozen. After the crabs are caught they are cooked on the boat and then flash-frozen right on the spot. If the crab legs are orange or red in color when you bought them, then they have already been cooked. This process is reheating them.

How to Thaw

You can thaw them in the refrigerator overnight (at least 8 hours). You can also put them in a bowl and run cool water over them to thaw quickly.

cooked crab legs on a plate with fresh lemon and butter

How to Cook Crab Legs

There are several ways to cook crab legs, depending on your preference. Here are some options:

  • Boiling: Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the crab legs, add salt and other spices, and bring to a boil. Add the crab legs and let them simmer for 4-6 minutes, or until they’re heated through.
  • Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker: A quick and easy way to cook crab legs, as they cook them in a sealed environment under high pressure. Cook for 1 minute at High Pressure with a quick release of steam.
  • Air Fryer: This method uses hot air to circulate and cook the food. Air fry for 5-8 minutes at 370 degrees.
  • Steaming: Place a steaming rack or basket over a pot of boiling water, and place the crab legs on top. Cover and steam for 5-7 minutes.
  • Smoking: Perfect for true smoky flavor. Smoke at 225 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
  • Grilling: A great way to infuse them with a smoky flavor. Brush the crab legs with melted butter and seasoning, and place them on a hot grill for 4-5 minutes per side.
  • Baking: A convenient option if you’re cooking other dishes in the oven. Brush the crab legs with melted butter and seasoning, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes covered in foil.
  • Broiling: A quick method that gives them a crispy texture. Brush the crab legs with melted butter and seasoning, and broil for 3-4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned.
snow crab legs on a grill

Boiled Crab Legs

This is probably the most popular method. I rarely use it. Boiling crab legs can sometimes result in overcooked or rubbery meat if they are boiled for too long. It’s important to keep a close eye on the crab legs and remove them from the boiling water as soon as they’re heated through.

Boiling can sometimes result in waterlogged meat, especially if they are boiled for too long or not properly drained after cooking.

How to Know When They are Done

Crab should be cooked until the flesh is pearly or white, and opaque. You won’t be able to tell much by the outside color, because when you bought them they were already pre-cooked and orange. Examine the shoulder (this is the large white part of the cluster). It should be pearly white.

Common Spices and Seasoning to Use

  • Old Bay Seasoning: A classic seafood seasoning that’s a blend of celery salt, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, and other spices. It adds a zesty and slightly spicy flavor.
  • Garlic Powder: Adds a subtle garlic flavor that pairs well with the sweet taste of crab meat.
  • Paprika: Adds a slightly smoky and sweet flavor.
  • Cajun Seasoning: A blend of spices that includes garlic, onion, paprika, cayenne pepper, and other seasonings. It adds a bold and spicy flavor.
  • Lemon Pepper: A seasoning blend made with lemon zest and black pepper. It adds a tangy and slightly spicy flavor.
  • Italian Seasoning: A blend of herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary that adds a savory flavor.

How to Plan How Much You Need Per Person

You should typically plan for 1 1/2 pounds of crab per person. 2 pounds a person is great to be sure you have enough.

cooked crab legs on a plate with fresh lemon and butter

Crab Legs Recipes

Air Fryer Crab Legs
Grilled Snow Crab Legs
Grilled King Crab Legs
Smoked Crab Legs

Seafood Boil in a Bag

What to Pair With Crab Legs

Baked Corn on the Cob
Traeger Smoked Corn on the Cob
Air Fryer Garlic Bread
Grilled Asparagus in Foil

cooked crab legs on a plate with fresh lemon and butter

How to Cook Crab Legs

Discover how to cook crab legs perfectly with these easy and delicious recipes! From boiling and steaming to baking and air frying, you'll learn all the tips and tricks to make your crab legs juicy, flavorful, and tender every time.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course dinner, lunch
Cuisine American
Servings 2 servings
Calories 620 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

  • 2-3 pounds snow crab legs You can also use king crab legs. You can usually plan for double to cook time as these are larger.
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning Used in the boil method.
  • salt to taste Used in the boil method.

Instructions
 

Boiled Crab Legs

  • Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the crab legs, add salt and Old Bay, and bring to a boil.
  • Add the crab legs and let them simmer for 4-6 minutes, or until they’re heated through. Examine the shoulder (this is the large white part of the cluster). It should be pearly white.
  • Cool before you split the crab legs.

Grilled Crab Legs

  • Preheat grill to medium-high, 350 degrees.
  • Place the crab legs on the grill. Grill for 4-5 minutes on each side. Examine the shoulder (this is the large white part of the cluster). It should be pearly white.
  • Cool before you split the crab legs.

Baked Crab Legs

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Place the crab legs on a sheet pan.
  • Cover the pan with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Examine the shoulder (this is the large white part of the cluster). It should be pearly white.
  • Cool before you split the crab legs.

Notes

  • Crab should be cooked until the flesh is pearly or white, and opaque. You won’t be able to tell much by the outside color, because when you bought them they were already pre-cooked and orange. Examine the shoulder (this is the large white part of the cluster). It should be pearly white.
  • Adjust the spices to suit your tastes.

Nutrition

Serving: 1.5poundCalories: 620kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 92gFat: 23g
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Recipe Rating




Ashley

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

We usually steam them but I baked them following this recipe and they were so delicious! I'll have to try the other methods too.

Brandi Crawford

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

So glad it worked out!

Jen

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

These were absolutely delicious! We served them with clarified butter with a little garlic -- so good!

Brandi Crawford

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

So good to hear!