Which Crab to Buy

 

Budget, flavor preferences, and how you plan on eating it are all things to consider when choosing which crab to buy. Pre-picked crab meat is incredibly convenient but is generally more expensive. Shelling crab is very labor intensive, so you can save money if you are willing to do the work at home. On the other hand, when you buy whole crab, you’re also paying for shell weight in the per-pound price and overnight shipping cost, so the disparity may not be as huge as it first appears.

 

For many crab species, whole lumps of claw meat and leg meat are prized more than body meat. Often this is more for presentation purposes than flavor: whole lumps look more attractive. Though body meat can be stringy, it is still very, very tasty, and can be cheaper.

 

Finally, demand dictates price. Crab is a big seller in restaurants, a popular splurge for special occasions. The more desirable a crab species is to restaurants, the higher the price is going to be for everyone. Since chefs are experts on what tastes good, cost is an indicator of the perceived quality of the species.

Dungeness

A West Coast favorite, Dungeness crabs are known for their tasty, very sweet meat. They have thinner, smaller legs than King and Snow crabs.

Blue Crab

Blue crabs (aka Atlantic blue crab or Chesapeake blue crab) are a small crab quite popular on the East Coast, where they’re harvested. Blue crabs that have discarded their shells through molting, are known as Soft-Shell crabs, an American seafood delicacy. There is a short window (about a day) when the new shell has not yet hardened and is paper-thin. Soft-shell crabs are almost completely edible and need only have a few parts removed to be ready to eat.

Florida Stone Crab

Because their diet consists primarily of clams, scallops and conchs, Stone crabs have very large claws that they use to crush mollusk shells for food. To ensure a sustainable harvest, only the claws can be sold, because they regenerate. One claw is removed when the crabs are caught, and they are returned to the ocean to regenerate their claws. Their beautiful shells, yellowish pink with striking dark black tips, hold sweet, succulent meat. Sold fresh and pre-cooked, Stone crab claws can be sautéed or steamed, but they are best served chilled.

Jonah Crab

Harvested along the East Coast of North America from Newfoundland to Florida, Jonah crabs are among the smallest crab varieties eaten in the US. Jonah crab claws are often sold as “cocktail” claws, with most of the shell removed for easy access to the meat.

King Crab

The largest and most desirable of the crabs commonly consumed in the US, King crabs are harvested in the North Pacific and Bering Sea. They are prized for their sweet, tender leg meat that can be removed in large, impressive pieces.

Peekytoe Crab

Likely the smallest of the crabs commonly eaten in the US, Peekytoe crabs (aka Atlantic rock crabs, bay crabs, picky-toe crabs) get their unusual name from the way the tips of their feet angle inward. Because these crabs are so small, with correspondingly tiny claws, they are generally only sold as meat, which is highly prized by chefs for its clean, sweet flavor, delicate texture, and pinkish color.

Snow Crab

Like King crabs, Snow crabs have very long legs that provide a lot of their meat, which is a little more fibrous than King crab, but very tasty. Because their legs are thinner and less impressive than king crab legs, they are less popular with restaurants and thus more affordable for you. Snow crab legs are commonly sold as clusters – groups of legs attached to a portion of the body (which also contains tasty body meat). Snow crab claws are small, just the right size for a bite or two. They’re commonly sold with part of the shell already removed, making it easy to pick out the tasty nugget of crabmeat inside. The pincers are left on for a more elegant look, and they can be used as a handle for dipping the meat.