How to Cook Crab Legs
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Learn how to cook crab legs for a delicious dinner full of seafood flavors! The techniques are the same whether you’re cooking king crab or snow crab legs. Preparation only takes less than 15 minutes whether you’re boiling, steaming, baking or grilling. Serve with melted butter for dipping!
I didn’t really appreciate crab legs until visiting Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which has enormous displays of king crab beckoning passersby. The fishmonger told me I’d love them and oh was he so right. Real crab is in a class of its own!
Crab legs have delicate, rich, and sweet meat. It might seem intimidating to cook frozen crab legs given the high price tag, but they’re surprisingly easy to make. Just follow our foolproof recipe to make tender and delicious crab legs better than Red Lobster. Skip expensive restaurants and make your own at home today!
Most king crab and snow crab legs you’ll find have been caught, cooked and flash frozen on the fishing boat to preserve their delicate flavors. That means you’re simply thawing and reheating to get them ready to serve.
Types of crab legs
- King Crab: This is one of the most expensive types on the market owing to the short fishing season and difficulty of the catch. King crab comes predominantly from Alaska and are huge, measuring up to five feet across with long legs. The flesh is firm and similar to lobster with a delicate flavor, making it extremely desirable and pricey.
- Snow Crab: Snow crabs get their name from their snow-white meat, which is also sweet and delicate although somewhat fibrous as well. They are harvested in Alaska and other ocean areas as well. Their legs are smaller than king crab with less meat and therefore less expensive.
- Stone Crab: These crustaceans are known for their meaty claws and sweet, juicy flesh. They come from both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts with most coming from Florida. The harvest is limited, making them rather quite expensive. The shells are very hard, so ask your fishmonger to crack them open for you before buying.
There are other crab varieties like Dungeness crab sold fresh and best steamed or boiled like snow crab. Another variety is Chesapeake blue crab that is delicious with claw meat only (the legs are paddles with no flesh).
How to cook snow crab legs
There are many ways to cook snow crab legs including steaming, baking, broiling, grilling and even pressure cooking! Here is the method for each:
- Steamed snow crab legs: Place a few inches of water in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket (or use a large pot with a colander insert). Bring to a boil and add the crab legs to steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.
- Boiling Snow Crab Legs: Fill a large pot half full with cold water and bring to a boil. Add flavorings such as Old Bay seasoning along with the crab. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes until fragrant.
- Baked snow crab legs: Preheat the oven to 350°F and place the crab legs on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Add 1/8-inch of hot water (optional) and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. If the legs are still frozen, wrap them tightly in foil and bake at 425°F for 25 minutes.
- Grilling: Preheat the grill to 350°F or medium. Place the crab legs directly on the grill grates. They will take about 8 to 10 minutes. You can flip them halfway through if you wish, but it’s not necessary.
- Pressure cooking / Instant Pot: This method is best suited to frozen crab legs. Add the crab legs and set the timer to one minute on manual at high pressure with a natural release. The time to build and release pressure is usually ample time to heat up frozen snow crab legs.
How to cook king crab legs
Fill a large stock pot with two inches of water plus a half teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the crab legs and cover with a lid and cook for 6 to 8 minutes (or 12 minutes if the crab is frozen).
Other options include steaming or baking. Whatever method you choose, it’s best to thaw the crag legs before cooking, as they come out more tender than when cooked from frozen. Defrost them in the refrigerator the night before or place under cold running water for 10 to 15 minutes.
How to cook frozen crab legs
If you’re in a hurry, you’ll need to cook frozen crab legs. Place a steam basket at the bottom of a large stockpot with 1 cup of water. Add as many crab legs as your pot will accommodate and still close the lid tightly. Bring the water to a boil then cover and steam cook until fragrant and steaming hot (about 5 minutes for thawed or 10 minutes for frozen crab legs).
How long to cook crab legs
King crab legs will take 10 to 15 minutes in the oven or on the grill. Boiling or steaming will take 6 to 8 minutes. Note these times will be longer if the crab is frozen.
Snow crab legs will take 8 to 10 minutes in the oven or 3 to 4 minutes on the stovetop boiling or steaming. These times will be longer if the crab is frozen.
How to prepare pre-cooked crab legs
Pre-cooked crab legs only need to be gently reheated. You can reheat them on a baking sheet in the oven, by steaming or boiling on the stovetop or by grilling. The crab legs should be thawed first and the reheating process should take 10 to 15 minutes at the most.
How to prepare raw crab legs
If you’re lucky enough to get fresh crab legs, the simplest way to cook them is by boiling. Get large pot of water to a rolling boil. Grasp each crab one-by-one with kitchen tongs and drop it into the boiling water. Repeat until they’re all in the water and boil for 4 to 6 minutes depending on the size of the crabs.
You can serve them hot directly out of the pot. Alternatively, if you are making a chilled entree, you can put them in a large bowl of ice water for 5 minutes to cool them down quickly.
Tips for cooking crab legs
- When shopping look for crab legs without excess ice crystals inside the package, which can indicate thawing and refreezing.
- Ensure the crab legs are thawed completely before use and then cook promptly for the best flavor.
- Use a large pot for boiling. You want to use a large 12-16 quart (12-16 liter) stockpot to comfortably accommodate 2-3 lbs (1-1.5 kg) of crab legs. They should be fully immersed for even heating. If the crab legs don’t fit comfortably into the pot, you may need to cook in batches.
- Avoid overcooking! The goal of cooking crab legs is to heat them thoroughly. To check doneness, just crack open a leg and try it. If it’s still cold in the middle, cook a little longer.
How to buy crab legs
The main season for crab is from October to January in the US. However, unless you live near a fishery, most of what you buy will have been frozen. In these cases, always check the package or ask your fishmonger whether they’re raw or precooked.
If you’re lucky enough to come across fresh crab, inspect it carefully before buying, as it’s quite perishable. Like lobster, they should be active and have a fresh ocean smell.
How to eat crab legs
For King crab, it’s helpful to have a pair of kitchen scissors on hand. Simply cut lengthside down the shell and peel it open to expose the flesh. You may also get a few claws in the package, and you’ll want a seafood cracker to open those.
Snow crab legs are a bit different, since they’re smaller. You can actually snap the legs off the body with your hands, and then break open each leg by snapping at the joint. You’ll want to use a seafood fork to extract the fibrous flesh from the shell. For the claws, a seafood cracker is essential to access the meat inside.
Enjoying cold crab legs (Cold crab legs)
To enjoy cold crab legs, you simply need to defrost them fully and serve as usual. Note that king crab can take several hours to overnight to thaw due to their large size (If they are fresh, boil them for 4 to 5 minutes and place in ice water for 5 minutes to chill before serving.)
Enjoying hot crab legs (Hot crab legs)
To enjoy hot crab legs, boiling or steaming for 3 to 5 minutes is the way to go. Have your side dishes and condiments ready so you can serve the crab hot directly from the pot.
How many crab legs should I buy?
Plan on buying 3-5 pounds for 4 people as a main course. While it may seem like a lot, remember that much of the weight is in the shells, which get discarded.
You may buy more when entertaining to avoid running out, or less if you’re serving other dishes alongside.
Is it best to boil or bake crab legs?
Boiling is undoubtedly the faster cooking method for crab, taking just a few minutes for frozen legs. In contrast, baking will take about 10 minutes in addition to oven preheating time. The flavor is very similar for both methods.
How to cook fully cooked crab legs?
Fully cooked crab legs only need brief reheating, either by steaming, boiling, baking at 350°F or grilling.
How to serve crab legs?
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Watch recipe video: how to cook crab legs
This video tutorial shows you how to cook crab legs:
How to Cook Crab Legs
- 3 pounds crab legs, king crab or snow crab (thawed)*
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 lemon
- fresh parsley, minced – optional
- We recommend defrosting the crab if frozen. This can be done by placing the package in the refrigerator overnight, or alternatively under cold running water for 15 minutes.
Boiled Crab Legs
- Fill a 16-quart stockpot halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil.
- Using long-handled tongs, add the defrosted crab legs to the pot, submerging completely.
- Cover the pot and cook for 4 to 5 minutes for snow crab, or 6 to 8 minutes for king crab.
- Remove from water and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
Steamed Crab Legs
- Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil.
- Carefully place the steamer basket in the pot. (Regular steamer baskets can hold about 1-1.5 pounds, so steam in batches if needed.)
- Using tongs, add the crab legs to the steamer basket. Cover and steam for 4 to 5 minutes for snow crab, or 6 to 8 minutes for king crab.
- Remove from the steamer and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
Baked Crab Legs
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Place the crab legs on a baking sheet and brush with melted butter.
- Cover with aluminum foil, and bake until fully heated, about 7 to 8 minutes for snow crab or 10 to 12 minutes for king crab.
- Remove from oven and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
Grilled Crab Legs
- Preheat the grill to medium or 350°F (177°C).
- Place the crab legs on the grill and brush with melted butter.
- Cover and grill for 7 to 8 minutes for snow crab, or 10 to 12 minutes for king crab. Optional: Flip the crab halfway through grilling for extra grill marks.
- Remove from the grill and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
- To eat king crab legs: cut the crab legs in half with a knife or scissors to expose the flesh.
- To eat snow crab legs:
- Pull legs and claw off the cluster, breaking each piece at the joint. Bend each leg gently until the shell breaks and the meat will come out of the shell in lumps.
- For the claws, use a crab leg cracker to break the shell. Peel off the shell and take the meat out.
- For the cluster, you can pick meat out with a fork.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days to use in seafood salad or sandwiches.
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