How to Cook Crab Legs
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Learn how to cook crab legs for a delicious dinner bursting with 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!
Watch video: how to cook crab legs
I didn’t really appreciate crab legs until visiting Seattle’s Pike Place Market, which has gigantic 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 that imitation crab cannot match.
Crab legs have delicate, rich, and sweet meat that’s unparalleled. 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 rivaling Red Lobster. So skip the expensive restaurants and make them at home for a special occasion!
Crab legs recipe
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.
To reheat crab legs, you can boil, steam, bake or even grill them. Select a cooking method based on the taste you’re going for and what’s convenient for you.
Whatever method you choose, it’s best to thaw the crag legs before cooking, as they’re much more tender than ones cooked from frozen. I recommend thawing them in the refrigerator the night before. Alternatively, you can place them under cold running water for 10-15 minutes.
Boiling crab legs
Boiling is the easiest way to cook crab legs. Just fill a 16-quart stockpot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the defrosted crab legs, cover the pot and boil for 4-5 minutes depending on size.
If you’re wondering about how to season crab legs, you can always add Cajun seasoning, Old Bay mix, or some crab boil seasoning to the pot for a seafood boil style dinner.
Steaming crab legs
Steaming is my favorite way to cook crab legs as the juices are better retained in the shell when not immersed in water. You’ll need a steamer basket for this recipe. Add the thawed crab legs, cover the pot and steam for 6-7 minutes depending on size. Cook in batches if necessary.
Baking crab legs in the oven
Baking is the best choice when you want to introduce other flavors like lemon or garlic butter into the cooking process. It’s also a convenient option if you don’t have the large stockpot required for boiling or steaming.
Brush with melted butter or oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375°F (191°C) for 7-8 minutes.
Grilling crab legs
Preheat the grill to medium or 350°F (177°C) and brush the crab legs with melted butter or oil. Place on the grill and cook for 5 minutes for the first side, then flip and cook the second side for 4-5 more minutes.
How long to cook frozen crab legs
Crab legs can be cooked straight from frozen, although they require a few minutes longer and will be slightly less tender than thawed legs. Follow the cooking times below:
|Frozen Crab Legs||Time to Cook|
Selecting crab legs
There are two common types of crab legs available when you go shopping:
Snow Crab Legs (a.k.a Queen Crab): Snow crab legs are smaller and cheaper than king crab, but are still full of flavor! They’re sold in clusters with body meat attached to the legs and claw, weighing in at about a half-pound (220 grams) per cluster.
King Crab Legs: These giant crabs have the largest, meatiest legs and are the most expensive and sought-after! American king crab comes exclusively from Alaska and is often sold in 1 pound (450 gram) packages in supermarkets.
King crab has the best texture with large chunks of meat that come out the shells easily! Snow crab also has fabulous flavor, but the meat can sometimes shred and be a pickier job to eat.
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.
How to serve crab legs?
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.
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How to Cook Crab Legs (+Video)
- 3 pounds crab legs, king crab or snow crab (thawed)*
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 lemon
- fresh parsley, minced – optional
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 4-5 minutes depending on size.
- 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 6-7 minutes.
- Remove from the steamer and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
Baked Crab Legs
- Preheat oven to 375°F (191°C).
- Place the crab legs on a baking sheet and brush with melted butter.
- Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 7-8 minutes or until cooked through.
- 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 5 minutes. Then flip and cook the second side for 4-5 more minutes.
- Remove from the grill and serve with lemon wedges and melted butter. Sprinkle optional fresh parsley on top.
- *Ensure your crab legs are thawed completely before use.
- 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.
Please read our nutrition disclaimer.
- Large stockpot with steamer insert for boiling or steaming
- Large baking sheet for baking
- Kitchen tongs
- Crab leg cracker
Editor note: Originally published Feb 22, 2019, updated Oct 10, 2019