4 Easy Ways – How to Clean and Cook Live Crab at Home

How to Clean and Cook Live Crab

Boiled, grilled, or baked no matter how you cook crabs, it is a delicacy enjoyed by people of all ages everywhere. You do not have to visit an expensive restaurant and clean out your pocket to enjoy this delicacy. Indulge yourself in this scrumptious food by cooking it at home.

Do not worry if you have never tried this at home. Join us as we talk about how to cook a live crab, starting with the basics.

The Preparations for Cooking a Live Crab

Cooking a Live Crab

If you are living in the coastal areas, it must be very common to bring in wild-caught crabs. Baiting and catching crabs is rather a fun activity. But whether you are living in the coastal areas or elsewhere, you can visit your local supermarket for the freshest crabs.

Some of the tastiest species of crabs would be Blue Crab, Soft Shell Crab, Dungeness Crab, and Snow crab. Catch it live or purchase, do not compromise with the quality of it. Purchase the crabs and choose the recipe you like. Enjoy this home-cooked delicacy with your friends and family over beer.

If you want to know the basics of how to cook a live crab, you must start from the very beginning. Cooking a live crab is a three-step process and all three steps are equally important.

So, without further delay, let us start with the basics.

Killing a Live Crab

So, it is important that you kill them first to get along in the next step. Before we get into the process, you should know that you must keep the crabs alive until you are about to cook them. It means that you should not kill them until you are prepared to cook for the day.

Why should you do that? Well, crabs contain toxins in their digestive organs which are released as soon as they die. Their stomach releases these toxins to jump-start the crab’s decomposition. It spreads to the entire body shortly after that making the meat of the crab toxic.

Now we do not want that, do we? So, to keep the meat as fresh as possible, start the process shortly before you cook them.

In case you purchase or catch your crabs alive hours before you are going to cook, you can store it in the fridge. It will help you in the cleaning process later apart from keeping the crabs alive and fresh. Keeping them in the fridge renders them immobile due to freezing.

Now onto the killing process. There are quite a few ways to kill the crab. However, the most common methods removing the shell and spiking.

Shell Removal

The process of removing shells of live crab can seem a bit ghastly to you if it is your first time doing this. But this is a very effective way to kill crabs within seconds and it fast-tracks the whole process.

Now there are different variations of how you can do this. But it starts with keeping the crab in the fridge to render it immobile. Or else, there is a high chance you may hurt yourself in the process.

  • Once you immobilize the crab by chilling them, you can use kitchen shears to cut behind the eyes of the crab. This will kill the crab almost instantly. Then you must pull out the gills from the top shell on each side.

Next, you must turn over the crab. Then you pull out the bottom shell which is known as the apron.

  • Another way is to pull by the legs and then separate the shell.
  • The last method would be cracking the shell open. You can separate the legs and the shell by cracking the crab’s shell against a hardened surface.


Spiking means penetrating the nerves of the crab to kill it. So, crabs have two main nerves- one lying at the front and the other lying at the back. If you pierce these two nerves, you can kill them almost immediately.

Crab Spiking

The process can be a bit tricky and takes practice to do it right. But make sure the crabs have been immobilized by chilling them in the fridge.

  1. Take out the crab from the fridge and keep it on a sturdy surface.
  2. Flip the crab so that the bottom side is facing towards you and hold the crab accordingly.
  3. The nerves are situated in the abdomen under the shell which is known as the apron. You can remove the apron by lifting it slightly towards the front.
  4. You will then notice a tiny hole. Take a sharp knife and place it on the hole towards the entire nerve center.
  5. The front nerve is situated at the front area of the crab where you will notice a shallow depression. With the help of the knife, place it horizontally over that shallow depression to pierce the front nerve.

This is how you complete the spiking process in the minimum amount of time. It will take practice to identify those nerve points and do it smoothly.

Once you are done, with the killing process of the live crab, it is now time to clean the crab. The cleaning process is quite easy and takes a few minutes if you do it right.

Killing Methods You Should Avoid

It is important that you kill the crab as humanely as possible. Some methods can cause crabs unbearable pain and may cause them to suffer to death. That is something you do not want to do. So, avoid using such methods.

  • Do not put them to boil before killing them. Even if they have been rendered immobile, avoid boiling them before they are killed.
  • Do not drop them in fresh water. This will cause them to go into shock and suffer.
  • Do not cut or severe them from the abdomen or any other parts before piercing the nerves.

Cleaning the Crab – A Crucial Step

Cleaning the Crab

Onto the next and most important step. In case you are a beginner, do not be hasty when cleaning the crab. You can either clean the crab step by step or half-back it, so it takes less time.

Whichever method you use, please take your time, and follow this process of cleaning the crabs from beginning to end.

  1. Turn the crab so that its underside is facing towards you. Now pull the apron of the crab from the rear end to the front to remove it.
  2. After you have removed the apron, you will need to remove the top shell also known as the carapace.
  3. To remove the carapace, look for the small hole in between the crab’s body and the carapace. Once you have identified it, grab the crab, and pull off the carapace from the place where the small hole is.
  4. Fatty liquids may come out after that, remove that from the shell. This fatty liquid is also known as crab butter.
  5. A lot of people prefer to keep this liquid to use it later in a sauce or other cooking purposes. You can store it if you want to.
  6. To store the fatty liquid, you should hold the crab in a manner so that when you pull the crab up, the liquid pours down. You can then collect it.
  7. If you want, you can also clean the top shell and keep it for garnish purposes.
  8. Now that you have removed the shells, it is time to clean the inside of the crab. Once you remove the carapace, the inside of the crab will be very visible.
  9. Remove the two rows of gills and any reddish membrane that you can see.
  10. Now wash the crab with some cold water.
  11. To remove the legs and claws of the crab, use a wooden mallet to crack the shell from each of the section.
  12. After that discard any other shells that are still there and remove the meat with your fingers.
  13. You can give them a wash one more time to make sure it is clean thoroughly.

Half Backing

Half-Backing means cutting the crabs in halves so that it is easier to clean and cook them. Most often people use this process to clean and cook crabs that are very big in size. It allows placing all the parts in the pan while cooking without any hassle.

The process starts with killing the crab by cutting in the middle. You put a sharp knife between its eyes and the backside. Once that is done you can put the halved crabs in the water and thoroughly rinse it.

You should remove the top shell so that the guts and gills can be cleaned. After scooping out all the necessary parts, rinse the crabs one more time.

If you want you can cut the halved crabs in quarters too by cutting the claws and legs.

Once you are done cleaning and giving them a final rinse, it is time for you to decide how to cook live crab.

How to Cook a Live Crab

How to Cook a Live Crab

When you search the internet for recipes to turn your crabs into delicacies, you will see that there are 4 ways to cook them into the scrumptious meal you can serve to everyone. Crabs can be cooked in 4 ways and there is no right or wrong way among these four.

  • Grilled Crabs
  • Baked Crabs
  • Boiled Crabs
  • Steamed Crabs

Before you start the cooking process, make sure the guts and gills of the crabs have been taken out. Check that they have been cleaned and rinsed properly.

Grilled Crabs

Grilled crabs are such a delicacy when done right. No matter which crabs you choose, you can never go wrong with grilling them. Now it is up to you to decide whether you want to grill crab legs or the whole crab.

You can choose from several ways to grill your crab legs. People usually purchase frozen crab legs, which are cooked from before. You can check whether it is cooked by seeing the color of the crab legs. If the color is red, you can be sure it is cooked.

Before we get to the grilling process, remember to defrost the crab legs. If you are preparing for the next day, leave it in the refrigerator overnight. It may take around 8-10 hours for the crab legs to thaw.

If it is a last-minute plan, then you can just put them in a bowl of cold water in your sink. This process may take around 4-6 hours to have the crabs properly thawed.

When you are done thawing out the crab legs, you can grill them in one of these two ways:

Charcoal grilled crab legs

Whether you are going to use a gas grill, or a charcoal grill make sure it is hot enough before you put the crab legs on it.

  • Get the grill heated to a medium high. To check whether it is heated enough, put your hand over the grill. If you can keep it for 3 seconds, then the temperature is right.
  • If you want, you can split the crab legs using kitchen shears. It allows the seasoning to get inside the meat.
  • You can use any seasoning of your choice- olive oil, butter, and spices of your choice.
  • Apply the seasoning on the crab legs and put it on the grill.
  • Make sure to keep the meat side up and the shell side on the grill grate.
  • Keep it like that for 4-6 minutes until you see a bit of charring on the shell.
  • Flip it on the meat side and cook it for about 5-7 minutes.
  • Remove them once they are done.

You can now serve them with your choice of dipping sauce and any sides you prefer. You can also serve a side of grilled lemon wedges to add to the overall taste.

Smoked Crab Legs

To make smoked crab legs, you can either use a charcoal grill or an electric smoker.

  • In case you are using a charcoal grill, use an aluminum foiled pan to place the water inside.
  • This will start steaming when the grill gets heated.
  • Now take some heavy-duty aluminum foil and wrap the crab legs in it.
  • Pour a seasoning mixture of your choice and make sure it is applied on both sides.
  • Now put them on the grill in medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Turn them over every 4-5 minutes.
  • If you are using a smoker, instead of the grill, place the foiled pan inside the smoker. Close the lid and let them heat for about 30 minutes.
  • You can open the lids every 10 minutes to check on them. And they should be done in 30 minutes.

If you want to grill the crabs as a whole, this is how you should do it:

  • Once you crack the crabs and clean them, use a sharp knife to open the shell of each leg joint. Then place the crabs in a large bowl.
  • Make a seasoning of your choice. You can use green onions, parsley, chili flakes and other spices to create the mixture of your seasoning.
  • Pour the seasoning on the bowl and mix them properly.
  • Keep the seasoned crabs inside the refrigerator for about an hour so they can be marinated properly.
  • Now get the grill started. Once it is hot enough, put the crabs on the grill with the help of tongs.
  • Turn over the crabs every 3-5 minutes so that they are grilled evenly.
  • When you see the shell getting a bit charred, you can take them off from the grill. Put them on a plate and serve it with a dipping sauce.

Baked Crabs

Baking crab is easier compared to grilling it. You do not have to take the hassle of using a grill or a smoker. You can just stay indoors and use the oven to bake crabs with a recipe of your liking.

  • At first you should preheat the oven at 400˚.
  • Take a large pan to create your mixture.
  • At first melt some butter in it along with olive oil in medium heat.
  • Now add spices of your choice along with garlic, onions, salt, and any hot sauce you like.  Stir it properly to create the mixture right.
  • Now take a large baking dish and put the crabs on it.
  • Next, you should take the mixture and pour it on the crabs. Make sure the mixture is spread out evenly.
  • You can bake them for around 25 minutes. Once they are done you can serve them with a dipping sauce or some warm pieces of breads.

In case you want to bake crab legs instead of the whole crab, you can follow the same process. You can also split the crab legs in half to get the seasoning inside.

To put a twist to this baking process, you can create a heavier mixture. Fill the crab shells with this and bake it in the same process.

Boiled Crabs

Boiling is one of the most common and preferred methods of cooking the crab. Now for this process, you will need a large pot and a set of tongs. Usually, people boil the live crabs as a whole instead of going to the hassle of half-backing them.

Boiled Crabs
  • Get the water boiling in the large pot. Pour enough water to cover up the number of crabs you will put while keeping space so that water does not overflow when you put them.
  • Mix half a cup of salt with per gallon of water poured.
  • Add some wine, garlic, lemon to season the crabs.
  • Put vegetables of your choice and any type of seafood seasoning you like into the pot.
  • Cook them for 25-30 minutes until they are boiled properly.
  • Now bring out the crabs from the fridge. With the help of the tongs, put the crabs in the boiling water. Make sure it is covered properly with water.
  • You should let it boil for around 20 minutes. Do not forget to put the lid on the pot.
  • Once it is boiled properly, take it out of the pot and put it in ice-cold water. This helps to avoid the sticking of the meat to the shell.
  • Then you can garnish it with butter or any other sauce you like.

Steamed Crabs

Now the steaming process is similar to the boiling process with a twist in the appliances used. Now for this, you will need a large pot with a steamer basket. Most cooking pots do not come with a steamer basket. So, it is best to buy one separately suitable for the size of your cooking pot.

  • Much like the boiling process, fill up the pot with water. Mix salt to it with similar measurements.
  • Get the water to boil and insert the steamer basket.
  • You can add wine, vinegar, and soya sauce as well.
  • Now with the help of the tongs, put the crabs on the steamer basket.
  • Now add garlic, onions, spices, and any seafood seasoning.
  • Allow the crabs to steam for 15-20 minutes.
  • Check the color of the crabs after 20 minutes. If it is bright red, then the crabs are cooked properly and ready to be served.

Steamed crabs are more preferred over boiled crab recipes because it is said that steamed crab meat absorbs the juice and makes it tastier.

Mistakes You Should Avoid

Cooking seafood can be a bit tricky. But if you can prepare it correctly, the end results will be mouthwatering. So, there are some things you should avoid while you are going to prepare to cook the crab.

  • Do not use the microwave to defrost the crabs.
  • Never use hot water to defrost the crabs.
  • Do not be hasty if you are defrosting it by keeping in the refrigerator.
  • Do not start cooking right after you get it out of the fridge. Let it rest in the room temperature for at least 25-30 minutes.
  • Start the defrosting process the night before you cook or hours before. Leaving the defrosted crabs out for too long, will cause bacteria to infect the meat.
  • Never choose small pans when you will cook crabs. If you use small pans, you may risk undercooking the crabs.
  • Do not overheat the cooking pans or the grills.
  • Avoid choosing the wrong ingredients for seasoning.
  • Do not overcook the crabs as it may make them taste bland.
  • Lastly, do not stir too much while cooking them. Check up on them but do not move them around while they are being cooked.

While practicing different recipes, keep these in mind. And you will be able to enjoy a delicious home-cooked crab delicacy.


Now that you know how to cook a live crab, get yourself some fresh crabs and start the process. Invite your family for a dinner or a nice picnic in the backyard. Grab some beers and enjoy this scrumptious meal.

The entire process starting from killing the crab to cooking it can be very hassle free once you get used to it. It may seem hard at the beginning, but this is not something you cannot master. So, bake the crab or grill it, add your twist to it and make the recipe your own.


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