Pick Baltimore Blue Crabs

Lanelle / April 23, 2016

Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are one of the most delicious foods in Maryland. They’re what makes Baltimore, well, Baltimore. However, to the person trying this Maryland delicacy for the first time, picking apart crabs can be a daunting experience. Here are a few steps to make eating crabs more enjoyable. There are a few things you’ll need, though. Crab knives, mallets, newspaper for covering the table and a bucket are a must. As is a cold beer. More crab seasoning and melted butter or cocktail sauce are optional.

The first step is fairly easy – make sure you get the biggest crab. It’s as simple as that.

Once you have selected your crab, flip it over and look towards the back of the body (the side opposite the claws) The small key on the bottom will tell you whether it is a male or female crab. The male will have a long, thin key, while the female has a wider, rounder key. In D.C, we say the male has the Washington Monument and the female has the Capital building. The male usually has more meat and larger lump meat than the female, but many say that the female meat is a little sweeter. One also has to take into account that the female crab will have eggs in it which should be removed. The female crab should also not be eaten as much as they are needed to repopulate.

Use your crab knife to pick apart the key from the rest of the crab. Remove the key and toss it in the bucket. With your crab knife still in hand, use the point of the knife to shove in between the top and bottom half of the shell. Pry the top half off and toss this in the bucket as well.

Flip the crab over and you should be able to see the lungs. Scrape these off using your knife. The thick, yellow sauce is called crab mustard, and is basically crab digestive fluid. It is edible and many people eat it along with the meat. However, it is now advised not to eat it, as it absorbs a lot of the toxins of the beautiful Chesapeake. Grab the crab with both hands, holding each side and split it in half. You may want to gently crush the top and bottom to loosen the meat, but be careful as to not to crush it so hard that the shell splinters into the meat.

Take the legs and twist them out of the crab. This should bring a lot of the meat out as well. Remove the claws and set them aside. Toss the legs into the bucket.

You should see some shell that curls upwards in the back of the crab. Take your knife and slice this part of the shell off. You should be able to simply pull out the crab meat. This is where the majority of the meat is and is referred to as lump crab meat. You can also rub the meat in seasoning, melted butter, or cocktail sauce. Be sure to finish it off with a sip of ice -cold beer. Most of the meat is located along the underside of the crab near the back, some is under the lungs and a small amount is up near the front of the crab. Be sure to explore the crab carefully before discarding.

Repeat this on the other side of the crab. Or you can take an intermission with the claws. It’s your call.

Should you choose to go for the claws, you need to grab your mallet or knife. Or the person’s sitting next to you if they are closest.. Hands get messy and sharing tools is important. However, you are not required to share crabs, unless you are with a small child who is unable to handle sharp objects. The mallet is used to crack the claws open. You can let your frustrations out with nice whack on both halves of the claw. Pull the claw apart and usully you can just bite the meat straight off the claws but watch out for the tendon. This is not edible. Although smashing the claws is quite enjoyable, it tends to shatter the claw and make it hard to get the meat out cleanly. I prefer to take the knife and put the serrated edge halfway down the claw and with the heel of my palm give the top of the knife a nice, quick hit. This tends to give the claw a much cleaner break, though again, not as fun as smashing. You can either rub the crab in seasoning or dip in cocktail sauce or melted butter if you choose but remember to finish it off with a sip of cold beer.

Once you have cleaned the crab meat from the shell, discard the shell and grab another. Remember to follow the same rule and go for the biggest crab. Repeat the above steps and enjoy.

Blue crabs are the treat of Maryland. For many, they symbolize the beginning of summer, family feasts, and a fun and enjoyable meal.