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A Thing or Two about Blue Crab

Photo by Tim Hussey
Photo by Tim Hussey

Grab your crab crackers and line your table with newspaper because it is blue crab season! The season begins in the spring around April 1 and runs through mid-December, depending upon your location. Blue crab can be found along the eastern seaboard from Nova Scotia, throughout the Gulf of Mexico and down along the coast of Uruguay in South America. These hard shell delicacies are known for their delicate, sweet meat which helps counteract the complexity of extracting that meat from their tough shells.

All you need to catch blue crab is a net, some string, a weight and a few chicken necks, and of course, some patience. If you plan on fishing for them yourself there are a few things to consider.

  1. State laws vary but most regulate the size of the crab you can keep as well as the number you can keep in one day.
  2. Some states also require a recreational fishing license.
  3. The population of blue crab has declined in most states and so for conservation’s sake, most require females carrying eggs (an orange sponge-like sack on the abdomen) to be thrown back immediately.

If you would rather buy crab, there are things to consider here as well.

  1. Some fish markets will ship live blue crabs or whole, cooked crabs.
  2. If you are buying picked crab, check to see that the crab is steamed rather than boiled. Steaming helps preserve the sweet flavor without adding water to the meat as happens with boiling.
  3. Buying domestic crab insures that you are getting the real thing and not an imposter like Indonesian blue swimming crab.
  4. Picked crab is graded based on the quality of the lumps of crabmeat and where the meat comes from on the crab. It is sold in tubs, usually by the pound, and price varies according to the grade.

Crab in the Kitchen

Photo by Tim Hussey
Photo by Tim Hussey

Jumbo lump crab meat

Jumbo lump crab meat comes from the rearmost part of the abdomen and is connected to the swimming fins. Jumbo lump crabmeat is prized for its large chunks and pearl white color and is perfect for dishes showcasing crab like a crab cocktail or ceviche. This grade of crab is favored by chefs and can be used in any dish but can be cost-prohibitive.

Recommended Recipe /  Fried Green Tomato “Caprese” with Jumbo Lump Blue Crab, Watermelon, and Arnold Palmer Vinaigrette

Photo by Denny Culbert  
Shrimp and Crabmeat Étouffée / Photo by Rush Jagoe

Super lump crabmeat

Super lump crabmeat contains broken pieces of the jumbo lump crab along with meat taken from the rest of the body. This grade is perfect for making crab cakes and pasta.

Recommended Recipe /  Shrimp and Crabmeat Étouffée

Claw Meat

Claw meat has a darker color and a more intense crab flavor than the meat from the abdomen. Claw meat is perfect for heavier sauces and soups.

Recommended Recipe /  Marinated Louisiana Crab Claws

Photo by Jonathan Boncek
Photo by Jonathan Boncek


Backfin is also a combination of broken jumbo lump meat but contains a higher percentage of flake meat from the body known as special grade. Backfin is often used in salads and pasta.

Recommended Recipe /  Maryland Crab Arancini

Special Grade

Special grade is made from smaller pieces of meat from the body of the crab and can be used in recipes where the crabmeat is mixed in with other ingredients so that the meat is indistinguishable from other ingredients such as in stuffing, dips and soups.

Recommended Recipe /  Deviled Crab

More Blue Crab Recipes

Crab Crema
Maryland Crab Arancini
Thin Noodles with Blue Crab, Quail Eggs and Mustard Greens
Daufuskie Devil Crab
Hard Crab Stew
Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Salsa Verde
Tiny Crab Pies

Photo by Andrew Cebulka
Crab Crema / Photo by Andrew Cebulka