How to Cook and Clean a Fresh Dungeness Crab


Step 2: Cook

Picture of Cook

Steam or boil your crab at ~7-8 minutes/pound, lid on but cocked to allow a bit of venting. I chose to steam mine because I've got a large steamer insert, and steam decreases the amount of water retained in the body cavity. Boiling will get the job done quite well, though, and more people are likely to have a big pot than a big steamer.

If you're adding a large number of crabs, start your timer when the water comes back to a boil. Base your number of minutes on the average crab weight, not the sum total.

Round times down whenever necessary; raw/undercooked crabs can always be cooked further, while overcooked rubbery crab is unsalvageable. Thankfully there's a decent margin for error in crab-cooking.

If you're boiling, you can add some seasonings to your water. Add salt (or use sea water), a bay leaf, some celery chunks, a carrot, some pepper corns, and any other whole spices you've got sitting around. Pre-mixed crab boil seasonings are available, but not necessary.


- Take advantage of their cold-bloodedness! Chilling the crabs in the fridge or freezer just before use will slow their metabolism down enough that you can handle them easily.

- You can clean your Dungeness crabs before cooking. This keeps the mess out of the pot and allows for more crabs in the space. Just pre-chill your crab as described above, follow the instructions from steps 3-9, then cook according to this step's directions. However, this approach does require vivisection, which freaks some people out even if the crabs aren't moving. Take your pick. Also, if you've pre-cleaned and halved your crabs, re-weigh the parts (average weight of each half-crab) to determine cooking time.

- many countries/states require you to take your crabs home before breaking them down, so they can be checked for legal size by any passing fisheries officer. If you break them down while still on your boat, it may be construed as an attempt to sneak off with undersized crabs.

toftie6 years ago
I would actually recommend the most humane and easy way (although takes a good stomach) is finding a spot outside with a sharp edge (counter top type edge) that is extremely sturdy. I actually use the stainless steel sink edge or the cleat (used to tie the boat to the dock) and you hold the live crab by it's legs in two hands (one hand on each side holding the legs together) right side up (hard full shell on top) and slam the front part of the shell (where the eyes are) down on the edge of the counter/cleat so as to completely rip the top shell off the crab. Kills them instantly and then you just run them through water and you can clean it perfectly without having to crack it in half or pull it apart. Keeps it nice and whole but clean if you wanted to cook it in spaghetti sauce for example. I could post some video or pictures if it would help.
My girlfriend does it this way and when she was explaining it to me, I didn't understand. Your directions make much more sense! Gonna try this next time!
A video would be great. I perfer to steam my crabs, being I'm from the East Coast. Cleaning them first sounds like a great idea!
tmccloskey13 years ago
Thanks for the great information! I'm a "newbie" to this whole live crab thing. I love crab as does my family but I've always purchased it cooked, cleaned and cracked. I followed your instructions to a "T" and it was so incredibly easy! My 10 year old and I had 15 crabs cleaned "live" and the mess cleaned up within an hour! They are in the pot cooking as we speak! Thank you for making this so simple for me! Happy Thanksgiving!
I have only eaten this crab in a restaurant, but I bought some frozen whole at PriceCosto. They are bright reddish in color so I am assuming they are already cooked - is this correct. It doesn't say on the bag they are in. Head is still on so I am assuming they are not yet cleaned, so we just steam them and go on from there. Thanks for any info you can give me.
canida (author)  sylvia Haywood5 years ago
Sorry for the delay, but in case you do this again, red = already cooked.  You just thaw, clean, and eat, no need for further steaming.
Raiden975 years ago
do crabs make a screaming sound when you cook them?
canida (author)  Raiden975 years ago
To clarify - any noises people sometimes hear from crustaceans upon dropping them into a pot of water are caused by air escaping the shells.  They have no apparatus to make noise.
canida (author)  Raiden975 years ago