How To Steam Blue Crabs With Old Bay Boil a Bushel of Crabs With This Step-By-Step Recipe

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Making Your Own Crab Boil

Crab, corn, and potato at crab boil

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The term “crab boil” refers to both the cooking method as well as the gathering where the crabs are cooked and enjoyed by a large group. Crab boils are popular in the southern United States, and depending on where you live, the seasonings and the type of crab differ. In Louisiana, lots of spice is added to the water while in Maryland the flavoring of choice is Old Bay seasoning, and the crabs may be steamed over the boiling water instead of cooked directly in it. Boiling crabs is a simple process—you just season the water, boil the crabs, and then let them cool before digging in to enjoy the succulent meat. No matter which crab variety and seasoning you choose, all you need is a few bushels of crabs and a big group of friends ready to get cracking.

Gather Your Crabs and a Large Pot

Cooked Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Background seafood Pattern

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You can buy bushels of live crabs from both coasts of the U.S. On the West Coast, you can sometimes find live Dungeness crabs, Pacific red crabs, and rock crabs. Near the Atlantic, blue crabs will be readily available.

Figure on at least a half-dozen blue crabs, eight red crabs or calico crabs, 10 rock crabs (most of the meat is in the claws), or two to three Dungeness crabs per person. These are general guidelines, so adjust to your eaters’ preference, as well as how many side dishes you plan to serve. Refrigerate the crabs until ready to cook and leave the bag open a little bit to allow for air to circulate.

You will need a very large pot—ideally 12 to 16 quarts—to boil crabs for a big crowd. If you only have an eight-quart pot you may have to cook the crabs one at a time. Also, have ready baking sheets or a large cutting board as well as a large set of tongs.

Season Your Boiling Water

Boiling Crab in Alaska

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While the briny sweetness of the crabs themselves will flavor your meal, a spice mix is a crucial part of the boil. You can add anything you’d like, but two seasoning mixes are the most popular: Old Bay crab boil, or Zatarain’s crab boil. Old Bay is the classic for Maryland or Virginia crab, while Zatarain’s is a Cajun seasoning. If you like spicy, feel free to add hot sauce to the mix. And if you are on the ocean, there is nothing wrong with boiling your crabs in seawater—so long as it’s clean.

Boil Until They Float

Boiling crabs

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Once the water is boiling away, drop your crabs in one at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. Boil in batches if necessary.

The water will drop below a boil when you put in the crabs, so cover the pot and let the water come back to a full boil. Once it does, cook for 10 to 15 minutes. When you see crabs floating on the surface, cook for another 2 to 3 minutes before turning off the heat.

Let Them Cool Down

Cooked crabs

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Once the crabs are ready, carefully remove them from the hot water with long tongs and set them aside on baking sheets or a large board to cool. You and your guests can start cracking and picking out the meat in while the crabs are still warm, or you can wait until they cool completely.

Enjoy Your Crab Boil

A typical way to serve the cooked crabs is to dump them onto a table covered with newspaper or a disposable cloth and let everyone dig in. Make sure you have plenty of mallets, crackers, and picks—as well as napkins.

If you happen to have any leftovers, cooked crabs will stay in good condition for up to a week in the fridge or can be frozen. 

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