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How to Cook Perfect Crab Legs

It makes our mouth water just thinking of preparing a crab leg feast. The best part is, crab legs happen to be one of the easiest seafood meals you can make at home.  It will also save you quite a bit of money cooking them at home, so enjoy an extra pound or two. No need to stress over preparing this delicious dinner – we’re going to walk you through several ways to prepare your king crab and snow crab legs, how to eat them, and the best way to serve them. We’ll even give you a few pros and cons to each cooking method and our best tips on preparing perfect crab legs every time.

 

King Crab or Snow Crab?

Let’s start from the beginning. Should you purchase king crab or snow crab for your crab leg fest? Either of these two main crab leg options will make a delicious meal and are sold in your local grocery store or can be at your doorstep through online seafood doorstep delivery. Snow crab is typically sold in clusters, offering you several legs and sometimes a claw or two. King crab has a much larger leg and often sells by the individual leg. If you’re budgeting carefully for your meal,  you may want to note snow crab legs are significantly less expensive than king crab.

Whichever legs you use, your crab will be live or already cooked and frozen. Most grocery stores sell pre-cooked snow crab and king crab frozen or just thawed from frozen, making your “cooking” pretty straightforward. Your main concern will be choosing a heating method and maintaining their sweet juice and natural flavors. 

 

Ideal Cooking Temperature for Crab Legs

It’s always wise to have a USDA recommendation chart handy for all your cooking needs. For crab legs, whether you’re making king crab or snow crab, cooking to a temperature of approximately 145 degrees is best. Watch for a pearly, opaque white look to your crab legs for doneness.

 

Choosing Your Cooking Method

There are four main ways to cook your snow crab or king crab legs – oven, grill, instant pot, and steam.

 

Oven-Broiled Crab Legs

Broiling your crab legs in the oven offers a fantastic way to infuse butter flavor into the meat as they heat. It’s the high heat of the broiler that adds a slight caramelization to your crab, yielding unforgettable flavor. On the downside, if you’re preparing for a large group, note that most sheet pans will only hold a pound or so of snow crab legs and less king crab at a time, so plan accordingly and follow these easy steps:

 Step 1: Preheat the Oven 

Prepare your baking pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil. We like to use a 15x10x1-inch pan. Turn your oven to the high broiler setting.

Step 2: Broil your Crab Legs

Place the king crab or snow crab legs on the baking pan and brush them with one tablespoon of melted butter or olive oil. Place your sheet pan roughly six inches from the broiler and bake until the crab legs heat through – about three to four minutes on each side. Your meat will be a lovely opaque white.

 

Oven-Baked Crab Legs

Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. To bake your snow crab or king crab legs, you’ll prepare foil packs for the best results. Choose a heavy-duty aluminum foil for four clusters. For each foil pack, bring the two ends of the foil together to the center, and fold them together twice. The other two ends, fold them together, sealing the foil packet nice and tight, sealing in juices and flavor. Place your snow or king crab foil packets onto a baking sheet and bake them on the center rack for twenty-five minutes if frozen or fifteen minutes if thawed. When checking on your legs, be careful of the steam as you open the foil pack. Your only drawback may be preparing the foil packs, but it's only a few extra moments for a divine outcome.

 

Grilling your Crab Legs

Grilling king and snow crab legs offer incredibly tasty meat and make cleaning up a breeze. And, depending on the time of year, you’ll cut down on the extra heat in the kitchen if you choose to grill. Choosing to use a charcoal grill will add additional flavor to your snow or king crab legs, but your propane grill will still bring that extra smokey goodness to the meat. 

 

Step 1: Prepare your Grill

Turn your gas or charcoal grill to medium heat.

Step 2: Prepare your Crab Legs

As with oven-baking, follow the steps to prepare your crab in foil packets. The crab's natural moisture will help the cooking process, so there’s no need to add additional butter, oil, or water to the packs.

Step 3: Grill your Crab Legs

Grill your crab over medium-high heat, or 450˚F, for fifteen to twenty minutes if frozen or ten minutes if they are thawed. To maximize the heat, we like to keep the grill cover on as we cook. Your snow or king crab is ready when steaming is apparent as you open the foil pack.

  • Side note: Alternatively, you can brush your snow crab or king crab legs with one tablespoon of melted butter or olive oil to keep them from sticking to your grill. Place and cook them directly on the grill grates and follow step 3.

 

Instant Pot Crab Legs

Instant pots make everything so effortless, don’t they? Well the same goes for your snow crab and king crab legs. Depending on the size of your instant pot, you may want to reserve this method for smaller meals and perhaps snow crab clusters, but it sure locks in moisture and offers flavorful legs.

Step 1: Prepare your Instant Pot

Place the trivet into your six-quart instant pot and add one cup of water.

Step 2: Pressure Cooking

Add three to four clusters of fresh or frozen crab legs per batch. Carefully fold the legs to fit them adequately. Helpful tip: thawed legs are easier than frozen to fold and fit for this method. Close lid and cook on manual high pressure for four minutes, then quick release. Repeat with additional batches using the same water.

 

Boiling Crab Legs

Boiling your crab offers a way for the water to get in between the cooked crab meat and shell, keeping your legs moist and juicy. Many people prefer this quick and easy method, but it's worth mentioning others tend to find it can make the legs a bit watery if not drained completely. Here’s how to boil your snow or king crab like a pro:

Step 1: Preparing

Fill a large pot with water and a pinch of salt, then bring to a boil.

Step 2: Add the Crab

Carefully fold legs at the joints, submerge your crab legs into the boiling water, and then immediately simmer for four to five minutes. Remove from water, drain legs, cool for a few minutes, and serve.

 

Steaming Crab Legs

Steaming crab legs is similar to the boiling method. Many people will tell you that steaming is a better choice because it allows all of the crab flavor to stay inside the shell rather than leaking into your cooking water. The downside is that most steaming baskets can only hold about a pound of crab legs, so plan accordingly.

Step 1: Prepare the Water

Place your steamer basket over one inch of water. Carefully fold and place your king or snow crabs into the steamer basket and bring the water to a boil.

Step 2: Steam

When your water reaches a boil, reduce the heat, cover your pot, and simmer for five to six minutes if thawed and ten minutes if frozen. Maintain a simmering state to heat the legs throughout.

 

How to Eat Crab Legs

If you haven’t had crab legs before, it may take a bit of getting the hang of it. Be patient – it's worth it! You can use a seafood cracker or a small wooden mallet to crack open your crab leg shells. Just be aware of small pieces of shells that may sometimes find their way into the meat. The easiest way to open and remove the meat is by splitting the legs with kitchen shears.

Hold the leg firmly while cutting a slit down the length of the leg shell. Once split in two, use your thumbs to gently separate the two sides of the shell, sliding the meat out in one long piece.

Since king crab legs are larger and have a thicker shell, your kitchen shears will bring you the best success.

 For snow crab legs, using your hands may be the quickest and easiest way to retrieve your meat: 

  • Remove each leg by snapping it off at the cluster.
  • Snap each leg into two parts at the joint.
  • For each leg, use two hands on each end to gently bend back and forth until the shell breaks open. Doing so will keep the crab meat in one piece and allow you to slide the meat out of the shell easily.
  • For snow crab claws, it's best to use the cracker to break open the shell. Don’t use too much pressure, or you'll risk crushing the meat inside. Peel back the shell so you can slide the meat out easily.
  • When opening the cluster with your hands, it’s easy enough to gently peel it open. You can remove the meat with your fingers or a small fork.

 

How to Serve Crab Legs

It’s standard to serve your snow crab or king crab legs with a side of clarified, melted butter and lemon wedges on the side. Once you remove the crab meat from the shell, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top, then dip it into the melted butter. You can also squeeze your lemon directly into your butter and save a step.

Our favorite way to prepare our clarified butter is by using a small saucepan to melt the butter over low heat. Simmering the butter for roughly ten minutes helps the solids separate from the fat. Just make sure to keep an eye on it, so your butter does not brown. Add in minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste, stirring occasionally. Remove it from the heat and skim the foam from the top. Using a fine-mesh strainer or a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth, drain the remaining clarified butter. You can even make a large batch and store it safely for up to three months in your fridge or six months in the freezer. It's fantastic on vegetables, pasta, and potatoes.

 

Additional Tips for Perfect Crab Legs

Following cooking directions is one thing, but knowing some of the best-kept secrets will bring you perfect crab legs every time.

  • When you can't decide, choose the instant pot when you’re cooking for two for quick convenience and steaming crab legs when you’re feeding a larger group.
  • If you aren’t a huge fan of the seafood smell lingering throughout your house, use the grilling method, or set up your instant pot outside. You could also let your instant pot quick-release underneath the stove hood with the vent on high.
  • When boiling, do not overcook, or you may dilute the meat flavor, and your shells will become soft and difficult to crack.
  • In each of these cooking methods, watch for the steam.  If you aren’t seeing hot steam rise from them, they still need to cook a bit longer.
  • Try serving them cold. Whether you chill them or serve leftovers, the meat stays incredibly juicy right out of the fridge. Set aside a bit for a cold crab appetizer and allow your family or guests to experience them both ways.
  • Thawed crab legs should remain in the refrigerator and eaten within one to two days – that is, if you happen to have leftovers.
  • Thaw your snow crab or king crab legs by placing them in the refrigerator overnight. If you are short on time, run the legs under cold water until they are ice-free.
  • When boiling, it’s essential to use a large enough stockpot or boil in small batches. We suggest a large stockpot or Dutch oven that will hold two pounds of crab legs without overflowing. You’ll appreciate this when you’re boiling the large king crab legs.
  • While saltwater is perfect for boiling and steaming, you may add additional seasoning to your water, like lemon slices, bay leaves, or garlic.

 

And that’s all there is to it! You’ve got all the tips and steps you need for your delicious crab leg feast!