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How to Catch, Clean and Cook Blue Crabs

Updated on April 19, 2016

Atlantic Blue Crab

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male blue crab"Jimmy" is another name for a male crabHow big is this blue crab?He's a teeny tiny blue crab!
male blue crab
male blue crab
"Jimmy" is another name for a male crab
"Jimmy" is another name for a male crab
How big is this blue crab?
How big is this blue crab?
He's a teeny tiny blue crab!
He's a teeny tiny blue crab!

Crabbing on the Coast of South Carolina

Crabbing is a favorite summer pastime for my family in Charleston, South Carolina. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are from days spent on my grandparents' dock - the day my cousin and I caught 102 crabs; the time I pulled up four crabs on one line; and the time one escaped and pinched my little toe.

What some people may not know is that crabbing, particularly line crabbing, is a sport, a science, even an art. And the payoff is a feast of tender sweet crab meat dipped in hot butter as friends and family gather around the newspaper-covered picnic table on the porch. So, follow along and hear how we catch, clean and cook blue crabs here in South Carolina's coastal lowcountry. My Charleston Deviled Crab recipe is perfect for all that hard-earned crab meat.

Atlantic blue crabs can be found on the coast from Nova Scotia to Uruguay

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A markernova scotia -
Nova Scotia, Canada
get directions

B markeruruguay -
Uruguay
get directions

Where to Crab

Blue crabs can be found in muddy coastal waters from Nova Scotia down to Uruguay. I live on a saltmarsh tidal creek off the Wando River in South Carolina, and crabbing is very popular. So, where do you crab if you do not have access to a dock on a waterway?

  • Check your local parks - some have docks and crabbing opportunities available.
  • Sometimes public boat landings will have a dock that can be used for crabbing.
  • If you have access to a boat, load up your crabbing gear and find a shallow spot to anchor and test for good crabbing. Tip: Blue crabs like rock piles.
  • Many public beaches allow crabbing. It is more difficult to crab in the surf, but it can be done.
  • If you are a visitor to a coastal area, check with the Visitor's Center for good public crabbing spots.
  • Check with a local store that specializes in fishing and crabbing supplies.
  • My best advice is to ask around. Locals who crab might be willing to share their secret spot!

Homemade Crab Line

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Make your own crabbing line.Supplies: sturdy piece of wood, 4 oz. bullet weight, cotton cable string
Make your own crabbing line.
Make your own crabbing line.
Supplies: sturdy piece of wood, 4 oz. bullet weight, cotton cable string
Supplies: sturdy piece of wood, 4 oz. bullet weight, cotton cable string

How to Make a Crab Line

To make a crab line, you will need:

  • sturdy stick or piece of wood that will float, 6-8 inches long
  • cotton cable cord string (#18), 25 feet long
  • bullet fishing weight, 4 or 5 oz.

Instructions:

  1. Tie one end of the string around the middle of the stick to serve as the handle.
  2. Wrap the string around the handle.
  3. Tie the bottom end of the string to the weight.

To bait the line, tie a raw chicken back or neck at the bottom of the line, close to the weight.

How to Catch Blue Crabs

One of the easiest ways to catch blue crabs is to use a crab trap, which is a baited wire contraption that does the work for you. You simply add bait, toss into the water, and wait. After several hours, you pull up the trap and hopefully have enough large crabs for a meal. A good day might bring 30 crabs, but early in the season, I may only catch 5 or 6.

The old school method, which I prefer, is to have a baited line of string that you pull out of the water, ever so slowly, in hopes of keeping the nibbling crab on the line. When the crab comes into view, you scoop a net into the water to catch it. This method is a lot of fun and really transforms crabbing into a sport. Tip: As you pull up the line, don't let the excess string fall back into the water. It will scare the crab away.

You can purchase complete crabbing lines at some hardware or sporting stores. These have a triangle metal piece that serves as the weight and an easy clasp to hold the bait. You can also make your own crabbing line by following the instructions to the right.

Another method of line crabbing is with a wire mesh net that you bait and lower into the water. To check for crabs, you will yank up the net. No net scooping is necessary, because the crab will be trapped in the line's built-in net. Another similar style has a string net, which will not rust as the wire one will, but does tend to get tangled more easily. Tip: You will need to tie a 4 or 5 oz. weight to the bottom of these line nets.

One last method is to scoop crabs right out of very shallow water with a net, but no bait. This is called "scapping." If you know a good crabbing spot, you may be able to catch a few this way. To do so, though, you either have to be in a really populated area or be very lucky! My daughter and I enjoy walking the near-empty creek at low tide, but it is a muddy adventure. Tip: Wear water shoes.

Pros and Cons of Different Crabbing Methods

Method
Pros
Cons
crab trap
lots of crabs caught at once; crabs stay in water until time to eat
not as fun as other methods
baited line with wire mesh net
durable, reliable
wire net will rust
baited line with string net
reliable
string net tangles easily
baited line with weight only
fun to pull line in and scoop crabs; easy to store
some crabs get away if you are not quick enough
scapping: scooping crabs from creek bottom with net
no bait required; great adventure!
hard to find a good spot; muddy

Safety Note on Cooking Blue Crabs

If a crab dies before you get to cleaning or cooking it, the safest thing to do is to throw it out to avoid eating a spoiled crab. There are several ways you can keep the crabs alive as you continue to crab:

  • Don't empty your crab trap until you are ready to cook or clean the crabs.
  • Keep crabs in an old laundry basket with holes, but you will have to keep dunking the basket in the water to refresh them.
  • You can keep crabs in a big bucket with a little sea water, but will have to refresh it often.
  • Kill and clean the crabs as you go, putting them on ice or in the fridge to keep them from spoiling
  • Put crabs in an extra large bait bucket and keep submerged.


How to Clean Blue Crabs

Many people like to throw live crabs right into a pot of boiling water to cook. Cooking crabs whole like that leaves a mess to deal with when eating. Once the crabs cool, you will have to rip off the shell and scoop out the yellow insides. There are those, however, that like this yellow "mustard" and leave it in for flavor.

I prefer to kill and clean the crabs before cooking. Using metal tongs, I flip the crab over on its back and pierce the underside with an ice pick right at the top point of the triangle shell section (the "apron"). It takes only one stab to get the job done, and then you can pull off the shell without any fears of getting pinched. I also pull off the apron.

Once the outer shell is removed, I then pull off the gray gills, which we call the "deadman." It is not a part you eat, so out it goes. Next, I grab the water hose and rinse out the inside gunk with a quick spray. The crabs are now ready to be cooked. Save those crab shells if you plan to make deviled crab.

Boiled Blue Crabs Step-by-Step Photos

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Fill a 6 quart pot with water and bring to a boil.Season the boiling water with salt and Old Bay Seasoning.Add the crabs one at a time.Boil for 8-10 minutes.Drain and place crabs on a newspaper-covered table.  Time to pick some crabs!
Fill a 6 quart pot with water and bring to a boil.
Fill a 6 quart pot with water and bring to a boil.
Season the boiling water with salt and Old Bay Seasoning.
Season the boiling water with salt and Old Bay Seasoning.
Add the crabs one at a time.
Add the crabs one at a time.
Boil for 8-10 minutes.
Boil for 8-10 minutes.
Drain and place crabs on a newspaper-covered table.  Time to pick some crabs!
Drain and place crabs on a newspaper-covered table. Time to pick some crabs!

Test Your Blue Crab Lingo


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How to Cook Crabs

You need at least a six quart pot to cook a dozen blue crabs. My family likes to boil the crabs, though steaming is another option. To boil the crabs, follow these instructions:

  1. Fill your pot about 2/3 full with water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 2-4 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning to flavor the water.
  3. Next, add the crabs one by one, leaving the claws attached. Let them cook for 8-10 minutes.
  4. Drain crabs in a colander.
  5. After cooling a minute, pour crabs out onto a newspaper-covered table and dig in.

You may want to have some melted butter in small dipping cups, as well as paper towels, and something to crack open the crab claws. We always use standard metal nut crackers, but you can find lobster or crab crackers as well. Tip: It is not necessary to use a mallet for blue crabs.

Some of my family members like to pick all the crab and create a huge pile to eat at once. I like to eat as I go so that every bite is warm. See my video for more details on how to pick crabs. If you have any left over crab meat, try my Charleston Deviled Crab recipe below. You will need to save the main crab shells, scrub them clean with a vegetable brush, and boil them along with the crabs. Let them dry on paper towels until needed.

Charleston Deviled Crabs

Do You Like This Blue Crab Recipe?

4.3 stars from 7 ratings of Charleston Deviled Crabs

Cook Time

  • Prep time: 20 min
  • Cook time: 40 min
  • Ready in: 1 hour
  • Yields: serves 4 people (2 deviled crabs each)

Ingredients for Charleston Deviled Crab

  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs, plain
  • 2 cups crab meat
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 crab shells, scrubbed clean and boiled
  • paprika
  • lemon slices, for garnish

How to Cook Charleston Deviled Crab Step-by-Step Photos

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1. Pick 2 cups of fresh crab meat or purchase a 1 pound container of crab.2. Scrub crab shells clean, boil, and let dry.3. Gather the ingredients.4. Saute finely chopped green pepper and onion in butter.5. In a separate pot, make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk.6. Once sauce is thick and creamy, mix in lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, green pepper, onion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.7. Gently fold in crab.8. Using a small spoon, stuff shells loosely with crab mixture.9. Sprinkle each crab with paprika.10. Ready to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
1. Pick 2 cups of fresh crab meat or purchase a 1 pound container of crab.
1. Pick 2 cups of fresh crab meat or purchase a 1 pound container of crab.
2. Scrub crab shells clean, boil, and let dry.
2. Scrub crab shells clean, boil, and let dry.
3. Gather the ingredients.
3. Gather the ingredients.
4. Saute finely chopped green pepper and onion in butter.
4. Saute finely chopped green pepper and onion in butter.
5. In a separate pot, make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk.
5. In a separate pot, make a white sauce with butter, flour and milk.
6. Once sauce is thick and creamy, mix in lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, green pepper, onion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
6. Once sauce is thick and creamy, mix in lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, green pepper, onion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
7. Gently fold in crab.
7. Gently fold in crab.
8. Using a small spoon, stuff shells loosely with crab mixture.
8. Using a small spoon, stuff shells loosely with crab mixture.
9. Sprinkle each crab with paprika.
9. Sprinkle each crab with paprika.
10. Ready to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
10. Ready to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Instructions

  1. Saute green pepper and onion in 1 tablespoon of butter for about 5 minutes and set aside.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan.
  3. Add milk and stir continously until a smooth thick white sauce has formed.
  4. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.
  5. Add the sauteed green pepper and onion.
  6. Fold in crab meat.
  7. Stuff crab shells loosely with deviled crab mixture.
  8. Sprinkle each crab with paprika.
  9. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Serve with lemon.
  11. Notes: If you do not have the crab shells, use small ramekins. You also can use one small casserole dish and cook it all together. For a special sweetness, add 1 tablespoon of sherry to the crab mixture before cooking. To round out the meal, add a side salad and some bread.

Your Opinion on Crabbing

Would you like to go crabbing?

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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Sarah, that Charleston Deviled crab recipe looks amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed your in depth video, wow! Thanks so much for sharing the various ways that crabbing is done. I had never quite seen it like that before. You are a great resource for crabbing, and maybe someday I will have the opportunity to use this information. Thanks for sharing the recipe and video and photos. Voted up! Happy New Year to you!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 3 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      I think there is actually a boating excursion for crabbing on Hilton Head.

      There is also a State park, Hunting Island State Park. Sometimes the state parks have short crabbing programs in the summer. I know the park at Edisto Beach does that so worth a check for the one at HHI. If all else fails, take a bucket, net, crabbing line, and raw chicken down to the beach. Try to find a spot with little wave activity.

      Also, ask someone at your hotel for a tip - they may know a good spot. Have a great trip!

    • profile image

      MaryDavidS 3 years ago

      We are getting ready to head to Hilton Head this summer and just found out its possible to do this any suggestions for Hilton Head or 1st timers just trying.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 3 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      As a child, a remember a crab escaped and pinched my little toe! Ever since, I keep them at arm's length using metal tongs!

    • jonillynn profile image

      jonillynn 3 years ago

      I love your video! I love crabs too. Has a crab ever pinched you? I would freak out, lol.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 3 years ago from Austin, TX

      I've never tried crabbing, but it sounds like fun, and I love crabs too. Catching your favorite food from the sea is indeed priceless.

      Thanks for sharing your little experience and your tips, and your recipes.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, Becky. My magic number is 5 medium to large crabs. Any less and I throw them back. Of course, a dozen is much better!

    • Rfordin profile image

      Rfordin 5 years ago from Florida

      My g/f and I just started playing around with catching crabs....our new found hobby has yet to yield enough "meat" to cook but were gently getting the hang of it (and enjoying it EVERY step of the way). Should we ever catch enough to "cook" I'll revisit.....

      ~Becky

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, Sally's Trove. You are so right about crabbing being in your blood - you just can't shake it. It has also prevented me from being a true vegetarian, so I am what you call a pescatarian! Glad your family still celebrates the crabbing tradition.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      The video is wonderful and brings back many memories of crabbing with my family at the Jersey shore and along the banks of the Potomac. We used lines and scooping nets, mostly, and sometimes traps. Sometimes we crabbed from docks and sometimes from boats.

      Crabs are not as plentiful in these places as they used to be, but once a year, to celebrate a special cousin's birthday, we have a huge newspaper crab fest, whether we catch them or buy them cooked. Once crab is in your blood, well, you're hooked for life.

      I like your instructions for killing a crab. My family never did this; they always put them live and kicking in boiling water. If I didn't love the taste of crabs so much, the horrible clicking, tapping, and scraping as the crabs met their end in a boiling bath would have made me a vegetarian a long time ago.

      Super hub in every way. Sharing all over the place. Voted up and all other good things.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thank you for your kind words, Purple Perl. Crabbing is my favorite summer activity!

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

      This is one of the best hubs I have read. Catching your food, cooking and then eating it. And crab is my favorite too! Great video instructions, step by step and well shown. Loved every bit about this hub.

      Congrats on a very well deserved hub win!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Teresa. Let me know if you are headed my way, and I will get the crab lines ready!

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      No crabs to catch ourselves here in Ontario but my youngest son and I do love crab. Congratulations on your well deserved win. This is a beautiful hub! Hope I get a chance to try Bluecrabs someday!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, vespawoolf. It is a topic I really enjoyed writing about.

      Hi, Escondido7. I spend a good amount of time on Edisto Beach, though I have not crabbed there before. I have seen people crab on the beach (on The Sound) and near the little bridges on the main road leading to the beach. Crabbing supplies can be purchased right there at The Edistonian gas station shop. Have a great time!

    • profile image

      Escondido7 5 years ago

      WOW! We are going to Edisto Island and this is so cool I can't wait to try it myself. My boys will love crabbing and my girls will love eating that tasty crab meat! Thank you for such a fantastic video. It shows me everything I need to have some fun!

      thanks again

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

      Wow, what a fascinating and thorough hub! Congrats on a well-deserved win in the contest!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Wow, thanks, Simone! I have been wanting to write a crabbing hub ever since joining HP last Fall, but had to wait for the crabs to start biting!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      This is one of the most awesome Videos (and Hubs in general) that I've ever seen on HubPages.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      You are right, mmcgiver. Even if you don't catch or keep any - it is still a good time!

    • mmcgiver profile image

      mmcgiver 5 years ago from North of Boston Mass.

      A real good time crabbing I live north of boston mass. all the crabs I caught were very small I dont think they were blue crabs all very small and we just thru them back hoping to catch its parent.Its always fun to just be outside enjoying the small things in life.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, teaches12345. I think one of the reasons kids like crabbing so much is the anticipation of something on the line, and scooping the crabs up. Like fishing, but even better if you have a hot spot with lots of crabs biting. We will spend the whole day crabbing, and even if we end up with only a few crabs, it was still a good time.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I am not a big crab lover ( my hubby loves them), but I would enjoy going on the adventure. Your photos make it look like fun. Great recipe ideas.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, Alissa. I hear the crabbing is good on both sides of Florida. Kids really love to crab, and it is a great family activity. Have a great trip!

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      Fantastic video and hub! My boys enjoyed watching you and the kids catch the crabs. They soooo want to go crabbing now! It's a good thing we are going to Florida next week since we won't be finding too many crabs in Tennessee :) Really great job with this one - voted up, useful, and awesome!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, Sadie432. My grandmother's name was Sadie, and I remember her standing in her kitchen making enough deviled crab to freeze. People here also crab from the little bridges. As you know, crabbing is fun!

    • sadie423 profile image

      sadie423 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I have wonderful memories of crabbing as a child. We threw traps out in the Chesapeake Bay or sit off the little bridge on our road with chicken on a string. I love crabs- crabcakes especially

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, PenHitsTheFan. You would think I had a good crab cake recipe by now...but no. Something I will work on!

      Ha, ha, Natasha! That sounds more like the commercial crabbers. Line crabbing is much more fun than crab pots. Join the fun!

      My son is the opposite of you, blessed365. He loves to crab, but will not eat them. Ever tried softshell crab?

    • blessed365 profile image

      Vicky C. 5 years ago from New England

      Love me some crabs. Don't think I will ever catch them, but I sure will keep on eating them.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      While I'm at work, I see people go by in boats throwing out (and bringing in) crab pots. It makes me so jealous because I can't do the same! Who knows - I'm in Charleston, maybe your family has made me jealous before.

    • PenHitsTheFan profile image

      Amy L. Tarr 5 years ago from Home

      Oh, now you are speaking my language. I will dream of crab cakes tonight.