Dungeness Crab

How To Cook And Clean A Fresh Dungeness Crab (Step By Step)

If you live on the Pacific coast, this is necessary information! Dungeness crabs are an incredibly tasty treat, as well as a lean, healthy, and delicious Christmas tradition. This Instructable will teach you how to cook and clean your own fresh Dungeness crab at home.

Why settle for soaked, precooked, and precut Dungeness crab when you can make it fresh? Here are the basic tips you need to organize your own crab meal, or make a perfect crab dinner for yourself.

Step 1: get a fresh crab

1) Go hunting for crabs. Get your fishing license and set up some crab traps! If you have a boat or a friend with a boat, this should be easy. If not, consider getting a free pot.

2) Buy a fresh crab. The local farmers market might have a fresh crab stall; I have mine at the Oakland Grand Lake market. Seafood stores, yuppie grocery stores, and Asian stores may also carry fresh crab.

3) Buy a precooked crab. This is suboptimal, but it will certainly work if you really can’t find a live feed or don’t want to deal with live pinchers. In either case, go to step 4 to clean up your crab.

Keep in mind that a happy crab will be active and fighting when disturbed. Pick it up * with tweezers or carefully with your hands, making sure to grip it by the back of the shell. The crab can reach far enough underneath its body to pinch, but its upper fingers are fairly secure. You can also grab a pair of hind legs on each side to immobilize your crab, but be careful not to break them.

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* you are only allowed to keep and eat the males

Step 2: cook

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

If you add a large number of crabs, start your timer when the water returns to a boil. Base your number of minutes on the average weight of the crab, not the sum total.

Rounding down times whenever necessary; raw / undercooked crabs can always be cooked more, while overcooked gummy crab cannot be saved. Fortunately, there is a decent margin of error in crab cooking.

If it’s boiling, you can add some seasonings to your water. Add salt (or use sea water), a bay leaf, some celery wedges, a carrot, some peppercorns, and any other whole spices around you. Pre-mixed seasonings for boiling crabs are available, but not required.


Take advantage of his cold blood! Chilling crabs in the refrigerator or freezer just before use will slow their metabolism enough so that you can easily handle them.

You can clean your Dungeness crabs before cooking. This keeps clutter out of the pot and allows more crabs in the space. Simply pre-cool your crab as described above, follow the instructions in steps 3-9, then cook according to the instructions in this step. However, this approach requires vivisection, which scares some people even if the crabs do not move. Choose your option. Also, if you have previously cleaned and halved your crabs, re-weigh the parts (average weight of each half crab) to determine cook time.

Many countries / states require you to take your crabs home before breaking them down, so that any passing fishing officer can verify their legal size. If you break them down while you’re still in your boat, it can be interpreted as an attempt to sneak away with undersized crabs.

Step 3: rinse and cool

Remove the crab from the pot and rinse with cold water in the sink. This will stop the cooking process, chill the shell enough for you to handle, and rinse off any repulsive crab casings that may have come out during cooking.

Turn it over a couple of times to get both sides with the spray.

From the comments:

Many people like crab guts! I’m told they’re great for rice or toast, or they just suck right out of the rind. However, they apparently raised me badly, so I’ll continue to use words like “repulsive” and rinse off all the crab guts I see. Don’t hesitate to post recipes that prove me wrong!

Furthermore, crab casings concentrate any toxins to which crabs may be exposed; make your own decisions on this point.