The Expert Way to Eat a Crab

When I was first married, we lived in New Jersey right on the shore. It was so amazing! And the food was incredible. We definitely had our favorite New York style pizza joint with the owner named Vinnie, who was everything you’d hope the NY pizza guy named Vinnie would be

We also went to some really cool seafood places. I’ll never forget how one time we went to this really famous place that had amazing seafood boils. I wanted to try the crab that they were famous for but I didn’t have the slightest clue where to begin to eat a whole crab! So I took the easy way out and regrettably ordered the {super delicious} clam chowder.

I just got my Real Simple magazine in the mail and they had a little article where they break down the expert way to eat a crab, from Bruce Whalen who works at a beloved Maryland crab house called Jimmy Cantler’s Riverside Inn.

So let’s go ahead and let Bruce take it away with the expert way to eat a crab:


Lay down butcher paper or newspaper and grab plenty of paper towels. You’ll also need a paring knife, a mallet (in a pinch, a hammer will do), a bowl for empty shells, and a cutting board to protect your table against potential whacks. And of course, cooked crabs. Blue and Dungeness crabs are usually served whole, so you can use these instructions for either. Don’t be too concerned about size—just select a heavy one. Have melted butter at the ready too.


Place the crab on its back, belly up. Slide a knife under the “apron”—a small tab that resembles the Washington Monument if the crab is male and the US Capitol if it’s female—and pull it backward to break it off; discard.

Flip the crab over and, while holding the bottom, insert the tip of the knife between the shells, in the opening where the apron was. Twist to detach the crab’s back shell and expose the inner cavity.


Scrape out the not-for-consumption lungs, which look gray and spongy, using the knife, a spoon, or your hands. You’ll see the yellowish brown substance some call the mustard; that’s the hepato-pancreas ”It’s considered a delicacy, with a strong flavor people either like or dislike,” notes Whalen. Generally, it’s safe to eat as long as the crab is from non-contaminated waters. Make the call to sample or scoop out.


Break the crab in half with your hands. (You can then also cut it with a knife to make it even.) Splitting the crab in half will let you see the crabmeat separated into chambers. You can then just take the meaty morsels out with your fingers.


While holding a crab half in one hand, use your other hand to pull each leg off with a slight twisting motion. If all goes well, when you remove the leg at the joint, the crabmeat will slide out in a chunk.

At the base of the back legs, called the back fins, you’ll find the motherlode: succulent lump crabmeat. The small appendages in the middle aren’t usually worth the trouble, but you can try sucking the meat out.


If the meat didn’t come easily out of the legs, you’ll need the mallet. Word of caution: be gentle, otherwise the shell will shatter and you’ll have to pick the fragments from the meat.

Try this trick: Hold your knife vertically, with the tip of the blade on the center of the leg. Then firmly tap the blade with the mallet to slightly fracture the shell and extract the meat in one solid piece. Use the same technique for the claw, but hit the blade slightly harder, right below the pincers.

And there you have it: the full break down on how to look like a regular, crab-crackin’ pro!

Next time I am back east, or adventurous enough to make a crab boil at home, I will no longer fear the crab. I can do this!


    Mary Richardson
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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