How to Boil Crab Legs

Regal crab legs, with their rich, sweet meat, are ideal for entertaining and special occasions. Since they are almost always precooked, simply boil the legs to warm them through and serve with melted butter. Get our no-fail tips for how to cook crab legs.

Rich, sweet crab legs turn any occasion into a celebration. Feel confident preparing crab legs with our boiling and serving tutorial. The meat's easier to get to than you think!

Crab legs may be a cinch to prepare and delectable to eat, but the price will probably keep them from showing up on your weeknight dinner rotation. Because the crab season is short and quotas rigidly enforced, they are a bit of a splurge. Purchase top-quality legs from a trusted source and treat them with care for simple success.

Buying Crab Legs

Most crab legs are cooked and frozen on the fishing boat as soon as the crab is caught. This means they are usually sold frozen as well.

  • Look for crab legs that are fairly thick to ensure they will be meaty and easy to eat. Avoid those with a lot of ice crystals or that look like they have been frozen for too long. The leg meat is considered the best but the claw meat is still tasty.
  • Consider your pan size when purchasing crab legs since the legs will need to fit into the pot for cooking and they only bend at the joints.
  • Some merchants sell crab legs that are already split. This makes harvesting the meat from the shells easier.
  • King crab legs, which are from the northern Pacific, tend to be the largest legs available and offer delicate, sweet meat tinged with a red color. Because they are so meaty, king crab legs tend to be more expensive than snow crab legs, the other top variety. Sweet, slightly salty snow crab has white meat with a pinkish hue and hails from the northern Pacific and the waters of Canada's east coast.
  • Plan on one 4- to 8-ounce crab leg per serving.

Thawing Crab Legs

Plan ahead when buying crab legs because the best way to thaw them is covered in the refrigerator overnight. If space or time is an issue, you can also put the frozen legs in a colander into a sink and run cool water over them to thaw quickly.

Boiling Crab Legs

Because most crab legs are precooked, you are only warming them through. While thawed crab legs can be steamed, grilled, and heated in the microwave, boiling is a simple and efficient method recommended by the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen. The water gets into the shells, keeps the meat moist, and helps the meat heat through quickly.

Step 1: Fill a large pot half to two-thirds full of cold tap water. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring the water to boiling.

Step 2: Add crab legs to the boiling water, bending and tucking the legs so as much of the legs are covered as possible in water. Return the water to boiling.

Step 3: Cook the legs, uncovered, for 4 to 5 minutes or until heated through, adjusting occasionally with long tongs to make sure they heat evenly.

Step 4: Using long tongs, remove the legs from the water. If desired, rinse legs; drain well.

Serving Crab Legs

When serving, keep things simple and let the crab legs star. If the crab legs are not presplit, have kitchen shears available for splitting, and give each person a small seafood fork for harvesting the meat from the shells. Favorite accompaniments to crab legs are lemon wedges and small bowls of melted butter for dipping. (Figure about 1 tablespoon butter per person.)

Tip: Clarifying the butter is a simple technique that removes the cloudy milk solids from the melted butter, resulting in a clear, amber-hue butter that is pretty and delicious for dipping bites of crabmeat.

Clarifying Butter recipe

Removing the Crabmeat

Step 1: Twisting at the joint

Cool prepared legs until easy to handle. You may want to use a clean kitchen cloth when handling since the legs have nodules that can be sharp. Twist the legs at the joint. Often you can pull the meat from the shell as you twist.

Step 2: Splitting the legs

Another way to remove the meat from the legs is to use kitchen shears to cut through the shell. This is easier than using a knife.

Step 3: Harvesting the meat

For split legs, pull apart the shell with your fingers. Use a small seafood fork to remove the meat from the legs and claws.

Tip: To use crabmeat in recipes, remove the leg and claw meat from the shells as shown.

Our Favorite Crabmeat Recipes

Creole Crab Cakes

Crab and Asparagus Casseroles

Crab Mornay

Watch It!

Clarified butter makes a delightful companion for crab legs, lobster tails, and other fancy dinners. With the milk solids skimmed away, it's a subtle aid to a fancy dinner. Here's how to make clarified butter.


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