How to Make Crab Cakes

Once you learn an easy crab cake recipe, you'll never have to worry about a quick dinner or crowd-pleasing appetizer again. We'll teach you how to make a crab cake, including what kind of crabmeat to buy, so you can try one of our delicious crab cake recipes or create your own. 

Discover the simple, tasty technique of making your own crab cakes. They work wonderfully alongside salad greens for a special lunch or dinner.

Crab cakes are seasoned patties filled with chunks or flakes of crabmeat combined with binders such as bread crumbs, mayonnaise, and eggs. Seasonings can include green onion, a dash of hot sauce, seafood seasoning, and a snipped fresh herb like dill or Italian parsley. You can also add veggies like sautéed shredded zucchini or carrot to the mix. After forming into small patties, pan-fry or bake your crab cakes until browned (we'll show you how to cook them both ways!). Crab cakes may seem like an indulgent treat fit for a special occasion, but once you understand the basics, whipping up a batch will take about 20 minutes prep time and result in a delicious meal for friends or family.

Want to learn how to make Maryland crab cakes? The process is pretty similar, but Maryland crab cakes generally use Maryland blue crab for the crabmeat. Some recipes for Maryland crab cakes also call for a certain kind of seasoning to be used or extra bread crumbs, but using blue crab is essential.

How to Make a Crab Cake

One general guideline to follow when making crab cakes is to let the crab flavor shine through. It's easy to get caught up adding an abundance of ingredients, which may cause you to lose the essence of the crab flavor. The point of the other flavors should be to help highlight the crab and adhere the crabmeat into a patty that will not fall apart.

There are two basic categories of ingredients you need for a crab cake recipe:

  • Binders such as eggs, mayo, bread crumbs, and cornmeal to help the crab cake hold together.
  • Flavor enhancers including mustard, fresh or dried herbs, onions, peppers, and seasonings to complement the crabmeat.

Shape Crab Cakes

Once you've chosen your ingredients, combine them in a bowl, stirring in the crabmeat last to keep the pieces as intact as possible. Use your hands to mold the mixture into patties of the same size so they cook evenly. Some recipes recommend refrigerating the crab cakes for 30 minutes to 1 hour so they hold together better during the cooking process. Others call for a quick dusting of flour or bread crumbs over the formed crab cakes, which can help hold them together during cooking and promote better browning.

How to Cook Crab Cakes

To bake the crab cakes in the oven: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the cakes in a greased shallow baking pan. If desired, toss a few tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs with a drizzle of cooking oil and sprinkle on the cakes, pressing to adhere. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown.

To pan-fry the crab cakes on the stove: If desired, toss a few tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs with a drizzle of cooking oil and sprinkle on the crab cakes, pressing to adhere. In an extra-large skillet heat 2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the crab cakes and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until brown, turning halfway through cooking. Transfer browned cakes to a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess oil.

Serve Crab Cakes

Crab cakes usually follow a basic formula, but there's a lot of room for creativity when it comes to serving. Shape into bite-size crab cakes for party hors d'oeuvres, or make small crab cakes for serving over a bed of greens for an appetizer or lunch salad. You can also serve crab cakes with hollandaise sauce and eggs for a different twist on brunch, or jazz up dinner with condiments like tartar sauce, horseradish sauce, or red pepper relish.

How to Buy Crabmeat

While chefs may argue that using fresh crab is the best, there are perfectly acceptable—and much easier—options. Crabmeat is available canned, frozen, or pasteurized, all of which deliver crabmeat that has already been cracked from the crustacean and cooked. For frozen crabmeat, make sure you leave enough time to thaw it. For canned crabmeat, drain any liquid, remove cartilage from the crabmeat, and gently flake the crabmeat. Pasteurized crabmeat has been heated at a high temperature, similar to canning, to extend shelf life and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 6 months. Look for pasteurized crabmeat in the refrigerator case (it's a fresher-tasting option than shelf-stable canned crabmeat). Here are a few basic tips you can follow when you're at the grocery store:

  • Lump crabmeat is the most expensive and refers to large pieces of crabmeat from the body of the crab. This makes showy crab cakes with nice chunks of crab.
  • Flake crabmeat is made up of smaller pieces, also from the crab's body.
  • Claw meat is the least expensive option yet still very flavorful.

Tip: If using the meat from cooked crab legs, purchase about 1-1/4 pounds crab legs to get 8 ounces crabmeat, which equals 1-1/2 cups chopped crabmeat.

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