How to Make Scrumptious Crab Cakes in 3 Simple Steps

Learn how to make crab cakes on the stove or in the oven and you'll always be just three simple steps away from a quick dinner or crowd-pleasing appetizer.

Crab cakes are delightfully-seasoned patties filled with chunks or flakes of crabmeat mixed with binders such as bread crumbs, mayonnaise, and eggs. They are a go-to appetizer or main dish and there are plenty of crab cake recipes out there featuring different methods of making crab cakes (i.e. baking, frying, broiling, etc.). 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 of prep time and result in a delicious meal for friends or family. Here we'll go over the step-by-step process of how to make crab cakes, so you can easily enjoy them at home instead of just when dining out.

Combining crab cake ingredients
Scott Little

How to Make Crab Cakes

We're going to reference our classic crab cake recipe for this process, but you can easily use these steps to create your own crab cakes.

Step 1: Prep Crab Cake Ingredients

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 include mustard, fresh or dried herbs, onions, peppers, and seasonings to complement the crabmeat. You can also add veggies like sautéed shredded zucchini or carrot to the mix.

One general guideline to follow when making crab cakes is to let the crab flavor shine through. It's easy to get caught up in 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.

How Much Crab Meat for Crab Cakes

If using the meat from cooked crab legs, purchase about 1¼ pounds crab legs to get eight ounces crabmeat, which equals 1½ cups chopped crabmeat.

Shaping a crab cake
Scott Little

Step 2: Mix and Shape Crab Cakes

Place crabmeat into a large mixing bowl ($10, Target), pinching through the meat with your fingers in case there are any bits of shell to remove and break up the larger pieces. Mix together the binding ingredients and seasonings in a separate bowl, then gently fold in the crabmeat to combine using a spatula to keep the crabmeat intact. Use your hands to mold the mixture into patties of the same size so they cook evenly. You can pat the mixture into a 2½-inch round biscuit cutter or ring mold ($3, Walmart) if you want to ensure they're even in size.

How to Make Crab Cakes Stick Together

Some recipes recommend refrigerating the crab cakes for 30 minutes to one 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 also help hold them together during cooking and promote better browning.

cooking crab cakes on stove
Blaine Moats

Step 3: Cook Crab Cakes in the Oven or on the Stove

Use one of the following methods to make crab cakes.

To bake the crab cakes in the oven at 450°F: Place the crab 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. Get our full recipe for baked crab cakes.

To cook 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 two tablespoons cooking oil over medium-high heat. Add the crab cakes and cook five to six minutes or until brown, turning halfway through cooking. Transfer browned cakes to a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess oil.

Classic Crab Cakes
Blaine Moats

Step 4: Serve Crab Cakes

Your crab cakes are ready to enjoy. Don't forget to serve them with a crab cake sauce. You can go for classics like tartar sauce, horseradish sauce, or red pepper relish. We also love our creative crab cake recipes featuring chipotle sauce or orange aioli.

Buying Crabmeat for Crab Cakes

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 shelled 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 six 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 costly 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.

Test Kitchen Tip: Want to learn how to make Maryland crab cakes? The process is pretty similar to the steps above but generally uses 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.

Making 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. Hollandaise sauce (with poached eggs), would make a different twist on brunch.

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