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How to Cook Dungeness Crab: From Fresh & Frozen

How to Cook Dungeness Crab: From Fresh & Frozen

Last Updated on 20th August 2021 by

It’s not always easy to get the delicious meat out of a crab, as anyone can tell you who has tried to crack open the shell. This seafood delicacy can be prepared in a number of different ways, and I want to show you how to cook Dungeness crab the way I do it.

Dungeness crabs are found on the West Coast, and you can ask your seafood seller to break them open for you or cook them the way you want. If you want to save money, though, you’ll buy them alive and take care of all the preparations yourself.

It’s always so much more rewarding to prepare the crab yourself and feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from having cooked the food on your own.

Prepping the Crab

You can keep live crabs in your fridge for up to 12 hours after you purchase them. The fridge will keep them cool and keep them alive without you needing to have a special setup for them.

When you are ready to cook the crab, you grasp them from the back, between the legs so that they cannot pinch you. Pick out a pot that is big enough for them. You may want to put the crabs into the pot to check the size.

You’re just sizing the pot at this point and are not ready to cook them. Once you know that your pot is big enough to accommodate your crabs, you can place the crabs back into the fridge or set them aside in a container they cannot escape from.

How to Cook Live Dungeness Crab

You need to put enough water into the pot to cover the crabs completely and then have an extra 2-3 inches of water. Next, bring the water to a boil, and once it is boiling, you can add your crabs. Make sure the water is on high heat.

You can place the crabs one by one into the boiling water, and this addition will likely cause the water to stop boiling. Keep your water on high heat for now, and once it starts to boil again, you can lower the heat to a simmer.

How long to cook Dungeness crab? You should cook three-pound crabs for 20 minutes on a low simmering heat. For 1 ½-pound crabs, cook for 15 minutes. You want to ensure you cook the crabs all the way through and that you are making them soft and edible.

Once the cooking time is finished, you can turn off the heat, pull the crabs out of the water and rinse them briefly with cold water. This is the simplest method for how to cook whole Dungeness crab.

How to Shell Your Cooked Crab

Now that you know how to cook fresh Dungeness crab, let’s talk about how to prepare your freshly cooked Dungeness crab.

Start by pulling off the triangular flap from the crab’s underside. It should come right off easily.

Flip the crab so that its belly is facing down and lift off the back shell. You will want to start pulling from the rear of the crab. Drain the crab out and discard the liquid that comes from the shell.

You can then scoop out the crab meat and either save the shell for a garnish or discard it. If you are going to save the shell, get rid of the bony section at the front- the mouth. You can break it off by hand. Then, rinse the shell out thoroughly.

From the body, take off the red membrane at the centre and get rid of all of it. Also discard any loose pieces. Scoop out the leftover golden liquid and add it to your crab meat. You can then pull off the gills on both sides of the crab’s body and discard them. Rinse the body thoroughly with cold water.

Remove the legs and claws by twisting them. You can open them up with a wooden mallet or a nutcracker. Crack open each leg and claw and cut the body into quarter sections.

You can break the claws and legs apart using a fork, pick or even your fingers and then pull out the meat. Once you have pulled the meat out of the legs and claws, you can discard the shell.

How to Cook Dungeness Crab Legs

If you buy the legs on their own or buy a crab that is already dead from the store, then they are going to be precooked. All you are really doing is heating them up, and there are a few ways you can do that.

If you followed the cooking instructions above, then the same methods apply. You’re still just heating up the crab legs. The crab legs, and any part of the crab, is sold as either precooked or alive and fresh.

You can cook crab legs in an instant pot, and it just takes a few minutes. Just add about a cup of water to your pot as well as a few clusters of crab legs. Cook for four minutes and you’re done.

You can also steam crab legs in a stockpot by adding in a cup of water and heating to a boil. This is a great method for how to cook pre-cooked Dungeness crab of any kind. Once the water is boiling, you can reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot, cooking your precooked crab legs for about five minutes.

How to cook frozen Dungeness crab legs? I suggest doing the same steaming method and then just cooking them for 10 minutes instead of five.

You can use the same methods for frozen crab as you do for fresh crab, pre-cooked crab or crab you killed yourself. How to cook frozen Dungeness crab? Just cook it for longer.

How to Cook Pre-Cooked Frozen Dungeness Crab on the Grill

A lot of us will buy our crab pre-cooked and frozen for easy preparation. I can understand why you would not want to peel and boil your own crab, scooping out the meat for yourself. For some people, that sounds awful and disgusting, and I get it.

You can still get the wonderful taste of crab from frozen pre-cooked crab. You can even grill your frozen crab, if you like.

Just take your crab and wrap it in aluminium foil. Heat it up on the grill at a temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 15-20 minutes if it is frozen. If it is thawed, then just cook it for 10 minutes.

The difference between cooking thawed or frozen crab is simply your cook time, and no special preparations have to be made. You don’t have to bother to thaw the crab first, and you’ll still get thoroughly cooked crab that is heated all the way through. Crab tends to be so thin and cook so easily that no thawing is necessary.


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Pauline Loughlin
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I'm Pauline, a mother of four grown children, my passion for cooking stemmed from the joy i get cooking for my family. I love to try new dishes, especially when dining out but creating and sharing my own recipes is my favourite thing to do!