Crabs 101

This Chesapeake Bay crustacean is probably the most enduring symbol of Maryland. Mature, Maryland blue crabs average five to seven inches across, and are most plentiful from late springs through the fall, although crabmeat is available fresh or pasteurized year-round.

Crab FAQs

Q. How Many People Will A Bushel Of Maryland Steamed Blue Crabs Feed?

A. Generally speaking, a bushel of number 1 or “Jimmy” crabs will hold 60 – 70 crabs depending on how big the crabs are at that time of year. If there are 60 – 70 crabs, they will feed about 10 – 12 people depending upon what else is on the menu. If you have all kinds of food, such as salads, hot dogs, chicken, etc., you’ll probably need half as many crabs. If you serve only steamed crabs, clams, corn and beverages, you’ll need the whole bushel.

Q. Why Can’t I Store Cooked Maryland Blue Crabs In The Same Basket They Came In When I Purchased Them?

A. Live Maryland blue crabs, like most other animals, contain bacteria which can be transmitted easily. Crabs that have been properly cooked will be, for all practical purposes, bacteria free since the bacteria will have been killed during the cooking process. Therefore, the cooked crab is ready to eat directly from the shell; if cooked crabs come in contact with uncooked crabs, cross-contamination could occur.

Q. Can I Freeze Steamed Maryland Blue Crabs?

A. The Seafood Marketing Program does not recommend freezing steamed crabs because of the potential for bacterial growth. The undigested food the crab has eaten and the wastes in the interior of the crab take a long time to freeze in home freezers and increase the risk of bacterial growth. We suggest the crab be cleaned first: remove the shell, legs, intestines, claws and fat. Only the meat-containing parts of “Body” and claws of the crab should be frozen. This frozen crab meat is best used for soups or casseroles.

Q. How Should I Handle Crab Vegetable Soup After It Has Been Cooked?

A. Fill your sink with cold water, place the pot of soup in the sink and stir for 10 minutes to speed up cooling. Fill small containers (pints or quarts) with soup, cover and refrigerate immediately. Do not put the whole pot of soup in the refrigerator with lid intact because this could cause spoilage.

Q. How Can I Tell When Crab meat Becomes Spoiled?

A. Spoiled crab meat is sticky, has an ammonia odor and is yellowish in color. Crab meat should remain fresh for three to five days after it is purchased. Store in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

Q. Where Do Soft Shelled Crabs Come From?

A. A hard crab must molt or shed its shell in order to grow. When it molts, it is in the soft state that is commonly recognized as a “soft shell crab.” The “shedding” of a hard crab most often occurs in controlled “shedding tanks”. The soft crab must be removed from the tank within a very short time before it begins to harden once again. In Maryland, crabs molt from May through September.

Q. Can I Send Steamed Maryland Blue Crabs or Crab meat To Relatives Who Live Out Of State?

A. Several crab processors have the ability to ship live or steamed crabs and pasteurized crab meat to almost any destination in the United States. Some of these processors do have minimum order stipulations. For more information, contact the Seafood Marketing Program at (410) 841-5820.

Q. How Long Can I Store Live Crabs And What Is The Best Storage Method?

A. Live crabs will remain alive for approximately 6-8 hours if: 1. The crabs purchased were refrigerated and are kept refrigerated at home. Perishability will be high if the crabs are not refrigerated. 2. They were not refrigerated when purchased (i.e. if they were purchased off a truck or you caught them yourself) and you can either refrigerate them or keep them outdoors in a shaded, cool, airy container such as a crab bushel basket. In either case, some will die and some will live a lot longer than 8 hours. Before steaming the crabs, you may “chill” them in the refrigerator; the cold temperature renders them inactive and easier to put in the steamer. This also helps to keep the legs and claws on during cooking. If you have ever tried to put room temperature crabs in a pot, you know how active they can be.

Q. Does Fresh Picked Crab meat Contain Salt?

A. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, by law Maryland licensed crab processors must use only water to steam the crabs for fresh or pasteurized crab meat. The only time a salt solution is used is in the processing of machine-picked crab meat. Processors must list additives (including salt) on the can. In the case of steamed crabs sold by the bushel, seasonings may have been added such as salt and seafood seasoning. Maryland does not regulate additives for steamed crabs. Therefore, if you are on a sodium restricted diet, steam your own crabs or purchase fresh hand-picked meat to be safe.

Q. Can I Freeze Fresh Crab meat?

A. We suggest the crab meat first be put in a semi-prepared form such as crab cakes, casserole or soup before freezing. Freezing fresh crab meat toughens the meat, and dries it out. Quality is lost in the product when it is frozen in the can. Store prepared dishes in the freezer for 3-6 months, but remember that the longer it is stored, the more it will toughen and dry out; plan to use it soon.

Q. Can I Freeze Live Soft Crabs?

A. A soft crab is a hard shell crab that has just shed its shell in order to grow. The “soft” crab state is only temporary and is harvested before the shell hardens. It can be frozen successfully by using the following procedure of “dressing” the soft crab: 1. Cut off the face behind the eyes with a pair of scissors. 2. Cut off the opposite end (apron) the same way as the face. 3. Lift the top (paper like) shell on both sides and snip out the lungs. 4. Wash the soft crab and individually wrap it in an air-tight freezer wrap. Store in the freezer up to three months. If they’re not frozen, eat the soft crabs within two days. Once the soft crab has been dressed, the entire crab may be eaten.

Q. How Long Can I Keep Pasteurized Crab meat, Steamed Crabs and Fresh Crab meat?

A. Pasteurized crab meat has been processed in a controlled atmosphere that enables the consumer to store it safely in the refrigerator (not freezer) for approximately six months. Once it has been opened, it has the same shelf life as fresh crab meat. Fresh crab meat will keep 3-5 days in the refrigerator. The best way to store it is by surrounding the crab meat with ice. Clear out the vegetable or meat keeper in the refrigerator and store the crab meat in it with lots of ice. Steamed crabs may be kept in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. Make sure to keep them in an air-tight plastic bag. They should be refrigerated as soon as possible after steaming. The longer they remain at room temperature, the more bacterial growth will occur.

Q. Can I Cook Dead Maryland Blue Crabs?

A. No! We suggest only cooking live blue crabs. Once the blue crab has died, bacterial growth occurs. This rule is the same for lobsters and other “live” shellfish.

Q. May I Eat Blue Crabs On A Low Cholesterol Or Low Fat Diet?

A. Yes, although Maryland blue crabs have more cholesterol than most other types of seafood, it contains only 85 mg in a 3 ounce cooked serving–the equivalent of lean ground beef. Therefore, moderate amounts of crabmeat may be allowed within your diet. It is best to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

Serving Size 3 ounces (85 g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 89 Calories from fat 22
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 3g
Saturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 95 mg
Sodium 274 mg
Protein 16g
Vitamin A 2% · Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 10% · Iron 11%

Crab meat is an excellent source of high quality protein, very low in fat, especially saturated fat, is a high source of phosphorus, zinc and copper as well as a good source of calcium and iron.

A Note on Cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is only partially determined by the amount of cholesterol you eat in foods. Major health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the National Academy of Sciences recommend a daily limit of 300 milligrams.

When blood cholesterol is high it is primarily the result of eating too much saturated fat. Saturated fat is what turns your body on to making cholesterol. Current recommendations include limiting the amount of saturated fat in your daily diet to less than one-third your total fat intake or 20 milligrams per 2,000 calorie diet.

Although crab meat contains cholesterol, it is important to note that crab meat is low in fat (3 grams per serving) and especially low in saturated fat (1 gram per serving). If you are on a very restricted diet consult with your doctor or registered dietitian.