If you've ever ordered or prepared crab, you know it takes some work—and a pick and a nutcracker—to make the most of it. To enjoy a crab cake, though, takes only a fork and your appetite. It's the easy way to eat this sweet seafood, and it can be the most delicious— whether it's a crisp-edged ball of pearly crabmeat with just a pinch of seasoning, or a wild and crazy kaleidoscope of crab, spices, grains and veggies.

We like to try crab cakes wherever we travel, and the variety is endless. At seaside honky-tonks and fish shacks, you'll find them big as burgers and deep-fried so they have a brittle, crunchy crust. In linen-napkin restaurants, a crab cake might be the most expensive item on the menu—a mound of the choicest crab, griddle-cooked or broiled just long enough to give it a fragile, golden crust. A restaurant in Crisfield, Maryland, called The Cove (where the nearby water tower is decorated with a painting of a crab) serves crab cake sliders on itty-bitty buns.

Not all crab cakes are necessarily made of crab. In Baltimore, cafes and diners offer "coddies," known as poor man's crab cakes because they're made from inexpensive cod, but with all the seasonings that would go into the high-priced crab version. If this is poverty, call us penniless.

Many experts believe the best crab cakes are found around the Chesapeake Bay. All along the Eastern shore, cooks use big pieces of meat, known as jumbo lumps, to make cakes that are nearly all crab with hardly any filling. Most restaurants that serve these classy crab cakes boast ma├«tre d's and wine lists. But some of the very best can be savored in Baltimore's Lexington Market, a grazing wonderland of bakers, butchers and quick eats of all kinds. There, a seafood joint named Faidley's, that's been around since 1886, has a reputation for crab cakes. Each cake is hand-fashioned using the choicest hunks of crab and so fragile that the mere poke of a fork makes it fall into a jumble of silky morsels. Near Yosemite National Park, a rollicking family restaurant in Oakhurst, California—appropriately named Crab Cakes—says its version of Baltimore crab cakes is so good because they use Grandma Marie's recipe. Grandma Marie, we salute you!

In New Orleans and all along the Gulf of Mexico, spice rules. The seasoning in crab cakes can range from a peppery whisper to howling hot. You'll find some of the best at Sarah K's Gourmet, a takeout shop in Destin, Florida, where you can choose between half-pound jumbo lump crab cakes ("100% crab and no filler") or Ping-Pong ball-size baby cakes by the dozen. In the Northwest, the creamiest meat comes from the Pacific's Dungeness crabs. At a storefront cafe called Halibuts in Portland, Oregon, the cakes are pancake-shaped with a crisp, golden crust, laced with just enough spice to bring out their fresh ocean flavor.

If you want to experience the pleasures of crab cakes at home, try the incredible recipes from readers below. Fish markets and many grocers carry fresh-picked meat, as well as whole crabs for those who like to steam their own. And if a recipe has lots of other flavors, canned crab works fine.

Crab Cake Recipes

Eastern Shore Crab CakesEastern Shore Crab Cakes
In Delaware, we're surrounded by an abundance of fresh seafood, particularly terrific crab. The secret to great crab cakes is fresh crab meat, not too much filler and not breaking up the crab too much. This Eastern Shore Crab Cakes recipe does all that.
—Cynthia M Bent, Newark, Delaware

Herbed Cornmeal Crab CakesHerbed Cornmeal Crab Cakes
I created these crispy Herbed Cornmeal Crab Cakes to include some of the fresh herbs from my garden. My husband loves them and requests them quite often.
—Sheri Mosely Clermont, Florida

Sweet Potato Crab CakesSweet Potato Crab Cakes
Mild sweet potato flavor and a chipotle kick complement the fresh crab in these hearty Sweet Potato Crab Cakes. Serve them with your favorite mayo or aioli sauce.
—Robert Bosley, Pacific, Washington

Michael and Jane Stern, authors of more than 40 books, travel the country looking for great food. For more of their culinary discoveries, visit roadfood.com