How to Cook Crab Legs, 4 Ways

Follow our step-by-step instructions to learn how to make crab legs like a pro!

If you’ve only had the imitation crab that fills your California sushi rolls, you’re missing out. Real crab has a rich, sweet flavor that is impossible to emulate. Once you’ve enjoyed a few crab legs dipped in some garlic butter (or added to your low country boil), you may never go back! The only problem: Maybe you don’t know how to make crab legs, and since this seafood isn’t exactly a budget-friendly item, cooking it can cause some anxiety. Our no-fail cooking methods walk you through the four best ways to cook crab legs.

How to Make Crab Legs

You’ll Need:

  • 8 quarts water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 pounds fresh or frozen cooked snow crab legs, thawed
  • Melted butter and lemon wedges

Quick tip: Snow crab is typically sold as clusters, with some body meat attached to a few legs and claws. The crab is most often sold pre-cooked and frozen, so you can thaw it by placing the legs in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re pressed for time, run them under cold tap water until no ice remains.

Tools:

  • A large stockpot
  • Long-handled tongs
  • Kitchen shears, a seafood cracker or mallet, or a nutcracker
  • A steamer basket (optional)

Method 1: Boiling Crab Legs

Crab legs boiling in a bright yellow potPhoto: Taste of Home

Boiling is one of the best ways to cook crab legs. The water gets in between the cooked meat and the shell, keeping everything moist and juicy. Since frozen crab legs have already been cooked, all you need to do is heat them through.

Step 1: Boil the Water

The most important part of this step is to locate a stockpot large enough to fit your crab legs. Most large stockpots or Dutch ovens can fit about 2 pounds of crab legs without overflowing. Once you’ve found your pot, fill it with cold tap water and add the salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil.

Test Kitchen Tip: All you need is salted water, but you can add additional flavoring agents to the water in this step (like lemon wedges, bay leaves or Old Bay seasoning).

Step 2: Add the Crab Legs

Once the water is boiling, slowly lower the crab legs in using long-handled tongs. Bend the crabs at the joints and tuck them in so that the hot water fully covers them. Return the water to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer.

You should only need to simmer the crab legs for about 5 minutes until they are heated through. Once they’re fully heated, remove the legs using your tongs and set them aside to cool slightly before handling.

All cooked? Click here to get cracking.

Method 2: Steaming Crab Legs

Steaming crab legs in a bright yellow potPhoto: Taste of Home

Steaming crab legs is very similar to boiling them. Some people say that steaming is actually better because it allows all of the crab flavor to stay within the shell instead of leaking out into the cooking water. Most steamer baskets only hold about 1 pound of crab legs, so if you’re cooking the full 2 pounds in this recipe, plan accordingly.

Step 1: Prepare the Water

As with boiling crab legs, make sure you have a stockpot large enough to fit your crab legs. Place the steamer basket over 1 inch of water. Place the crabs in the steamer basket and bring the water to a boil.

Step 2: Steam for 5-7 Minutes

When the water has reached a boil, reduce the heat a simmer and cover the stockpot. Maintain a simmer as you steam the crab legs until they are heated through, 5-7 minutes. When the crab is heated, remove the legs with long-handled tongs and set them aside to cool slightly.

All cooked? Click here to get cracking.

Method 3: Broiling Crab Legs

Crab legs on a baking sheet in an ovenPhoto: Taste of Home

Broiling crab legs in the oven is a great way to infuse some good buttery flavor into the crab legs as they reheat. Thanks to the high heat of the broiler, the crab legs will also gain a little bit of caramelization using this method, adding an extra layer of flavor. Most sheet pans can only hold about 1 pound of crab legs at a time.

Step 1: Preheat the Oven

Set the oven to the “high” broiler setting. Prepare a 15x10x1-inch baking pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Step 2: Broil the Crab Legs

Place the crab legs on the prepared baking pan and brush them with 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter. Place the sheet pan 5 to 6 inches from the broiler and bake until the crab legs are heated through, about 3-4 minutes a side.

All cooked? Click here to get cracking.

Method 4: Grilling Crab Legs

Crab legs on a grillPhoto: Taste of Home

Grilling crab legs is a great way to keep cleanup to a minimum, and to avoid heating up your kitchen in the summertime! A charcoal grill will add the most flavor to the crab legs, but even a propane grill will add that characteristic grill-smokiness.

Step 1: Prepare the Grill

Prepare your gas or charcoal grill for medium heat (don’t make these grilling mistakes). Clean the grill grates with a stiff-bristled wire brush to minimize the chances that the crab will stick.

Step 2: Grill the Crab Legs

Brush the crab legs lightly with 1 tablespoon of oil to keep them from sticking to the grill. Cook them directly on the grill grates for 3 to 4 minutes, until they’re heated through. To maximize the grill’s heat, keep the grill covered as you cook.

Learn How to Crack Crab Meat

It may take a bit of cracking to get into the meat, but don’t let that intimidate you. This step is really much easier than it seems. You can use a seafood cracker, a nutcracker or a small wooden mallet to crack open the shells, but sometimes that gets small shards of shell into the meat. The easier way to remove the meat is to split the legs using kitchen shears.

Using your shears, cut a slit down the length of the shell. Once the shell is split in two, gently separate the two sides of the shell, coaxing the meat out in one long piece.

Serve and Enjoy

Crab meat is delicious on its own, but it’s especially tasty when served with melted or clarified butter. I always include a side of lemon wedges, too, to really balance out those rich crab flavors.

Now that you’re an expert in making crab legs, it’s time to take it to the next level! Host a Carolina Crab Boil with your favorite smoked sausage, sweet corn and fingerling potatoes. Since the crab is fully cooked, all you need to do is toss it in for the last 5 minutes to heat it through.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.