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How to kill a crab?

  • j

I'm not a vegetarian but I respect all forms of life. I love to eat crab I've cooked myself. To kill one before cooking I put it in the sink and pour on boiling water.

This bothers me more each time I do it. The creature seems to be watching me and blinking its litle eyes. It takes a while before it stops struggling and I feel like I'm inflicting unnecessary pain.

Is there a more humane way to do it?

I prefer the microwave method, 6-l/2 minutes in a heavy glass lidded casserole with one tablespoon liquid and some spices, so starting the cooking with the crab still alive isn't an option.


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  1. I feel the same way - I usually boil crabs and crawfish. I throw them in the water and they die nearly instantly. I just say a little prayer when I do it.

    1. Here's an old trick: Put the crab in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. This does not freeze it, or affect the quality, but it does put it in a sleep state, so that there is no kicking when you put it in the boiling water.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lala

        I tried this once with Dungeness, thinking that it might kill them, actually. Turns out I was very wrong, and while they did go into a sort of sleep state, it lasted exactly ten seconds after I pulled them back out. Before I could get them in the pot they were trying to pinch me!

      2. If you want to dispatch them before boiling, you can cut the ventral nerve cord on crabs or lobsters (I just did it with my friends). Take a knife and stab them in the middle of their "belly", that being where the flap beneath them (actually their abdomen folded up beneath them) ends. The abdomen ends in a triangle-like shape, so just stab them right at its tip, or on either side of it, with a knife, and they will stop moving in seconds. The deeper you stab the better. Its the same basic deal with lobster, except there abdomen isn't folded up beneath them, so just stab the knife right in the center of where their legs meet.

        4 Replies
        1. re: cuttlefish1

          You just cut the ventral nerve cord on on your friends!?!

          1. re: alwayscooking

            That is totally what I thought, too. Practice on your friends, 'til you get good enough to try the procedure on a crab! Bonus: more crab for you.

          2. re: cuttlefish1

            I pretty much to the same (to the crab, not to my friends) but I use a chopstick...seems to work well.

            1. re: karen2006

              I tried this, and the crabs kept wiggling for maybe 30 seconds or a minute. Are you sure this technique causes instant death? How can I differentiate between post-death spasms and a slow and painful death?

          3. Rip the shell off, break the body in half. Takes about 2 seconds. Sure beat killing them slowly with hot water, Or just dunk them into a pot of boiling water, again much quicker.

            They are bugs, they don't think like you or I.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterL

              That is how I do it, only way to insure you have fresh crabs.

            2. I doubt seriously that a microwave is more "humane" than plunging the crab into a pot of boiling water, or into a steamer at full temperature.

              Look, I get it, really. If you are vegetarian for health reasons, please ignore the rest of this post. But if your concern about killing animals is what prevents you from eating meat, eating fish and seafood is somewhat hypocritical, correct? So, you either need to get over this or eat this food only at restaurants if you don't like doing this.

              I personally believe that nature intended for some living things to be eaten by other living things. It's the cooking part that truly separates us from the other species, so go for a hot boil bath, or go the opposite, and slow down the metabolism of your live crabs by putting them in an ice water bath before you cook them. They can stay that way for hours and will be really groggy.

              1. Here I go again. Crabs are mean viscious bottom feeders w/out feelings. If you grew up where you couldn't go swimming without the vicious little bastards biting your toes and making you half leap out of the water you might feel differently. I worked 2 seasons as a sternman for a lobsterman. Try pulling the little brutes out of a lobster trap without getting bitten often; lobsters are even worse, they can break a finger.
                When I cook crabs, I toss the little bastards into a big pot of boiling water, step back, jump into the air, twirl and sing "Die little mother f**ckers, die!" in a refrain. Try it, you might even get into it. Sure is sweet meat.
                ps Have a t-shirt with a picture of a lobster being lowered into a pot looking down and Is saying< "Bob, how's the water? Bob? BOB?" Heh, Heh, Heh.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Passadumkeg

                  Passa: it's so rude to make an old lady pee her pants laughing on a Sunday morning!

                  When we've had a bunch of friends over in the past for a crab boil, we've horrified some by having everyone gather around, & get very quiet so they can hear the crabs scream. I know, we're going to hell in a crab trap. Of course you must always reserve one crab to put on the kitchen floor just to teach your dog a thing or two.

                  Don't they actually refer to lobsters as "bugs" in ME?

                  1. re: PattiCakes

                    I don't think it's exclusive to Maine. Having scraped plates of carcasses of too many "lobster specials" on weekends while running the dishwasher at my uncle's restaurant growing up, I personally referred to lobsters as "roaches of the sea!"

                    1. re: PattiCakes

                      Yes bugs and roaches. or for fun lobbers.

                    2. re: Passadumkeg

                      I want to go to a crab boil at your house!

                      I really don't feel any sympathy toward the ugly little bastards, and besides -- they taste sooo good. My favorite episode was the day I opened up a brown paper bag of them in my kitchen, hoping to put them in a pot of boiling water with tongs. Somehow, the bag tore, and the little monsters were racing all over my counter. The biggest one was hissing at me from behind my toaster oven. My young daughter and her friend screamed as though they were in a horror movie. Trust me, it felt good catching them and getting them in that pot. You have won the battle when you close the lid and yell "Yum!!"

                      1. re: RGC1982

                        A critter that dies happy tastes better. And slaughtering companies know this and work (and spend lots of money) to minimize the stress before the kill - it reduces the muscle contractions and the addition of adrenaline in the meat and so making it more tender. Those bastards you were chasing were stressed, died an unhappy death, and got revenge by offering less than tender meat.

                      2. re: Passadumkeg

                        LOL Now that's funny.
                        I have never seen so many folks go to such pains to kill a crab. Depending on what I'm doing with them they hit boiling water or if I want raw flesh I toss them in fresh water. They keel over in about 1.2 seconds.
                        Any one who has feelings for crabs has clearly never dropped a crate of them on the kitchen floor!

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          I tend to sing "Le Poisson" from Disney's "The Little Mermaid", really getting into it when I reach the line "...then I chop off your head it won't hurt CAUSE YOU'RE DEAD..."!!

                        2. there's no brain at work within a crab, just a bundle of nerve ganglia. it's not 'aware' and does not 'feel' pain. more related to cockroaches than a cow or pig. do you feel bad crushing a roach?

                          it may bother you but that's about it.

                          just throw the yummy buggers in the pot and eat up!

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: ScubaSteve

                            This three year old reply and the one from the Kegger are the only intelligent ones on this thread. They have no feelings, no central nervous system. I've grilled lobster tails and claws, only to have the severed heads crawling around in the sink fifteen minutes later.

                              1. re: Scary Bill

                                All bs aside, here is how we do blue crabs in Texas, passed on from my father and uncles. Tie a chicken neck, not a wing or turkey neck to a string with a small weight. When the crab grabs the neck gently scoop up with a net and place in an ice chest with a minimal amount of water and a towel to keep it alive. Once at home, purge in water for a few minutes, drain and repeat. Plunge in boiling water, or steam if that is your method of cooking. That's how it's done and I know of no other way to keep its last few moments more pleasant. All the hand wringing on this thread has not shown me a better way.

                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  Why do you not use the wings? That's what I grew up using for blue crabs in CT and the Cape...

                                  1. re: kubasd

                                    Necks seem to setlle to the bottom easier, especially if there was current running when the crabs feed better. You need less weight, which means you can feel and pull in the crab easier. Maybe it's a local thing. Anyway, this was back in the 70's and 80's, wings are almost four times the price of necks now.

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      We use the necks here in Baltimore, too. The crabbers using them are called "chickenneckers".

                                    2. re: kubasd

                                      We were definitely a neck family growing up. chicken backs if in a bind, but that was rare. weird, never thought of using wings, although conceptually, i can see why they work. my only concern would be there is too much flesh and not enough bone, and so the pincers go right through and shred it up.

                                2. re: James Cristinian

                                  I'm not too concerned how anyone kills a crab, but this is just plain wrong. Crabs do have a nervous system sufficient to register pain, and there is some evidence that they do, although there is of course some uncertainty as to its nature. No one is in a position to say what a crab experiences when boiled alive.

                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                    The other night we dispatched four lobsters to make lobster fra diavolo. When I put the claws into the saute pan, they were still wiggling.

                                3. Best way for you-
                                  When you get home with the critters put them in the refrigerator for an hour or so (you can leave them in there for a day or two and they'll still be alive) they become lethargic, then right into a pot of boiling water or steamer (with their eye's looking into the pot and not at you).

                                  If they come up with a more humane way like "lethal injection" I'll let you know.
                                  Otherwise what you're methods seem somewhat inhumane to me. Like fighting off invaders by pouring hot cauldrons of oil on them or pulling the switch on the electric chair by zapping them in the microwave.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: monku

                                    I was taught put crustaceans in the freezer for 30 minutes or so but with lobster remove antennas and cut through the head with a very sharp blade better than being boiled

                                    1. re: wustof

                                      I figured the poster was queasy enough without having to use a knife to the head or anywhere else. When I stir fry a crab or lobster, yes that's what I do.

                                      Sometimes you buy the crab or lobster and you're not going to use it right away, so putting them in the refrigerator for a day or two will probably do same thing as putting it in the freezer for 30 minutes.

                                    2. re: monku

                                      Also, with lobsters you can lightly stroke them on the back of the thorax (just below the head) and it will paralyze them. My mother calls it "putting them to sleep."

                                    3. You could shoot 'em first. Tends to put shards in the meat, but you know they went fast.

                                      Seriously, just make it quicker. Either dump the crab into boiling water, or anasthetize them first with a short visit to the freezer.

                                      1. In addition to what has already been said here, I thought I would add that there is no truth to the idea that the crab (or lobster) is "struggling". Sure, the limbs flail around a lot. They flail around even if you cut the damn thing up into pieces first. The joints of arthropods work a lot like hydraulic truck breaks. They're flailing around because you're heating up the fluids that make them move around. If they were panicking and trying to flee, there'd be a hell of a lot more coordination to the movements.

                                        1. just curious...WHERE did you get the idea to pour boiling water over them? this seems like the slowest and cruelest way to kill them I've ever heard, other than tearing them apart with your hands while they're still alive (which I just saw on the last Masterchef US episode - horrifying!).
                                          But yeah I'm with the freezer/ice water + boiling crowd. good luck.
                                          and please don't microwave them live...it's like putting a person inside a nuclear reactor :(

                                          1. Try dropping them into a gallon of cheap white wine until they get too drunk to care. Only takes a few minutes and the flavor is amazing.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jjflash

                                              Boiling, ripping apart, microwaving, stabbing. I think the time differences between all these methods are negligible. All these methods kill the crab within seconds.

                                              It needs to be noted that just because a crab is moving doesn't mean it's alive. Just as when you decapitate a live chicken, it takes a while for reflex reactions to stop.

                                            2. OK. As a past professional Dungeness crab fisherman I'll tell you how. Looking down on the crab which is looking in the same direction as you are. Quickly/firmly grab hold of all it's legs including it's claw with your left hand holding the left hand side of the crab and with your right hand take hold of all the crabs legs/claw on it's right hand side. Now you are holding the crab and it can't grab you. Find something hard and sharp like the edge of a rock. Holding the crab firmly line up the place just behind the eyes and bring that spot down hard and swiftly against the pointed rock or whatever. If you do it right the carapace will come off cleanly and you'd be left holding basically all the meat parts in either hand. Simply break the two parts you have in your hands apart and you've got a completely dead and cleaned crab ready to be usually over cooked in salted boiling water. Just found this Youtube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKaR0v... This is how to do it. The guy is killing a pretty small crab though. You'd really need to give the crab a hard rap if the crab is a large one. One thing: Apart from the 'dead man's fingers' everything else is excellent to eat. The stuff in the carapace looks pretty ugly but the flavor is worth it. So when you kill a crab this way try to do it so you don't lose all the tasty stuff. Sauté it in butter and use a baguette to sop it up with.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                I don't recommend eating the stomach pouch, nor the black vein.

                                              2. First time I steamed a live crab, the crab kept pushing at the lid of my stockpot, which was glass, so I had to hold it down and watch.

                                                Next time I bought them, I asked the guy at the Chinese market how to kill them first. He told me to soak them in fresh water for 5 to 10 minutes or so. I filled up the sink, set the bugger in, and then had a non struggling crab to steam where I did not have to hold down the lid.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: ocshooter

                                                  I believe that my Chinese grandmother soaked the crabs in water for a while because I remember poking at them with a chopstick. Then directly into the double boiler where you could hear them skittering about initially.

                                                2. Get it drunk first then hit it with a hammer.

                                                  1. There's a very simple reason people who know about eating crabs prefer them cleaned first. The 'dead man's fingers' are basically the crabs gills and they filter out a lot of pretty scary stuff. Do you want to cook a whole crab with these gills inside where they can release whatever toxins/heavy metals etc into the meat?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Puffin3

                                                      i don't mind at all. i love the mustard too.

                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                        I've been eating blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay for over 45 years and I'm still here today...looking forward to cooking the next bushel of them!!!

                                                      2. Just got back from the coast and had 12 of the suckers to kill! It bothers me a little but not enough to not love eating them! My husband and I face them away from us (to make getting ahold of them easier, not for any guilt etc..from bothering us.) and grab left side of all the legs in one hand and all the legs of the right in the other and crack the bottome of the crab on a table corner and twist. Then shake the two halves of the crab you are left holding twice then pull the lungs off of the halves. It's quick and easy and I think the most humane way to do it. This is a clean way to do it. No yellow stuff left behind.
                                                        I have never been able to cut the head off of a fish, but this, I can do.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: Parrotmom

                                                          You can now be called 'experts' on how to prepare crabs. One thing: the "yellow stuff" happens to be the very very best part of the crab. It looks a bit scary but just put the shell upside down on a BBQ or whatever and cook the "yellow stuff". Sop it up with bread and you will experience nirvana.

                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                            Sorry Puffin...we have never been able to go there. We like the crabby-ness of crab but we're not the "fin and feathers" types! We lived on the coast of Oregon for about 20 years and now live inland (Eugene). I know a lot of folks love that stuff, but c'mon, nirvana???? Everyone has his own idea of nirvana...my father-in-law thought "brains" were yummy. He's gone now...coincidence? Just kidding...I wish I could pack up the yellow and get it to you fresh as a daisy.

                                                            1. re: Parrotmom

                                                              Don't worry, we live on Van Is and can set our crab traps within a couple of miles from home. We only 'crab during the winter months bc the crabs are tastier then.

                                                            2. re: Puffin3

                                                              That yellow stuff often contains PCBs.

                                                            3. re: Parrotmom

                                                              don't the juices then escape from the crab? i always enjoyed sucking the briny, crabby mix out of hte shells before you fully opened the suckers up.

                                                            4. Don't cook crabs often. This post was getting kinda long but I scrolled down anyway. Pouring boiling water over... seems like torture?? BUT then I came to Scary Bill's post about getting drunk and hitting it with a hammer and... well, hadda wipe down computer screen!!

                                                              1. When I steam crabs with O' Bay I toss them into a huge steaming pot and they die quickly. Is that humane? I don't have an answer to that.
                                                                When I make crabs and linguine with red sauce I literally clean the crabs by tearing them apart, tossing the large claws and the cleaned legless bodies into the bubbling red sauce. I know it's not humane but it does not really bother me.
                                                                I am spiritual in many other ways.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Motosport

                                                                  An entertaining and topical read from the archives of Gourmet Magazine:


                                                                  The late David Foster Wallace, discussing attending a lobster fest compares it to other hypothetical food fests:

                                                                  "Try to imagine a Nebraska Beef Festival at which part of the festivities is watching trucks pull up and the live cattle get driven down the ramp and slaughtered right there on the World’s Largest Killing Floor or something—there’s no way."

                                                                  1. re: ferret

                                                                    Did you see the episode of Bizarre Foods of a funeral in Indonesia? They bring a procession of huge water buffalo. Ritually slaughter them where the job for the young men is to collect as much of the blood as they can. Entrails are boiled on the spot for a soup. Whole town turns out for this.

                                                                2. We never 'boil/steam whole crabs. Sure they look neat all orangey/red when they are cooked but what many people don't know is the 'dead man's fingers' inside every crab filter out all the toxins etc and these toxins are released into the crab as it's happily steaming away. By breaking the shell off the crab first and removing the 'dead man's fingers' you are saving yourself consuming God knows what after the crab is cooked.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                                    Saying that the "dead man's fingers" filter toxins is the same as saying human's lungs filter out toxins. And that ain't so, I breath in toxins, I die. Same thing goes for crabs. And all sealife, they take in toxins, they die. You'd have to apply the same logic to cooking whole fish, lobsters, any crustacean. Crabs aren't any different.

                                                                  2. Flip the crab on a cutting board, tummy side up. The crab is now unable to move much. Put a cleaver on the ventral plate and thrust down quickly with both hands to cut it into 2 halves - left and right sides. Now, it's very easy to remove the back shell from the body and to remove the gills.

                                                                    After brush off crud and rinsing with running water, the pieces will look beautifully clean and are most suitable for "Garlic Crabs" or "Chinese Scallion & Ginger" preparations.

                                                                    1. I soak the crabs in an ice water bath for 10 minutes before steaming them. This puts them in a dormant state which makes them much less likely to drop claws as a defensive reaction. When you add them to the steamer basket like this they don't thrash around or move much at all. It makes handling them and stacking them much easier. Your finished crabs will come out with both claws still attached as a bonus.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: CDouglas

                                                                        Ice water isn't necessary. If you just chill them in the frig...you'll get the same result. They go to "sleep"...sort of.

                                                                        1. re: Phoebe

                                                                          When you are cooking lots of Crabs. That is not practical.
                                                                          CDouglas is right on! That is the way my family in MD has always done it. We do not have room in our freezer for a bushel of crabs.

                                                                      2. Considering the title of the thread, I want to congratulate everybody for being adult enough not to bring up the old joke about the bottle of lighter fluid, the match, and the ice pick.

                                                                        (ok, but I never claimed to be an adult LOL)

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: PotatoHouse

                                                                            Or the ointment/shampoo you can buy over the counter. Talk to your pharmacist.

                                                                          2. Interesting that there is another thread on this board about how to keep crabs alive.


                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                                                              As "Yogi" Berra You gotta keep um alive till ya kill'em.

                                                                              1. I kill and clean crabs the Cantonese way... grab a hold of the legs with your right hand with the belly laying in you palm, eyes facing you,loop your left thumb around the spur and then swiftly peel off the back . Job done and crab will stop moving in a minute or when you quarter it for the wok.
                                                                                Geeze folks....we're talking about crabs here, not the neighbor's poodle.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Duppie

                                                                                  Neighbor's poodle? Have you read this entire thread? I'm on your side here, as one hasn't lived until a big blue crab goes through your thumbnail on one side and half way up on the flesh side. Yes I know I had it coming to be so cruel as to kill a dozen or so for dinner for the family.

                                                                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                                                                    Amen....Just neutralized with extreme prejudice 10 lobsters for a stir fry with fermented black beans,ground pork,ginger and scallions and the screams were epic.

                                                                                  2. re: Duppie

                                                                                    Yep, my dad showed me a similar technique.

                                                                                    With your left hand, place them flat over one set of legs and push them down against the cutting board. Then, you grab hold of the side of the carapace on the left side and just pull the shell off (where the right side of the carapace is the pivot). You can use a towel for more traction if you need it. Then, take your cleaver and chop the crab in half.