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Intimidated by crab!

My husband and I are moving to Baltimore in a week. We're midwesterners and are eager to learn how to eat blue crabs like natives.

Is there a particular crab restaurant that would be newbie-friendly and have servers who would teach us how to master the art of eating crab?

Many thanks,
Amy

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  1. I bet you'd have no trouble finding someone to offer you a in-depth private lesson if you provide the crabs and beer...

    Fortunately for you, crabs are one of the most sought-after food items by tourists who have no prior blue crab experience. If you go to a place that serves a lot of tourists, like Obrycki's or possibly even Phillips, you are likely to get some good schooling if you are not afraid to ask. Once you get a little experience, venture out to some of the more locally oriented joints that get raves here, or get them on a carry-out basis as I usually do. Once you know the basics and what you should/should not eat out of the crab, you're good to go. You will become more efficient with practice...and you probably won't mind the practice!

    Different folks have different methods, but this is a good, illustrated depiction of the most commonly taught way:
    http://www.vims.edu/adv/ed/crab/pick....

    3 Replies
    1. re: Lowbar

      Since Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line let me extend some Southern hospitality by welcoming you to Maryland and offering to show you how to eat crabs. (you pay for the crabs ~ I teach for free). I was cleaning my own crabs at age 5 so don't worry, a five year old can do it. Each person has a distinct style but the basics are the basics.

      My offer stands.

      1. re: Dining Dish

        Ah, I vividly remember my first crab lesson during our family's first trip to Ocean City when I was 5. It's funny the things you remember so clearly. But back then I was just given everyone's claws, but a few years later I was ready to master the "body" pick. I felt so grown up.

        1. re: Dining Dish

          If Mr. Dish can't make it , I will be glad to sub for him, you buy and I will show you all the "trade secrets" I know...
          I am partial to Mr Bills Terrace in in Essex

      2. Agree that those places get the tourists who don't always know what to do, however, not the best place at all for MD crabs- Obrycki's are not really MD style. Go to Bills Terrace Inn or Bo Brooks for MD style & I'm sure someone could show you.

        3 Replies
        1. re: pamd

          I'm not sure that the black-pepper based seasoning at Obrycki's isn't actually an older style of crab seasoning than the more popular Old Bay-based seasoning. It's different, but it isn't bad. I still prefer the Old Bay-style myself.

          1. re: pamd

            Agree, those are not the best places for MD style crabs, but from what I have seen and reports I have heard, Obrycki's is extremely good about teaching the basics. The OP might be more comfortable learning in an environment where rookies are more the norm than the exception. Bo Brooks would probably also be a good choice, I should have mentioned them as well.

            1. re: Lowbar

              I just meant if the OP goes to Obryicki's & has not had MD style crabs before, they'll be getting something different than the typical MD "old bay" taste. They do well with rookies because of their large tourist crowd.

          2. I think that no matter which place you choose, your server would be happy to show you how to pick them. Crab shacks are so informal that I wouldn't be surprised if someone at the next table over volunteered for the job.

            1. Do yourself a major favor and learn to pick and eat crabs using a knife - not a mallet. See lowbar's post above.
              You will get more meat and won't have to pick bits of shell out of your teeth. That's how the pros do it. Also the watermen who crab for a living.
              I grew up on the Gulf Coast and never even saw a mallet until I moved to this area. I have a house on the Cheaspeake and none of my waterman neighbors use them either. I'll never forget the first time I was invited to a party by some of the locals - BYOK - bring your own knife. Wondered what I was getting into! Many people do have their own special crab knives which look like paring knives. I use a paring knife and keep a box of them just for crabs.
              Once you learn to do it properly, a half dozen decent sized crabs is a pretty good meal. I can get about a pound of crabmeat from about a dozen left over after a crab feast. Takes a little practice but well worth your while.
              If fewer people used mallets, maybe there would be less waste and the crab population wouldn't be depleting so fast.

              BTW, crab season opened in Virginia today.

              14 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                There is nothing wrong with using a mallet if you know what you are doing. All it takes is practice, practice, practice - but so does using a knife.

                1. re: SuzyInChains

                  I generally use a mallet only to gently drive a paring kinfe. To each his own I suppose.

                  1. re: Lowbar

                    I use both, mainly a knife but sometimes you need to use a mallet to get into a claw.
                    The use of mallets is hardly to blame for the depleting crab population.
                    Commercial crab season in MD opens tomorrow.

                    1. re: hon

                      I'll give it to Hon here. The ecology of the Bay is complex and using mallets is the least of the problems. I was being facetious. They do lead to an enormous amount of waste however among people who don't know how to pick crabs. Folks smack two or three dozen crabs with mallets, pick out the backfin and throw away the rest of the meat which amounts to probably a pound or so of perfectly edible food. What a waste!

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        That would be a tourist problem, I don't know anyone who smacks crabs. The people who grew up here eating crabs like myself know what they are doing and how to use a mallet.

                        1. re: hon

                          May be more of a DC area problem than a Baltimore problem since DC has more people who didn't grow up eating crabs like you and me.
                          We don't own mallets and my kids were confused the first time they ever saw them. They can pick crabs with knives like pros. Not even enough left for the gulls when those kids are done.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            I am sure the crab eaters of DC will appreciate this, my best friend grew up in the DC area, has been catching and eating crabs since she was a child and has no problem wielding a mallet properly. You might wanna quit while you are ahead, first insulting mallet users and now Washingtonians.

                            1. re: hon

                              Simple demographics. DC's Metro area grew by 13% between 1990 and 2000 and was growing at about 75,000 a year by 2005, largely new government hires after 9/11 and immigrants http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... Those outnumber your best friend and those who grew up locally by a wide margin.
                              Washington has one of the highest growth rates outside of the Sunbelt. Anybody who sits in our traffic jams can vouch for that. People born and reared here are getting harder and harder to find.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                There are still plenty of us around. You can tell us by the funny way we talk. And incidently, I just use my bare hands. Or maybe an entrenching tool...whatever.

                            2. re: MakingSense

                              I guess I'm an idiot but I don't really understand how to extract the meat from tricky claws who don't give up their goods to the standard set of hand-cracks without applying some force with a mallet (driving a paring knife as mentioned above) or some other pressure-based cracking mechanism, without risking a minor hand injury.

                              I would think the mallet is useless for the rest of the crab. The knife is pretty useless too for non-claw applications in my opinion. Good to have around when the meat is putting up a fight, but the interior parts of the crab can be pretty easily broken up as needed by hand. Granted, this is a lot messier than going at it surgeon-style, but I can assure you I get at just as much meat, and I like to pick and eat as I go rather than pile up the meat so the up-and-down with the knife would just get annoying.

                              As many have said...I don't think there is one "valid" style of eating blue crabs...I too was born and raised in Baltimore and I know plenty of lifetime Baltimoreans who use any number of combinations of mallet, knife, and hand skills. For me, personally, the less tools the better, but the Baltimore I grew up in would say: who cares...bring your mallets, knifes, nutcrackers, vinegar, butter (ew), old bay, j.o., whatever...just bring your butt over and enjoy the afternoon with us (oh yeah, bring some beer too).

                    2. re: SuzyInChains

                      For the claws, I agree that there is nothing wrong with using a mallet. However, I usually use a plain old nutcracker for claws when eating crabs at home. Much more control than a mallet & easily provides the force needed to get into the claws.

                      I'm sure that some would say that this isn't how the "pros" do it. Who cares...it's always worked really well for me. And yeah, I've been eating crabs for as long as I can remember. We used to have a rule growing up in our house--if you can't pick 'em, you don't eat 'em! So, I learned quickly at a young age.

                    3. re: MakingSense

                      In my humble opinion ;rather than mallets creating waste , I feel that those "all you can eat" options create some of the (I stress some) 'get that back fin meat and move on '
                      mentality. Eating crabs to me is as much a social event, as it is a meal !!!

                    4. BTW, I'd go to LP Steamers. They are a little smaller and more of a "at-home" kind of place; I'm sure someone there (whether patron or staff) would be more than willing to teach you how to pick a crab. And they have really good crabs.

                      1. Great thread, but one thing that no one mentioned that I want to pass on (as a midwest transplant myself) - the crab feast is a long, slow, relaxed affair. Perfect for a weekend afternoon. Best with a group of friends to chat with while picking crab and drinking beer.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dennis S

                          If you have kids, you should take them crabbing for fun. Make sure they have closed shoes on - the crabs pinch something fierce! My kids loved it. You can catch a few off public docks with simple nets and chicken necks. You may have to buy some to augment the catch but it's a great afternoon of family entertainment.
                          Fit in a little lesson about being kind to our beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            Thank you everyone for the wonderful ideas!
                            Amy

                        2. I was in exactly your situation last year and found the staff at Costas Inn to be really helpful. I went with my wife and my in-laws, with exactly zero crab picking experience between us, and had a great time. Since then, we've been a couple more times, and no longer need to ask what to do when they drop off the crabs. One caveat is that I think they get a lot of their crabs from the gulf, not local blue crabs.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ark

                            The engineer in me says that for the proper application of force to induce fracture-failure mode on the shell of a crab claw, compression rather impact is more controllable. In short, the nutcracker wins the day.

                            As for where to procure and devour the tasty crustanceans, I give major props to Jimmy Cantlers Riverside Inn. Not anywhere near Bawl'mer, but the crabs come off the boat and directly into the tanks, and while on a pleasant summer evening it can be a bit hectic, once you've got some acreage of brown paper in front of you, all strewn with shattered bits of crab-carcass and a few beers down, all's right with the world...