New to the crab scene
I'm a Texas boy who can navigate a calf fry with the best of 'em and has owned three smokers, but I just moved out here and know embarrassingly little about seafood. First - can someone explain the procedure? Do I just go find a restaurant, sit down, eat to my heart's content, and call it a night? Do they charge per crab, per whack with a mallet, more if I speak in a Texan accent, what? Most importantly - where do I go? I hear I need to go to Baltimore for the best crabs, but can I get some specifics (especially for people who don't know what they're doing) ? Thanks in advance.
Baltimore and the Eastern Shore are best for crabs. Blue crabs is what the Cheasapeake Bay region is all about. They are best in season when you know they're local.
You generally order them by size and by amount-half dozen/a dozen and keep going from there as you wish.
The mallet is used over a knife to crack the legs and claws-you use your hands and maybe the knife for the body where the best meat is. The mallet is not for wacking at will-that's considered quite passe by crab enthusiasts. Google "how to eat a blue crab" and you'll get the idea. Like this:
There are lots of opinions about who has the best crabs-locals are very passionate about them! I like Cantler's and know lots of folks love Suicide Bridge.
Oh....be sure to try out soft shell crabs when they are in season!
Where are you located? You don't necessarily need to go to Baltimore for good crabs. You can find good crabs in the DC area as well (if that's more convenient for you).
Some places you get "all you can eat." The crabs are generally smaller.
At other places, you order a dozen/half dozen of a particular size.
Some places offer both options.
There are all kinds of arguments about the "best" place for crabs, but to be honest, lots of places do them well. One sign of a real "crab house" is tables with butcher thickness paper on the tables. Let's face it, eating crabs is messy. Of course, some of the best crabs are the ones you buy from the crab trucks and take home to eat in back on the picnic table covered with newspapers.
No whole crabs south of Annapolis! Trust me. Now that Maryland has banned smoking in restaurants I'd send you to the formerly smoky Schultz's, in Essex, in the eastern suburbs of Baltimore. Mo's on Eastern Avenue, close by there, also, that's the Mo's on Eastern near 695, not the downtown one. They have a good dining room, but serve steamed crabs only in the bar, which was way smoky. (If you smoke, no personal offense but it's pretty major if you're going to be spending 2 hours cracking about a dozen crabs)
First off, yes, come to Baltimore for crabs. Get some cheap beer, preferably Natty Boh, and watch dem O's. All add to the taste, I'm convinced of it.
So to summarize the procedure:
1. Gather small group of friends. Bonus points if you have atleast one local who can walk you through the picking process. Don't wear your favorite shirt.
2. Find a table, preferably a picnic table covered in butchers paper.
3. Locate the roll of paper towels. If your table doesn't have one, poach the one from the next table when they aren't looking.
4. Order a pitcher of beer from the waitress. Bonus points if she addresses you as "hon"
5. Ask "Whatcha got today for hardshells?" She will then rattle off a list of numbers. These are the prices per dozen. The higher the number the bigger the crabs. Reply with a good sturdy, "We'll start with a dozen of the 56's"
6. Wait for the crabs to be steamed (see below) and watch your belongs when they are dumped on the table.
7. Dig in. General technique is to take of the legs, I snap the small ones in half and suck out the meat. Break the claws with the mallet. Flip the crab over, take a claw and lift the "tab" in the back. Take the shell off using your thumb as leverage. Bonus points if you eat the "mustard". Clean away the lungs, split the main body in half with a knife, rotate 90 degrees and split in half revealing the heavenly goodness.
You will definitely get alot of opinions regarding different crab places. One thing to look for is a place that "steams to order". That is, they don't steam the crabs in the morning and let them sit there all day. Some of the public markets up here in Baltimore do that. While they are a good bar snack done that way (i.e. something to do to kill time while drinking beer) for your first experience, you want steam to order.
Ooh, and if you don't already know, wait until crab season.
Excellent post Kaz...
I like Cantler's too, but the Momma and a bunch of my friends live in Naptown so it is convenient, and their are lots of other great places.
I wouldn't go somewhere in DC even though I live in NOVA now, it just isn't the same. People will try to tell you it is and tell you places, don't believe them.
Oh and a hint if you go with lady friends, especially those on the more petite side make sure to get a little food in them before the crab because drinking while picking can mean more booze to food and can quickly go downhill. It has happened to me now a couple times, since I was out of college and the tolerance has been lost. I highly suggest fries with old bay and vinegar as a side to accomplish this task.