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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.

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  1. 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!


    1. 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.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jaydreb

        if you are able to get to baltimore, DO NOT eat crabs in DC. every experience i have ever had has been subpar at best.

      2. 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.

        1. 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)

          3 Replies
          1. re: jkosnett

            No crabs south of Annapolis...seriously? :0

            1. re: jkosnett

              A crab is a crab. Why should a crab taste any better coming from a pot in Baltimore or Annapolis than it would from a pot anywhere else (assuming proper seasoning of course)?

              1. re: jaydreb

                Because in my long experience they don't get cooked properly--- too watery, that sort of thing. Kind of like trying to get good BBQ in New York City..

            2. 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.

              2 Replies
              1. re: KAZ

                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.

                1. re: KAZ

                  Just GO with KAZ,,,,he has the right idea!

                2. delicious, but they do require a bit of work so give yourself plenty of time and go with friends that are good at conversation. watch for sharp edges on the cracked shell.

                  there's no shame if you make a mess.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hill food

                    1st . Don't go to a "restaurant" for crabs, (like Obrycki's, Phillips or the like) at least not your first time- it won't be the experience you've been searching for.
                    2nd KAZ has got it right you want steamed to order.

                    as far a places and experience- we baltimoreans will fight to the death over that one.
                    Personally the best place for crabs is in the back yard on a warm summer night but when I do go out for crabs I have a few guidlines.
                    offer a variety of sizes
                    picnic or other unfancy tables
                    view of the water or good outdoor space
                    cheap beer in cans or plastic cups
                    serve either a good coleslaw or have good hand cut fries

                    My favorite experinces out in Baltimore have been at Captin James crab deck (not in the big ship) Nick's Fish House & Dick's dock bar in Dundalk. I have had better crabs from other take out places but these places create a good experience all around

                    have fun!

                  2. Relax on this one, you've got plenty of time to study. Jimmies don't get heavy until August, although by June I'm ready to start cracking. Don't forget to start in with some soft shells in the spring!

                    1. I knew you guys were clutch...thanks for coming through for me. I guess there's nothing for it but to sit, salivate, and wait for the months to pass.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: baird2028

                        Ad you will get many different opinions on how to properly "pick a crab". All directions lead to the same end--get as much crab meat as you can out of that crab! My personal technique is to pull the apron off, then the top shell. Clean out the "dead mans fingers and other stuff (aside from the mustard). Crack the body in 2 halves. The still attached legs and claws give you a good handle and leverage to twist off big chunks of meat, especially the backfin. For the claws, take a small knife and mallet-place the edge of the knife just blow the pincher part and tap lightly to just wedge the knife in the shell. Twist knife and you should have a perfect crab lollipop, Please remember that our crab supply is dwindling-don't order more than you can eat, get all the good stuff out. Please don't waste our favorite food by only eating the backfin and claws! I would recommend some good rye bread spread with butter to munch on while you eat your crabs and drink the beer. The bread takes the sting out of the spice and gives you stomach a good coating for the beer! Always have a "finger bowl" aka a bucket with water nearby for the occasional rinse off. Enjoy and welcome to the "Land of Pleasant Living"!