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How long can I wait to cook fresh dungeness crab before it goes bad?

We catch a lot of dungeness crab and I ussually clean it and cook it right away but I am wondering if anyone knows just how long you can keep it refrigerated to cook later before it goes bad. I have heard you have to cook it within an hour of cleaning but then I have heard a few hours if refrigerated it ok---

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  1. I have heard that crabs produce a chemical when they die that will kill nearby crab. I don't know what effect it has on its own meat. This may be the reason why they are cooked live and then cleaned after cooking.

    5 Replies
    1. re: kirkj

      I spent a lot of time at my grandmothers cabin on Whidbey Island - where we had our crab pots out as much as we could. We never cleaned the crab prior to cooking them. We just kept them in a tub with salt water until it was time to put them in the pot.

      1. re: Lauren

        Did you ever keep them in the tub of salt water over night or just a few hours?

        1. re: Lauren

          Did you ever keep them in the tub of salt water over night? or just a few hours?

          1. re: LSNelsons

            You can keep them alive in sea water kept cool, or for a shorter time, covered in wet seaweed.

      2. I'd be happy to take some of it off your hands if you are having trouble! :)

        1. Once they're dead, cook them IMMEDIATELY!

          1 Reply
          1. re: pikawicca

            Not to mention that if you aren't sure when they died, you probably don't even want to cook them.

            And, based on my entire lack of knowledge derived from watching Deadliest Catch, if they do die, its not good for other crabs in the vicinity, so you may not even be able to have the others.

          2. You should really cook the crab as soon as possible after taking them out of the water. You can keep crabs alive overnight. I've had luck keeping a few in a large tub (really large) covered with fresh seaweed and a soaked burlap bag on top (to keep the smell to a min.) Do not keep them in a tub of water (sea or fresh) because they will urinate (blue looking water) and it will slowly spoil the meat. Crabs are similar to lobster in that as soon as they are taken out of the water and put in say a tank, they start to consume themselves from the inside out. As soon as crabs die the meat starts to decompose if not cooked quickly.

            1. I lived on a boat for a few years and cooked hundreds of dungeness, always cooking them alive. Once I left them in the bucket of salt water too long, and they died - likely an oxygen issue. I tossed them. If you have ever bought dungeness at the store and found when picking it that it was stuck to the shell, it had died before being cooked.

              A friend of mine killed and cleaned his before cooking, but always cooked them immediately.

              Bottom line, it isn't worth the risk to wait. There is very little difference between just cooked, and cooked yesterday.

              1. Thanks for all the comments - I have always killed and cleaned them before cooking and always cooked within an hour, but after hearing so many people cook them live, I think I will try that this summer and see if I can tell a diffencence in the flavor. I kept searching for info after posting this question and found this on a site from BC Canada:

                Storing Tips: Live Dungeness crabs can be stored in well-aerated tanks for several weeks, but should be used on the day that they are purchased. Raw crabmeat should be cooked within 24 hours after the crab dies, frozen crab meat should be stored for no longer than 4 months and canned crab should be used within 6 months.

                1. Harold McGee (_On Food and Cooking) sez:
                  "The most important organ in the crustacean is what biologists call the _midgut gland_ or _hepatopancreas_, and what the rest of us usually call the "liver." This is the source of enzymes that flow into the digestive tube and break down ingested foods.... It's thus one of the richest, most flavorful parts of the body, and is expecially prized in labsters and crabs. But it's also what makes crustaceans spoil so readily. The gland is made up of tiny fragile tubes; and when the animal is killed, the tubules are readily attacked and damaged by their own enzymes, which then spread into the muscle tissue and break it down into mush. There are several ways to avoid this spoilage. Lobsters and crabs are sold either live, their digestive system intact, or fully cooked, their enzymes inactivated by the cooking. Because the shrimp liver is relatively small, processors often remove the "head" that contains it, and sell only the tail meat. Raw shrimp that are sold "head-on" must be handled with greater care (iced immediately and continuously) and don't keep as long."

                  Sorry, no info about how long this takes, but I thought that the description of the process was interesting.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Nettie

                    wow! that IS interesting and it explains alot. Thanks for posting.