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Nov 1, 2008 10:43 AM

Cleaned crabs - Balt - BWI - Annapolis areas

My wife and I are planning a visit to Balt, BWI, Annapolis areas and are wondering if any places are willing serve their crabs cleaned. We were spoiled years ago and found we prefer the spices on the meat rather than licking it off of our fingers. Also, any comments on crab seasoning would be helpful - are they just dumping on Old Bay or do they mix their own. Something other than celery salt and cayenne would be nice, the less salt the better, but that may be too much to ask.

Yes, I know I'm being picky, picky, picky and bordering on sacrilegious.

BTW - Thank you! to everyone posting on the crab cakes in the area. I am looking forward to visiting several places on our trip. Maybe I should start another thread on cocktail sauces...

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  1. The crabhouse secret: every one will wash the crab spice off for you. They know some are squeamish. But start at the top and avoid crappy crab houses. Do try Mr. Bill's, Cantler's. Do avoid Gunning's. Obrycki's in downtown Baltimore is less good than the first two, sketchy streetscape, tourists are sent there by concierges. If you go near Philips at any location, do yourself a favor and get a drink and leave without eating unless it's fries and ketchup.
    Noplace uses Old Bay. they use custom spice mixes from spice specialist companies like J.O.

    3 Replies
    1. re: chowsearch

      Thanks for your reply. That's good news on the Old Bay. It's always nice to try different spice mixes.

      re: cleaning the crabs - sorry I wasn't clear - rather than wash the spices off, I'm looking for a place that opens and cleans the crabs before cooking.

      Thanks for the recommendations for Mr. Bill's and Cantler's. It looked like they were highly recommended in other posts (other than the comments about Cantlers microwaving their crabs). It's good to see another vote in their favor.

      I'm not that high on Philips having dined there many years ago. There were too many shells in the crab cakes to really enjoy them. That said, our daughter visited their place in Atlantic City and really enjoyed the food (non crab) and she is not a big seafood eater.

      I'm not familiar with the spice specialist company you mentioned - J. O. can you elaborate?

      1. re: geppetto

        Crabhouses use bulk spice mixtures made for them by several maryland companies, one being J.O. Philips uses an unrelated, tasteless Indonesian crab where they have a packing company that ships them all over the world at about $6 a can--the meat looks beautiful but is pasteurized, tasteless, and beloved by restaurateurs who want to con their clientele into thinking they're getting fresh. Philips absolutely fraudulently peddles this stuff this way, convincing clients this is the way to save money. The con is right on the can- it says
        MARYLAND style BLUE swimmer CRAB. The type is really small between the big words, so it reads like Maryland Blue Crab. The blue swimmer crab is a different beast. Much of our crab may come from the Gulf or Carolinas, but it's fresh, cooked here, packed here, and doesn't last long. Philips' lasts forever, with no refrigeration, being pasteurized...and tasteless. Steer to a real crabhouse, Mr. Bill's being number one, and they will be glad to show you how to open them. If you just want the meat, they may saute it or serve it as imperial beside crabcakes. They're very nice. Mr. Steve is the owner. Go early to get in line, like 430 on weekends, but midweek is easy. Or go to Faidley's stand-up rawbar for crabcakes at scruffy Lexington Market, not open nights.

        1. re: geppetto

          I may be wrong, it's happened once or twice before, but I don't know of any crab house or seafood place pre-cleaning the crabs before cooking them; I don't think that's possible. You've got 2 choices, either pick fresh steamed crabs, or order dishes with picked crab meat (crab cake, crab imperial, etc).

          My general recommendations for crabs in the Annapolis area remain Cantlers, Annapolis Seafood, and Harris' Crab House.

      2. Are you looking for already picked crab meat dishes? Just a clarification in terms for us Marylanders.

        2 Replies
        1. re: nosey

          Thanks chowsearch for the info on Philips crab. I see the cans all the time in the store but have never purchased any due to my previous experience with the shells in their crab cakes. I'll definitely take a closer look at the label on my way by the can.

          nosey - what we are looking for is a place that opens the crabs and removes the lungs, etc., except the meat, preferably before they are cooked so the spices stay with / on the crabmeat. some places in our area advertise they serve their crabs clean or dirty, meaning they will open them and clean them prior to cooking.

          1. re: geppetto

            In my 32 years living in Baltimore, I have never heard of such a thing. Crabs are steamed live, so to pull out their lungs before would be impossible. The crabs would kill you lol. They grab on and do NOT let go!

            I have seen people get crabs with the spice removed (or like my one friend does, rinses them off herself). All you would be removing are the lungs and mustard (I eat this), I don't see how that would be saving you alot of time. Maybe I'm missing something. The worst part about picking crabs is once you actually get to the backfin, breaking it, and getting all of the meat out.

            One thing you may want to try if you like the spice, is to get extra on the side with vinegar (or butter). You dip the meat into the vinegar then the spice, then eat.

        2. I'd be happy to share my picking method, but everyone has a favorite way to do this. I have never seen pre-cleaned crabs in Maryland.

          1. This is just to comment on the "possibility" of pre-cleaned crabs... Years ago on the eastern shore I went to a party where the host had purchased bushels of crabs that were pre-cleaned. The apron had been removed and the gills and mustard were taken out. You still had to pick them, but they were pre-cleaned. Unfortunately I have no idea where they got them.

            3 Replies
            1. re: tapas gal

              My only point to that is, the apron and gills aren't the hard part. It's the backfin that is. It takes less than 2 seconds to rip out the apron and gills. So I don't see the point to paying extra for (or trying to find) crabs "pre-cleaned".

              1. re: carey24

                I would agree- and for me half the fun is the picking, messy fingers experience... but I was just pointing out that I had seen them pre-cleaned. However I just realized that the OP wanted them cleaned before cooking... I would agree with everyone else, I am pretty sure that is impossible!

                1. re: tapas gal

                  Gonna have to a a contrarian on this one. I have heard of people cleaning and then steaming...but I personally have never had them that way....however when making either Maryland crab soup or fried hard crabs I have cleaned live crabs before's a bit of an art or you can stun the crabs into docility(is that a word?)......

            2. are you looking for something akin to like Indonisian chili crab?

              3 Replies
              1. re: hon

                Thank you all for your replies! Yes, we were looking for crabs that are cleaned before they are cooked - remove mustard, roe, lungs / gills, etc. We do enjoy the picking and finger licking, but not cleaning the crabs after they are cooked. It also helps get the spices on the meat instead of just on the shells and fingers.

                As an aside, if I were cooking them at home, I would be hesitant to buy cleaned crabs. It may be difficult to tell how long ago they were cleaned, especially the ones on the bottom of the pile. They must have really trusted their supplier.

                When we cook crabs I usually remove the claws on six or eight, tossing them into the sink, then open the shells, hold them under running water, use a nut pick to scrape away the undesired parts, and split the bottom into two pieces. Repeat as necessary. Layer them in the steamer while adding spice on each layer. Steam till done. Enjoy till gone. Repeat as necessary.

                Since we don't care for the mustard or the roe, a little time up front cleaning means more time later picking and eating.

                hon - I haven't heard of Indonisian chili crab but it sounds interesting. Can you tell me more? got a recipe?

                Giving back - many years ago a gentleman that owned a seafood restaurant in my area introduced me to Mombasa Powder, from the bark of the Mombasa tree in Mombasa I was told, anyway... it's got a nice burn, not real hot but it can stick with you for a bit in the right quantities. It is a nice addition to a crab spice. I've also had it on cheeseburgers. Yum!

                Thanks again to all!

                1. re: geppetto

                  <re: hon Thank you all for your replies! Yes, we were looking for crabs that are cleaned before they are cooked - remove mustard, roe, lungs / gills, etc.>

                  wow! never heard of such a thing. I can't imagine how it is even possible to disassemble a crab before cooking it! It's not like a cow. All the mustard and guts make up the overall flavor. Take that away and you have a rather tastless experience.( Recently I read a report that on T'giving, over 70% of americans throw away the giblet package from their expensive storebought turkey. I guess we are not very adventurous, us Americans)

                  If you don't want to get dirty -- you shouldn't eat steamed crabs.

                  By the way, we steam them here, never boiled. I suggest you order the crab cake or carb Imperial. Please don't take offence, its not meant that way. The fewer crabs the tourists eat the more there is left for us! We really apprecieate them.