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Jun 30, 2009 10:00 AM

Steaming crabs

So here's my plan. I'm traveling from my home in Baltimore to my sister's place in suburban New York for Independence Day weekend.

They want to try crabs, so I figure I can pick up live crabs in the morning, drive them up, and steam them for late afternoon/early evening dinner.


1) Where is a good place to buy live crabs that is open Friday morning and in between Fells Point and New York? I really don't want to go the wrong direction.

2) They'll survive, right? I have a cooler.

3) Any good recipe recommendations? I can always fall back on water and old bay I guess.

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  1. I'd suggest Chris's Seafood in Canton, but they won't be open that early. They nominally open at noon, and sometimes are a bit later than that. You may have a tough time finding someone open in the morning.

    1. Conrad's in Towson opens at 10:30 if that's not too late.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JonParker

        and they sell their own crab seasoning which is great and I would use in place of just Old Bay. Also when you steam them add some beer to the water.

      2. S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood in Rosedale opens at 6:30 AM on Fridays in the summer. They've been in business for more than 100 years and are top notch guys with good product.


        S. DiPaula & Sons Seafood, Inc.
        7613 Philadelphia Road
        Rosedale, Maryland 21237
        410.866.8100 - Phone
        410.866.3726 - Fax

        3 Replies
        1. re: treetop tom

          I called those guys up and they open at the right time, but they recommended against live crabs. Said I would freeze them to death if I kept them in a cooler for that long, and that I'd be better off just getting them steamed and reheating them when I get there.

          1) That sounds way less fun.

          2) There must be a good method. I like MakingSense's and jck's procedure and I'm tempted to try some combination, at the risk of killing my dinner. Anyone else think I'm making a huge mistake?

          1. re: dcopeland

            As long as the crabs are lively and stay cool (about 50 degrees) and damp, they keep fine. I agree that you don't want to pack them in ice, or let the crabs soak in the ice water at the bottom of the cooler. Nor do you want to throw a bushel of live crabs in your trunk and drive 6 hours on a summer day. But thousands of bushels of crabs are air-shipped from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mid-Atlantic every year in cardboard bushel boxes with nothing more than a piece of wet burlap on top of them and while there is some loss it's OK. Don't get me wrong - crabs are perishable and nothing is worse than getting a bushel of dead crabs, but they can take a trip if precautions are taken.

            1. re: dcopeland

              Poppycock. Crabs don't "freeze to death" if you're careful. We routinely refrigerate them for a few hours to keep them from "throwing their claws" when they're thrown into the pot.
              When my kids were small and only caught 2 or 3 a day, we accumulated them in the fridge until we had enough to cook. They were fine for a few days.
              Now, I would not close the top of the cooler. They need air. And I would make double-damn sure that they are never in water. No ice on them. Use bottles of water or "blue ice."
              If you're driving an SUV, they'll be inside the AC with you.
              Even under the best circumstances, there is some mortality in a bushel, so be prepared.

              BTW, it is "fun," but steaming them yourself is a lot of work and it is messy. Be prepared and make sure that you're not imposing on your host. If they're not OK with this, buying them already cooked may not be a bad idea. Heck, if they're in the trunk of a car on a hot day, they'll still be hot when you get to NJ.

          2. The watermen on the Eastern Shore (where I have a house,) keep them in those wooden slat baskets on their workboats and then in the back of their pickup trucks most of the day until they sell them to the brokers in the afternoon. The crabs are not on ice, but they are covered and out of the sun.
            You should keep them as cool as you can and you can even use ice, but under NO circumstances should you allow them to be in water. The fresh water from melted ice will kill them. If you put them in the cooler, don't close it or they will suffocate.
            If you want to use ice, try freezing water in some plastic bottle to place around the crabs, rather than loose ice. Then cover the crabs with burlap or wet newspaper.
            Chilling the crabs has the added advantage of keeping them from "throwing" their claws when they are steamed, which is a reaction to trauma. (Now I've probably upset the animal rights folks. Sorry.)
            It also makes them easier to handle as chilled crabs are less lively and won't attack you as much when you handle them.

            10 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              I transport crabs quite a bit back from Eastern Shore and here are some suggestions: Use a very larger cooler and put a few inches of cardboard on the bottom of cooler. Put live crabs in cooler and layer with loose ice. As the ice melts it will be absorbed into cardboard because above poster is correct that you can drown crabs in fresh water. Just prop the top of the cooler a tad so a little amount of air can get in...they do not need much when iced since they go into their sleepy/coma state. The suggestion of frozen water bottle or 2 is great also. Assuming you have a large steamer, use a Weber grill outside for heat since it is too stinky for inside! Enjoy!!

              1. re: jck

                I love the smell of steaming crabs permiating my house!

                1. re: jck

                  How can your Weber grill possibly get hot enough? I use a propane burner that's at least 35,000 BTUs. The kind that you use with a turkey fryer.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    I agree, it wouldn't get hot enough.

                    1. re: hon

                      If your Weber Grill can't reach 212 degrees farenheit you shouldn't be using it. My charcoal weber easily hits 400 degrees and most gas grills will do 600-700 degrees. I've steamed crabs on grills many times, but usually do them inside on the stove.

                      1. re: hon

                        Charcoal Weber can easily hit 450-500 degrees...just make a large fire. The Turkey Fryer does work great but the heat is so hot that it has ruined a number of steamers that I own...just eats the metal away after many uses. As you may be able to tell...I steam crabs quite often.

                        1. re: jck

                          There have been tens of thousands of turkey fryers and high output propane burners sold for use with pots for steaming lobsters and cooking shrimp, crawfish and crabs for decades. I'm on my second burner, just bought a third bigger one, and my father had one made back in the 50s. I got his stainless steel pot when he died in 2005 and it was still in perfect shape. One of my aluminum pots is 20 years old.

                          If pots corroding were a problem, wouldn't there have been consumer warnings or a recall?

                  2. re: MakingSense

                    What does "throwing their claws" mean?

                    Just curious - I'm not a native.

                    1. re: amyatkendall

                      The Blue Crab uses its front claws (pincer claws) to defend itself. They can do some serious damage as most kids in crab country learn at an early age when their bare toes get nipped.
                      Crabs are aggressive and cannibalistic. One of their defense mechanisms is the ability to drop off a claw when threatened, usually when another crab holds onto it in a fight. Then it can run away.
                      When crabs are seriously threatened - as in about to die in a pot - they often drop the claws in an automatic response to threat.

                      If crabs are steamed too slowly (or put into water that isn't boiling and/or brought back to boiling too slowly) or they're agitated when put into the pot, more of them will "throw claws." It's an automatic response
                      to the "threat."
                      Poorly cooked crabs often have lots of loose claws served along with them or perhaps are sold clawless.

                  3. I would try the Maryland Wholesale Fish Market in Jessup. I believe Franks Seafood.....which is right on the corner as you go through the gate sells to the public