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Appeal of larger sized Maryland crab, considering cost?

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Can someone explain the appeal of ordering large or jumbo-sized Maryland crab in crabhouses? I understand that the crabmeat to work/effort ratio is much higher, but the price differential seems prohibitive to me, so I'm wondering if I'm not understanding some more nuanced aspects of the appeal.

I view eating Maryland crab as an activity that will be time-consuming and messy, but yield enjoyment of highly flavorful crabmeat. My favorite place to get crab is the Maine Ave Fish Market in DC, where a few months ago, I purchased 2 dozen of the smallest/cheapest crab for $25 (so $12.50/dozen). Recently, I took a visiting friend to eat crab at a Baltimore crabhouse where 1 dozen small crab cost $30, which was still pretty great for being able to sit near the waterfront & enjoy freshly steamed crab (so the price differential for restaurant vs. market setting was worth it to me). Even more recently, I took another friend to a different crabhouse (still a casual setting, brown paper on tables, etc) where a dozen mediums cost $59 and anything larger was even more expensive. Due to the price, we decided against steamed crab and order crabcakes etc instead. I get the sense that those price ranges for larger sizes are fairly standard for the area.

I've seen a number of posts / reviews where people have been fans of ordering jumbo-sized crab, so I'm guessing it's not an uncommon experience. Is crabmeat from a jumbo crab of better quality than that from a small crab?

Although I've never tried jumbo crab, I don't think that I would gain much more enjoyment from eating them vs. the smaller crab, at least not to point of spending $70-$80+ for a dozen.

Any thoughts?

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  1. Its really personal preference - kinda of like the difference between a 16 oz Rib Eye and a 40oz Rib Eyes some ppl believe big is always better

    2 Replies
    1. re: agarnett100

      It's more like the difference between a 2 inch thick steak with its moist, juicy interior and a half inch thick steak of the same cut. the little ones are good for soup, but I don't think worth the trouble of picking for their inferior meat

      1. re: curioussheridan

        I don't find the meat in small/meidum to be inferior to the meat of jumbo/colossals. What do you find inferior about it?.

    2. There's also the male/female preference. While I used to be way into crab, my wife is not anymore (even though she's a MD native) and so I haven't had shelled crab in a few years.

      1. Pardon the pun but......size does not matter! The key for blue crabs is how full/heavy they are, not how big they are. Even the smallest legal crab is awesome when it is heavy. Sometimes when people order these mammouth crabs ....... they are beautiful specimens to look at, but when they are opened have little meat. Fall crabs are known to be heavier and the best crabs of the season, regardless of the size.

        3 Replies
        1. re: jck

          Yup. It ain't the size. It's the weight.

          1. re: flavrmeistr

            I have been crabbing for 57 years. Size means very little except in the fall when crabs are heavy. Between June and late August if you are buying crabs by the dozen you will notice if you weigh them when you get them home a dozen mediums will weigh between 4 1/2 to 5 lbs. Large will weigh 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 lbs. Don't get caught up in the size #1, Large, Xlarge, Jumbo, Colossal until the fall. Big crabs are not as full until the fall so you are paying big bucks for empty crabs. If the bottom is white "Withies" these are usually light they just shed. Dirty bottom crabs are the heavy ones.

            1. re: kannacker

              Yes. Fall crabs are where it's at, big or small. Thanks for posting.

        2. I can eat at least 12 small crab and maybe more. But I can only eat about 4 jumbo crabs so even though the price is more it kind of evens out and it is hard to beat a huge crab full of lucious back fin and lump crabmeat. And jck is correct that no matter how big they are they better be heavy. I always have said that it would make more sense to sell crabs by the pound rather than by size.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dining with doc

            I get my crabs from a little shack that winnows out the light crabs and sells them separately from the sized ones. So, if you're getting jumbos, you know they'll be full.

          2. The folks who are pointing out the the heavyness of the crab is most important are correct. The problem is that you don't know how heavy the crabs are going to be for sure until a dozen of the little critters are dropped off on the table.

            I prefer to opt for the mediums and not risk the frustration of spending a fortune on the big guys and finding that they haven filled out their shells yet.

            Folks who complain about picking the little guys must not be very effective pickers, with a crab knife I can power through the mediums jsut as easily as the jumbos.

            1 Reply
            1. re: drewpbalzac

              Ask. We always ask which Crabs have been heavier lately. Most of the time the recommendation is a good one.
              As stated above Late in the Season the large Crabs are heavy and worth the extra Cash IMO.
              Also for Newbies to picking Crabs the Smalls are pretty frustrating and they end up wasting a lot.

            2. Interesting responses.
              Me, I love everything about blue crab - the picking, the flavor, the eggs (female), the color (both live & cooked). Unfortunately, I live near Montreal where crab is scarce and usually small (Toronto, 600 miles more inland has more blue crab because of a larger asian population). So for me, size doesn't matter.
              Sure theres full & empty, but for argument's sake lets compare small full to jumbo full. To me, it doesn't matter, but if I'm on vacation, I'm going to splurge on the jumbos at least once. The rest of the time, I'll likely get mediums only 'cause its a splurge in itself compared to what I get at home.
              Perhaps my value set would be different if I lived in crab country...
              Off-topic, but I cringe when I hear people say things like "I only eat king crab - any other kind is too much work."

              To some, price is no object, and perhaps feel the most expensive is the best.
              Others may not like picking and feel only the jumbos are worth the work.
              I don't understand the comment about inferior meat...I don't think size is an indication of quality.

              2 Replies
              1. re: porker

                $35 a dozen to $75+ a dozen?

                I would rather have two dozen of the mediums that one dozen large or jumbos.

                1. re: drewpbalzac

                  I agree to a point:
                  gas to Ocean City & back: ~$350
                  7 days lodging ~$1200
                  Ballpark spending money including meals ~$1400
                  Approximate total $3000
                  Difference of 1 meal jumbos over mediums $50 (<2%).

                  Splurge once 'cause I don't have access to jumbos otherwise (I could (and do) have crab delivered, but its a bit of an event) choose mediums rest of time.

              2. It's a matter of cost -- not materials, but labor. Quality is the same. How hard do you want to work for the same amount of crabmeat? Is it worth a few extra bucks to save you and your dining partners the work? Maybe you enjoy the meticulous "pick" of the crab? Your call. Enjoy.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Sal Gee

                  I just want a nice, fat, healthy, well-fed crab. Small, medium or large. Makes no difference to me.

                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                    I don't mind the labor as long as I have beer with my crab I am in heaven

                    1. re: agarnett100

                      Yaaaas!

                2. Love crab but HATE picking. Always thought canned/refrigerated stuff was REALLY expensive, till I thought about the yield and the TIME/WORK it takes to pick. I'd have to pick several dozen to get enough meat to make decent sized crab cakes. Even at $20-25/lb... is something I will occasionally splurge on.

                  1. 2 people in my family of 3 are relatively slow pickers. We will happily pay for jumbos because it cuts down on the amount of work. Last year on Labor Day, we split a dozen jumbos between 4 adults -- which we all agreed was satisfyingly plenty.

                    1. I have found, in general--

                      for value, big crabs are usually light for their size.

                      As for taste, smaller = sweet.

                      fare at a crabhouse: skip everything else.

                      As for time -- If you know how to pick them, you can go through a few small ones in the same amount of time as a big one... but, I am never in hurry when eating crabs.