Between having the best state flag, being home to the US Naval Academy and producing some of the best lacrosse players in the world, Maryland has a whole lot to be proud of. But nothing gets a Marylander going more than our local grub: Old Bay, Natty Boh and Crabs.
Hugging the second largest estuary in the world, Maryland crabbers catch 56 million pounds of blue crab every year and not an ounce of meat goes to waste. While it’s a stereotype to say that everyone in Maryland can pick a crab, it’s not completely untrue. It may seem a little intimidating to try at first, but with some tips from a native, you too can pick crabs like the best.
People have their own personal way of picking crab, but the way described below is pretty standard. All you’ll need is mallet, potentially a knife, a steamed blue crab, an entire can of Old Bay and a willingness to get dirty. If you’re wearing anything white, good luck!
1. Start by taking off the claws and legs. Leave the back flippers on! They come in handy later.
2. Take a claw and turn it so that the ridge on the inside of the claw is facing up. With your mallet, firmly hit the ridge to make a clean crack. Don’t hit it so hard that you crush the meat but hit it hard enough to get a nice crack.
3. Turn the claw over and repeat on the other side. You should be able to pull the claw right off, exposing a claw meat popsicle.
4. Some people eat the smaller legs, others just toss them in the shell pile. Personally, if you are paying the outrageous price for crab these days, you may as well get your money’s worth. Twist the leg in your hand to crack off a segment. Push towards the opening with your thumb and index finger to squeeze the meat out.
5. Now comes the trickier part. Take your crab and flip it over on its back. You’ll notice a flap in the middle of its abdomen. This is actually the way you tell the crab’s sex. If it’s male, the flap is long like the Washington Monument. If it’s a female, the flap is domed like the US Capitol.
Male crabs are more common than female crabs when your picking crabs. The Maryland government is trying to protect the crab population and asks crabbers not catch egg-bearing females.
6. With your fingers or with a knife, pull back the flap and remove it from the abdomen. Pulling this will also rid the crab of its sex organs so make sure you get those too.
7. Flip the crab right side up and pull the top shell off of the body. It should pop off pretty easily. Just grab the shell and unhinge it like opening a lid.
There may be some yellow gunk in the head of the crab. Do not be grossed out! Marylanders call this “mustard” and you just scrape it out. While you’re scraping, remove the gills. They’re the feathery things on the sides of the crab’s interior.
8. Take the crab in both hands and crack it in half.
9. Now it’s just a matter of digging out the meat from the little chambers in the side. If you keep the back legs on, it’s really easy to get the meat out the last chamber. This is where all the jumbo lump is.
No matter how familiar you are with cracking a crab, just remember that eating crabs is above all a fun, social experience. It’s the one opportunity where it’s acceptable and encouraged for you to play with your food so don’t worry if you are new to it! Get crackin’!