How to Cook King Crab

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OK, so that’s sort of a trick title.

“How to Reheat King Crab” would be more accurate. In the U.S., almost all the King Crab you’ll find in stores is already cooked. (It’s caught, cooked, then blast frozen to preserve its fresh taste.)


This one is more method than actual recipe. The goal is to get the crab hot without drying it out. In reality, it’s really, really easy. The key is to keep them well wrapped (or covered) with liquid.

King Crab legs are at their best when served simply: hot with a side of melted butter for dipping. Call me a purist.

What is a King Crab, anyway?

Let’s back up for a sec before we roast this beastie.

I don’t know about you, but to me, King Crab has always been one of those capital “F” Fancy Foods. It’s right up there with filet mignon and oysters rockafeller. It’s a major player in classic steakhouse surf n’ turf. It feels like it should be complicated to make.

But what, exactly, is King Crab?

There are about 121 species of the prickly, cold water King Crab scrambling around in the seas. Three are most commonly used for food: the red king crab (most prized for flavor), blue king crab (sought out for its sweet meat and giant claws), and golden king crab (the smallest of the three and mildest in flavor).

As with most seafood, there are fishing requirements (size and sex…only males can be kept for food). In the U.S., we catch King Crab up in Alaska (hence, Alaskan King Crab). Alaska’s largest harvest takes place in Bristol Bay, where the King Crab population is abundant and healthy.

As you can tell by the monstrous size of their legs, they’re really big. (Yikes!)

(Photo of brave woman + crab courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The crabs are a dark, wine red when they’re alive, and bright red when they’re cooked. The meat is snow white, with bright red highlights.

Oh, and it’s notoriously dangerous work to trap them. So before you sit down to dine, say a word or two of thanks to the brave fishermen who fought freezing temps and turbulent seas to bring them to your market. King Crab fishing is the subject of the Discovery Channel’s popular show, Deadliest Catch. (For more fishing facts, Deadliest Catch’s website has a great section called Crab Fishing 101. Check it out here.)

Is King Crab a sustainable seafood?

Well, it depends on where your crab was caught. Seafood Watch recommends avoiding King Crab caught outside the US, but says that domestic King Crab is a good alternative.

I’ve read that a lot of the Alaskan King Crab sold in the U.S. is actually from Russia, so buyer beware. Any reputable fish shop is going to be able to tell you where their stuff was caught without batting an eye.

Did you know?

If that wasn’t enough info about King Crab for ya, here are a few more facts:

  • King Crab legs have a size rating, similar to shrimp. They’re measured by how many legs make up 10 lbs. So, a size of “6-9” means 6-9 legs would weigh 10 lbs. Basically, the smaller the size rating, the bigger the legs.
  • While we all know about the legs, King Crab claws are also reportedly very tasty. If you have the chance to try them, jump at it!
  • King Crabs can live upwards of 20 years.
  • Protein-rich King Crab has no carbs and almost no fat

Serving sizes

OK, this is entirely subjective, but I’d count on 2-4 legs per person if you’re serving them as a main course. Since that can be a pretty pricey affair, I like to serve King Crab as an appetizer, with 1 leg per person.

4 ways to cook King Crab

OK, here’s the deal. Since most King Crab is already cooked when it comes to market, all you have to do is reheat it. This generally takes 5-10 minutes, depending on how you heat them. Here are 4 methods to try.

1. Steamed—Fill a large pot about 1/3 full with water. Bring it to a boil. Put the crab legs in a colander over the boiling water. Put a lid on the pot to steam them to heat them up. This will take about 10 minutes.

2. Boiled—Bring a large pot of water to boil. Knock the heat down so that the water holds a simmer. Drop in your crab legs. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the water, drain, and serve.

3. Grilled—Brush your legs with oil (to keep them from sticking). Grill for 5 minutes on each side on a 325 degree grill.

4. Baked—(This is what I did). Baking is a great way to make King Crab legs for a crowd. The legs can be pretty big, so if you have more than a few of them, they can be hard to fit in even the largest stock pot.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the crab legs on a sheet pan.

Squeeze a lemon or two over the legs.

Add just enough hot water to cover the bottom of the pan. (Be sure your water is hot.)

Wrap the entire pan in foil. You want a fairly tight seal, to keep the steam in.

Pop the pan into your preheated, 350-degree oven. Bake for about 10 minutes, until heated through. When the time’s up, yank the pan out of the oven, give them a quick test for temperature (I just crack into one and see if it’s hot in the middle), and…voila! You just made King Crab.

Transfer to a platter. Serve with loads of melted butter for dipping. Be sure to put out a few lobster/nut crackers. You’ll need them to get into some parts of those shells!

Enjoy!

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

22 COMMENTS

  1. What a great method! We won’t struggle with getting those pesky legs into our stock pot ever again. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Fantastic, yesterday night i watched a Tv program in Good Food channel where a irish fisherman said that pepole don´t eat more crab just for one reason, they are afraid to cook it!

  3. My mother loved this, she just keep it frozen and cut the long legs open with a sharp knife but some butter in every 4 inch’s, broil the for 5 min. They open up and the salt water with butter was great. They need to be frozen.

  4. That was some HUGE crab you got there..
    Is that the crab on the show Deadliest Catch???
    Well I’m gonna show this to my Dad, Crab is his favorite..
    Thanks for this…
    I’m excited to show this to my Dad…
    nice

  5. OMG that thing is a MONSTER. Not going to lie, I like eating crab but handling and cooking them myself kinda freaks me out!

  6. We live in Kodiak, AK, and we just got a live crab right from the boat! We boiled him up tonight, and it was delicious! It’s a lot of work, but so worth it! 🙂 Now I need to find some crab dip or crab bisque recipes for the leftovers! 🙂

  7. Hi, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! We went out for dinner last nite and went through such a disappointment with the king crab and watered butter that I almost cried. It was our 4th anniversary dinner:( Today, still sad from last nite, I came across huuuge king crab legs and decided to buy just 2 and I baked them as per your instructions (they were too huge to fit the tallest pot I have lol) and they came out like heaven. Seriously. 10 mins and so much goodness afterwards. You made a Colorado couple super happy and we even forgot about last nite’s fiasco. I appreciate your step by step instructions. thank you again

  8. I’m lying awake from a steroid shot wondering if I’ve missed the window for cooking the huge amount of crab legs I thawed on the weekend and was too sick to eat????3 days…too expensive not to try tho, feel so lucky to have found a way to cook them all…the oven !!! Who woulda”thunk it!” Wish me luck

  9. As the article says–don’t boil! They are already cooked {store bought} I don’t understand why people want to cook them again and toughen them and lose flavor. Heat and enjoy. I don’t use a microwave much but if you wrap them good to keep moist two minutes ought to do it!

  10. Today will be 1st time ever trying king crab (golden) moving up from snow crab that I always wrapped in paper towel and microwaved always worked well but I want to be sure I get the best taste experience I can with this more expensive delectable. I’m going to try the baked method. Thank you for the tip!

  11. I so happy I found your post! I saw an amazing deal in King crab legs and bought 3 lbs for my family with no idea how to warm them. They were way too big for any pot that I have. I followed your directions and warned them in the oven (I added some minced garlic and Old Bay to the lemon and water) and they were amazing! Thank you!!

  12. Crab legs, Alaska Kings, when they are Retailed out they are allready “Cooked” and flash frozen. WE eat them COLD. or Raw if you wish to think of them that way, Simply Put them in Ice Water for a few hours to UNFREEZE them. Once they thawed, I use a sharp knife, slice the leg leagth ways and serve em COLD with HOT butter.. O.m.G sooooooo good.
    3-4 LARGE legs per person. and One nice 8 oz or larger Rib Eye Steak per person to help fill your apptite.
    TRY IT……. you’ll Love em COLD.
    Mz Natty

  13. I Love king crab legs! Steaming is good, but my favorite way to prepare them is to toss those bad boys on the grill after the steaks are done. That smokiness really takes them to the next level….come on, summer!!

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