How To Cook Crab Legs (5 Ways!)


by Sil Pancho



Healthy Recipes



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Like lobster and filet mignon, crab legs are often associated with a fancy restaurant dinner. And while they are pricy even at the store, cooking crab legs at home is surprisingly easy and still more affordable than dining out. This crab legs recipe covers the best ways to cook crab legs — boiling, steaming, baking, broiling, and grilling. I’ll go over the process of selecting crab, the pros/cons and cook times for of each method, how to eat crab legs, and more.

Once you learn how to cook crab legs yourself, you might never want to order them from a restaurant again. This is one of my favorite special occasion seafood recipes!

If you find yourself with any leftover crab after cooking crab legs at home, use it to make crab cakes, crab stuffed salmon, or cold crab dip.

5 Ways To Cook Crab Legs

There are five ways to make this crab legs recipe, and I’ll show you how to cook each one:

  1. Boiled crab legs – The classic, probably easiest method is to cook crab legs in boiling water. It makes for tender, juicy crab meat and is great for large batches, because you can fit a lot in a large stockpot. But, this method can also be lacking in flavor because some of it escapes into the water, even if you season the water — which you should.
  2. Steamed crab legs – This method is similar to boiling, but because the crab legs don’t get submerged in water, their flavor doesn’t seep into the water and they are more flavorful than boiled ones. The downside is you need a steamer basket and won’t be able to fit very many legs into it, so you’d have to cook in batches.
  3. Broiled crab legs – One of my favorite ways to cook crab legs! Broiling caramelizes the crab a bit and you’re able to add more flavor by brushing with butter or olive oil before cooking. Some people also add seasonings, but most of them won’t make it past the shell.
  4. Baked crab legs – This method is similar to broiling, but the oven is set to a lower temperature, so it takes much longer. You can use this method if you want the benefits of broiling but don’t want the caramelization.
  5. Grilled crab legs – Grilling imparts a smoky flavor, plus it’s a great way to cook crab in the summer months without heating up your kitchen.
Crab legs on a platter with melted butter, parsley, and lemon wedges

How To Buy Crab Legs

When it comes to the type of crab, choosing the best crab legs is pretty straightforward, because there aren’t actually that many choices. Availability often varies by region, so get whatever you can find! But in case you do have options, here’s an overview of the most common types of crab to help you decide:

  • King crab – King crab legs are the largest, with thick, spiky shells. King crabs have a relatively short harvesting season of just a few weeks, which is why they usually cost more. The crab meat has a sweet, succulent flavor and buttery texture are similar to lobster meat. King crab is the cream of the crop for making the best crab legs!
  • Snow crab – Snow crab legs are smaller in size, with long legs, and found in the Northern seas. When cooked, they have a snowy white color, firm texture, and a sweet and briny flavor. Snow crabs are what I usually buy for crab leg recipes (including the one shown here), because the clusters of crab legs are still a good size, but not as expensive as king crab.
  • Stone crab – Also known as the Florida stone crab, these small crabs are brownish red and have large claws with black tips. The flavor of stone crab is often compared to a mix of shrimp and lobster. Their legs are short and small, so they are more suited for making crab claws or serving chilled like shrimp cocktail.
  • Blue crab – Blue crab is one of the most popular crab varieties, and also on the smaller side. It’s sweeter than many other varieties, with a mild ocean flavor and flaky, tender meat. You can cook crab legs from blue crab, but it’s not my preference since it’s so small.
  • Dungeness crab – Dungeness crab is found on the West coast and has a wide, large shell with 5 pairs of legs. It’s usually served whole or “half backing”, which is when it is cut in half and some of the insides are scooped out prior to cooking, so is not typically recommended for crab leg recipes.

FYI: Most crab legs at the grocery store or fishmonger are actually pre-cooked and frozen, so crab leg recipes are essentially reheating them. Sometimes the legs are sold frozen, and sometimes they are already thawed.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area where you can find fresh uncooked crab, you can still use the same cooking methods – they’ll just take a bit longer.

TIP: You can tell if crab legs are precooked by looking at their color. If they are red or orange then they are precooked; if they are gray or brown, they are raw.

Ingredients to make crab legs recipe

How To Boil Crab Legs

  • Season cooking water. Fill a dutch oven or large pot half full with water, and season generously with Old Bay Seasoning and sea salt. Bring to a boil.
  • Boil crab legs. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until hot.
Boiled crab legs in a pot

How To Steam Crab Legs

  • Prep steamer. Fill a dutch oven with about 1-2 inches of water, and place a steamer basket inside. (Make sure it isn’t submerged.)

TIP: If you don’t have a steamer basket, a colander will often work. It just needs to be heat safe, fit in your pot or dutch oven, and have feet to stand up above the water.

  • Steam crab legs. Bring to a boil and add crab legs to the steamer basket. Cover and steam until hot.
Crab legs in steamer basket

How To Broil Crab Legs

  • Prep. Preheat oven to Broil and arrange crab legs in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Brush with butter.

TIP: A good rule of thumb is to brush on a tablespoon of butter per 1/2 pound of crab legs. This applies to the broiling, baking, and grilling methods.

  • Broil crab legs. Place legs under broiler for a few minutes on each side.
Broiled crab legs being brushed with butter

How To Bake Crab Legs

  • Prep. Preheat the oven and arrange crab legs in a single layer. Brush with melted butter.
  • Bake crab legs. When baking instead of broiling, they take longer and don’t brown.
Baked crab legs on a sheet pan

How To Grill Crab Legs

  • Prep. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Brush crab legs with melted butter.
  • Grill crab legs. Grill crab legs, flipping once, until warm in the center and lightly browned.
Crab legs on a grill pan

How Long To Cook Crab Legs?

Your crab legs cook time will depend on the cooking method:

  • Crab legs boil time: 3-5 minutes for precooked crab, 8-12 minutes for raw
  • Steamed crab legs time: 6-8 minutes for precooked crab, 10-12 minutes for raw
  • Broiling time: 6-8 minutes for precooked crab, 10-12 minutes for raw
  • Baking time (at 350): 15-20 minutes for precooked crab, 25-30 minutes for raw
  • Grilling time: 10-14 minutes for precooked crab, 18-22 minutes for raw

How To Cook Frozen Crab Legs?

If your crab legs are still frozen, boiling or steaming are the best methods to use and you can do those from frozen. Otherwise you can thaw crab legs in the refrigerator overnight.

How To Eat Crab Legs?

  • Break crab in half, if needed. Usually, crab legs are sold in clusters that are already broken in half, but if yours are not, you can do that as the first step.
  • Separate the legs. You can usually just twist and pull the legs away from the body portion, but for larger crabs, you may need a lobster or crab cracker, nut cracker, or kitchen shears.
  • Crack the crab legs. You can often do this by just bending the leg (not at the joint) with two hands until it breaks in half, then pull out the solid piece of crab meat inside (see the photo below!). But if needed, a lobster or crab cracker, nut cracker, or kitchen shears can also be used, but be careful not to cut through the meat inside.
  • Crack the claws. The shell on the claws is thicker and also has the sweetest meat inside. You’ll need a lobster or crab cracker for this step, though a flat meat tenderizer can work in a pinch. Always start gently and add more force only as needed, to avoid too many tiny shell pieces.
  • Get the body meat. Use a seafood fork to pick it out of all the crevices.

This is the set I have, which has both a cracker and fork. See my serving tips below.

How to eat crab legs- picture showing crab claws broken open

Storage Instructions

Store any leftovers from this crab legs recipe in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Can you freeze crab legs?

Yes, you technically can freeze crab legs, but keep in mind that if you purchased and cooked them, then they were probably already precooked, frozen once at the store or fishmonger, and then thawed (either at home or at the store) and cooked again at home.

So, while you could freeze them again, at this point the taste and texture will likely suffer. If possible, enjoy them fresh and avoid refreezing.

If you do freeze crab legs, the maximum time is 1-3 months.

How to reheat crab legs?

You can reheat crab legs using any of the methods above: boil, steam, bake, broil, or grill. Microwaving crab legs is not recommended.

Piece of crab dunked in butter

What To Serve With Crab Legs

Serve up your crab legs with these accompaniments and sides:

  • Melted butter & lemon wedges – Butter (or clarified butter) and lemon juice is the simplest option and so delicious!
  • Dipping Sauce – Try lemon butter sauce. You can also upgrade it after cooking by adding fresh herbs, such as dill, chives, and parsley, or spices, such as paprika and chili powder. Add garlic powder to make it a garlic butter sauce.
  • Vegetables – Vegetable sides like roasted asparagus, green beans almondine, or roasted brussels sprouts all pair well with this crab legs recipe.
  • Starches – Pasta and potatoes are heartier options; I opt for healthier zucchini noodles or mashed cauliflower.

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Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.

Boiled Crab Legs:

  1. Fill a large pot or dutch oven about half full with water. Add Old Bay Seasoning and sea salt. Bring the water to a boil.

  2. Add crab legs. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until hot.

  3. Remove crab legs from the water with tongs and transfer to a plate.

  4. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Steamed Crab Legs:

  1. Fill a large pot or dutch oven with about 1-2 inches of water, or just enough water so that your steamer basket won’t be submerged after adding it later. Bring to a boil.

  2. Place the steamer basket into the pot. Add crab legs into the steamer basket and cover with a lid. Steam for 6-8 minutes, until hot.

  3. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Broiled Crab Legs:

  1. Preheat the oven to Broil.

  2. Arrange crab legs in a single layer on an large baking sheet (I recommend a half sheet pan, about 18×13 inches). Brush with melted butter.

  3. Set the oven rack to be about 6-7 inches from the broiler. Place the baking sheet onto the oven rack and broil crab legs for 3-4 minutes. Flip and broil for 3-4 more minutes.

  4. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Baked Crab Legs:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

  2. Arrange crab legs in a single layer on a half sheet pan. Brush with melted butter.

  3. Set the oven rack to the center of the oven. Place the baking sheet onto the oven rack and bake crab legs for 15-20 minutes.

  4. Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

Grilled Crab Legs:

  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

  2. Brush crab legs all over with melted butter.

  3. Place crab legs on the grill. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes per side, until warm in the center and lightly browned.

Recipe Notes

Serving size: 1/2 lb crab legs (yields about 1/4 lb crab meat)

Nutrition info does not include the butter and spices, as those depend on the preparation method.

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving. Serving size in recipe notes above.

Calories 93

Fat 0.8g

Protein 20g

Total Carbs 0g

Net Carbs 0g

Fiber 0.1g

Sugar 0.1g

Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.

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