Find out how to minimize the mess and minor flesh wounds while maximizing the meaty meal.
Maryland blue crabs are known to be among the most delectable products of the sea, but in Baltimore, where the crustaceans are elevated to demigod status, they're more than just a dinner option, they're an experience. Locals call it a "crab feast," and eating them properly is an art form. To look less like an amateur — complete with a bib covered in seasoning, shells and drops of your own blood — follow these locals' tips for getting the most out of those delicious hardshells.
▪ PREP: Before you dig in to your dinner, make sure you have the right tools. The list is short: All you need is a dull knife and a mallet. Word to the wise — you'll want to spread newspaper over the table, because crabs are messy. Remove all jewelry. If you have any cuts on your hands, cover them up because the crab seasoning stings. If you don't have any cuts, you will before dessert.
▪ ORDERING: You order blue crabs by the dozen or by the bushel (about six or seven dozen, depending on size). One sure way to show that you're a tourist is to order, say, "three crabs." It just isn't done. Sizes range from small to colossal, though most people get medium, large or jumbo. In Baltimore, crabs come covered in Old Bay seasoning — this isn't an option, it's just how they come. If you want it without, you can order them "washed," but it's frowned upon. Traditionally, crabs are served with locally grown corn and tomatoes along with pitchers of beer, though some restaurants offer more elaborate options.
▪ EATING: Crabs are usually dumped in the middle of the table. Grab a nice big one and follow these steps to get the most meat for your money.
1 Break off the two main claws and put them aside. You can eat them later or pass them along to the kids, since they are easiest to eat. The real meat is in the body anyway. Remove the little claws and toss them.
2 On the crab's belly, there is a convenient little tab called the "apron." Pull it back and break it off. You may need to use your dull knife to pry it upwards. Now, you should have a nice opening to pull off the crab's back. Don't be alarmed at the mess that awaits.
3 Clear out the mess — the pointy bristly things (the lungs) and the yellow "mustard" (you don't want to know what that is) until you have two distinct "sections." Break these apart.
4 Now, you should be able to dig into each section from the side and pull out nice, succulent chunks of crabmeat. Make sure to dig deep, and use the dull knife in all the nooks and crannies. There won't be a ton of meat — which is why you order by the dozen — but it will be delicious.
5 If you choose to return to the claws, bend them backwards at the joint to get two sections. You might be able to pull out a nice hunk of meat — called the backfin — when you separate them. Place your knife in the middle of each section and tap it with the mallet to break it apart. Dig.
GET CRABBY AT BALTIMORE'S BEST CRABHOUSES
► BO BROOKS
► CANTON DOCKSIDE
► CAPTAIN HARVEY'S CRABHOUSE
► CJ'S CRABHOUSE