The king crab rules the crab monarchy for a reason; the meat is prized for its famously sweet taste and tender texture, and the crustacean is available in extremely limited quantities. If you’ve ever seen or heard of the television show, Deadliest Catch, you’re familiar with this crustacean – and what fishermen will endure to claim a trap of these delicious crustaceans. If you’re interested in purchasing king crab for your next special meal, the guide below explains all you need to know.
Habitat, Sourcing, and Features
King crab available for sale online or at a market is most often the Alaskan variety, also known as the red king crab. This species can grow to have a leg span of almost six feet, and it is heavily targeted by fisheries for its unique flavor and texture profile. The Alaskan variety is the largest species of king crab, and it is named for the color it turns when cooked. Living king crab is often a dark burgundy color.
The king crab is native to the Bering Sea, the North Pacific Ocean, and around the Kamchatka Peninsula in Alaska. These crustaceans prefer cold water, living in temperatures that can range from 28.8 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, though they prefer temperatures below 43 degrees. King crabs can be found in a range of depths; newly hatched crustaceans stay in shallow waters, where there is plenty of food and protection, but they move to depths between 66 and 164 feet after around two years. Fully grown crabs are most comfortable at a depth of 600-650 feet, which makes sourcing wild-caught crab difficult. Heavy hydraulic systems are typically needed to lift the catch from the bottom of the ocean.
Red king crab fishing occurs during the autumn months off the coast of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Alaskan crab fishing is very dangerous, as portrayed on Deadliest Catch, and the fatality rate of these fishermen is around 80 times the rate of the average worker. The danger is compounded by the extremely short fishing season and a waning crab population. Currently, the king crab is threatened by overfishing, warming waters, and increased fish predation, all of which point to a higher premium placed on its meat.
What Does King Crab Taste Like?
While you will pay a higher price for a king crab, many believe the flavor alone is worth the added cost. These crabs have a uniquely sweet taste, and the meat’s texture is softer and more delicate than other species’. The flavor is so sweet and delicate that many enjoy the king crab without any additional seasoning.
The meat itself comes in large, thick pieces, but the shells are too thick to crack by hand. If you buy king crab, we recommend investing in a nutcracker or other cracking tool. The average king crab weighs around 6 pounds, and their legs are shorter but thicker than the comparable Snow crab.
Best Cooking Methods for King Crab
King crab is almost always sold cooked and flash frozen. As with most crustaceans, the meat spoils quickly after death, so this process easily adheres to safety standards while preserving the meat’s freshness. As a result, king crab can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. The simplest is to serve the meat chilled and with lemon wedges. To do this, simply transfer the frozen crab parts from the freezer to the refrigerator and leave overnight to thaw.
When cooking king crab, you’ll want to ensure you don’t overcook the meat, as this can damage the crustacean’s prized texture and taste. One of the most popular methods of cooking king crab is to steam the parts or body in a large pot for around five minutes. In nearly every king crab cooking method, the goal is to defrost and warm the meat instead of cooking it. This is the best way to preserve the meat’s natural flavor and texture. If you want to add extra sauces or flavors, you can also broil the crab (3-4 minutes) or barbecue it (5 minutes).
When cooking king crab, a shell cracker or nutcracker is nearly essential. The shell is thick and tough, and using a tool will prevent both frustration and potential injuries. If you want to retrieve the meat in large pieces, you can use a pair of kitchen shears to cut lengthwise down the legs. You can also find general tips for cooking crab.
Buying King Crab Online
When you buy king crab, you’ll typically have the option to choose between legs, full crabs, and claws. These options are almost always sold pre-cooked and frozen, often sold by the pound. The yield for king crab legs is around 70% meat; if you buy one pound of crab, you’ll have around 0.7 pounds to eat. Keep in mind that the percentage yield goes up as the size of the crab goes up, meaning that larger crabs, like kings, have better meat yields. If you can, research whether your provider keeps the shoulder attached, as this can add unwanted weight.
Some providers will sell king crabs live, but unless you’re an experienced professional, we don’t recommend this. The crabs are often large and wily, making shipping extremely difficult and the cooking process even more so. Once your crab arrives, it will last in a home freezer for up to four months and thawed in the refrigerator for up to two days.
- Learn more about cooking the different types of crab on our main page for buying crab.