Maryland blue crab are perhaps the most popular crustacean in the United States. Prized for their flavorful meat, these crabs are sourced along the entire east coast. Blue crabs also comprise much of the American soft-shelled crab availability; they are often blue crabs that have recently molted. As a result of its versatility and varied shell densities, the Maryland blue crab can be prepared with a variety of methods. If you’re interested in purchasing blue crab, either the hard- or soft-shelled variety, for your next special meal, the guide below explains all you need to know.
Habitat, Sourcing, and Features
Blue crabs, also known as Atlantic Blue Crabs and Chesapeake Blue Crabs, are found all along the eastern coast of the United States and into the Gulf of Mexico. This crab is of significant culinary and economic importance along the eastern coastal region, especially in North Carolina, Maryland, and Louisiana. As the name suggests, the blue crab is the Maryland state crustacean.
The term “blue crab” can refer to several species, but the Callinectes sapidus is the most frequently sourced in the United States. Still, blue crabs are managed as a single species in the Chesapeake Bay and are thus all subject to minimum catch size and seasonal harvest limits. There are currently many initiatives designed to maintain a sustainable blue crab population, as overfishing in previous decades has damaged the once-huge population.
Blue crabs are named for the color of their shell when alive, but the pigment changes to a shockingly bright red once cooked. On the Atlantic coast, blue crab season opens May 1 and continues until November 30. As with all seafood, blue crab populations fluctuate naturally with annual changes to environmental conditions, even within the official fishing season. Maryland blue crabs are often between 3.5 and 6 inches wide and has a relatively low meat yield, generally around 20%.
What Does Maryland Blue Crab Taste Like?
Many describe Maryland blue crab meat as tasting “crabbier” than other crustaceans. The flavor is stronger than king and snow crab, and it is lightly sweet. Blue crabs have a very delicate texture and a low oil content. Maryland blue crabs are known for their high fat content, which is intensely flavorful.
Blue crabs are very palatable, which means they are a great entry point for diners new to crab. The flavor is very simple and easy to appreciate – unlike the more complex, briny flavors of the Dungeness, another popular option. Blue crabs are also often easier to secure and cheaper to buy, making this the perfect beginner crab.
Best Cooking Methods for Maryland Blue Crab
Because of their strong flavor, low oil content, and sometimes soft shells, the Maryland blue crab can be prepared in a variety of manners. Traditionally, these crabs are boiled or steamed and served up in large servings alongside lemon and butter. If you want to prepare these crabs traditionally, we suggest boiling for between 8 and 10 minutes or steaming for 10-11 minutes, depending on the size of your crustaceans.
If you get your hands on a soft-shelled Maryland blue crab, consider an alternative cooking method, such as broiling, frying, sautéing, or grilling. You can also find general tips for cooking crab.
Buying Maryland Blue Crab Online
Maryland blue crab can be purchased live, fresh, and frozen through online vendors. Maryland blue crabs, especially the hard-shell variety, are often shipped live, but it is common for the variety to die in transit. This is generally the result of motion and heat. If you purchase live blue crab online, assess your shipment as soon as it arrives. Smell will be the best indicator of freshness; any crab that has a light ammonia smell should not be served. If you’re unsure whether your crab is dead, allow the crustaceans to warm slightly. Cold crabs will be very slow and lethargic, but once they warm up, they can more easily display signs of motion.
If you opt for a live crab shipment, make sure your provider ships the crab immediately after catch. By contrast, if you’re only interested in buying meat, be sure to check whether it has been processed in any way prior to purchasing. Fresh crab meat will need to be packaged and shipped almost as quickly as live crabs, but frozen meat will stay good for several months. Be sure to check your provider’s website closely, as this detail will inform the price, freshness, shipping method, and how you should prepare for storing the purchase.
Because blue crabs have a very low meat yield, we recommend purchasing pre-prepared crab meat to get the most bang for your buck. That said, nothing matches the freshness of a just-caught Maryland blue crab, especially when incorporated into a traditional crab boil.
- Learn more about cooking the different types of crab on our main page for buying crab.