In the United States, the stone crab is one of the only species sourced from the warm waters of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike other types, this crab is prized only for its large, notoriously thick claws. Stone crab provides an experience unlike any other crustacean sourced in the U.S., making it an excellent option for crab enthusiasts and skeptics alike. If you’re interested in purchasing stone crab for your next special meal, the guide below explains all you need to know.
Habitat, Sourcing, and Features
Nearly all the stone crab consumed in the United States comes from the warm waters of the Florida coast. These small brown crabs burrow down along the shoals just before the low tide mark, and they are harvested from October through May. These crabs are found from the west central part of Florida and south to the Keys. Adult stone crabs live in burrows and can be found in seagrass beds, on mud, and/or on the sand bottoms.
Adults often live in depths of up to 200 feet, or in deep holes near dock pilings, and they generally grow to be between 5 and 6.5 inches wide. Stone crabs are usually fished near jetties, oyster reefs, or other rocky areas. The crabs are brownish red with gray spots and a beige underside, and they have large, unequally sized claws with black tips.
The stone crab is unique in that it is caught and sold only for its claws, which are often huge, heavy, and very meaty. These claws must be at least 2.75 inches long, measured from the tips of the finger to the first join, in order to be kept. The claws are sold in four sizes: medium, large, jumbo, and colossal.
What Does Stone Crab Taste Like?
While some crabs are valued for the meat in their legs, stone crabs are sought after for their claws alone. The front two claws are large, thick, and delicately sweet. The texture is soft but firm enough to hold its shape, and the meat is flaky and white. Stone crab claw meat has a taste strong enough to enjoy alone with simple sides, like lemon and butter, or within a larger recipe, like chowder and salad.
Best Cooking Methods for Stone Crab
Stone crab claws are often served like shrimp cocktail – cooked, pre-cracked and presented as finger food. Claws can also be cooked on the crabbing boats themselves and dockside, but they are also typically available either fresh or frozen. Most often, these traditionally served crabs are boiled to maintain the delicate flavor and preserve the soft texture. If you choose to boil your crab claws, they should take around 10 minutes to cook all the way through, depending on the size.
If you’re looking for an untraditional method to prepare your stone crab order, you can steam or bake the claws. Steamed parts should be cooked for between 5 and 10 minutes, or once you start to smell the meat cooking. Baked stone crab claws should be cooked in around 1 centimeter of water for 8 to 10 minutes in 350-degree heat. You can also find general tips for cooking crab.
Buying Stone Crab Online
The only parts of the stone crab worth purchasing are the claws. If you see whole stone crabs for sale, we don’t recommend purchasing; this likely indicates a seller trying to overcharge for inedible parts of the crab. Additionally, there are a few details to look out for when buying stone crab, either fresh, frozen, or live.
Unlike most other crabs, a stone crab can regenerate its claws when removed a certain way. Each regrowth can take around three years, but sometimes, farms and companies maintain a farm of stone crabs, simply removing the claws but keeping the crabs alive to regenerate. However, a recent study found that, when both claws were removed from crabs, they usually died within 24 hours. When just one claw was removed, around 25% of crabs died.
Many think this practice is cruel, and there are signs to check for if you don’t want to support the industry. Customers can tell if a stone crab claw is the original by looking for a faint, fingerprint-like marking on the last segment of its pincer. If the lines are unbroken, it is the original claw. If a company promises original claws, as they often do, but you find this line broken, we encourage you to contact the provider.
Regardless of sourcing, it is important that claws are cooked immediately after being removed from the crab. This prevents the meat from getting stuck inside the shell. Stone crab often have a shelf life of only 3 to 5 days, meaning they must be shipped immediately from the dock to maintain. Claws that have gone bad will have a slippery texture and light ammonia smell.
Remember that the poundage of crab you purchase does not reflect the amount of meat you will get. Stone crab claws are thick and heavy; 2.5 lbs of claws will yield just around 1 pound of meat. Take this calculation into consideration when you go to purchase stone crabs for your next meal.
- Learn more about cooking the different types of crab on our main page for buying crab.