Purists may say the only proper way to open crab legs, crab claws and the main shell of this marine creature is to use specialized seafood crackers. If you eat at any remotely upmarket restaurant, these implements certainly will arrive with your meal. But what if you want to eat home-cooked or barbecued crab? Not every household has exactly the right tools for the job.
How to Eat the Meat in Crab Legs
The shell on crab legs is softer and thinner than it is on the claws and main body. Even if you had crackers, you might not use them on this part of the animal. Wear gloves or wrap the legs in a clean dishcloth to prevent the spikes from hurting your hands as you pull them apart.
Start by twisting the legs off the body if you’re eating a whole crab; then twist apart each joint, or bend them back and forth until they break. If the joints are particularly stubborn, you may have to crack them with a mallet or the handle of a cleaver. Thin strips of cartilage poke out from the ends of the joints. Either pull these out with the crabmeat attached or cut through them with kitchen shears.
To gain access to the leg meat, snip along the shell from one end of the joint to the end, opening up the shell. Pull the cut edges apart and lever out the flesh with a fork or your fingers. To extract the crabmeat from the leg joints that are too small to cut with shears, insert a single tine of a fork and gently wiggle it around to break the meat free from the shell. Now scrape out the meat with the tine.
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Let’s face it. When eating crabs, nothing is going to stand in the way of a really determined lover of crabmeat. If seafood crackers don’t feature in your list of kitchen implements, there’s no law that says you can’t use nut crackers for the job. Failing that, as long as you have a cleaver, kitchen shears, a fork or mallet, and a paring knife and fork, all that juicy flesh inside the crab will be yours.
The crabs are the easiest part of the crab to eat without crackers. For these, all you need to do is to crack the shell and pull it open. The best tool for the job is a mallet. Simply strike the claw at its thickest point, taking care not to hit your fingers, until the shell shatters, and then extract the meat with your fingers or a fork.
How to Break Open a Whole Crab
Eating the main body of a crab without crackers is as simple as following a few logical steps. Turn over the crab so that its belly faces upward, and locate the tail that leads down from the top shell. Pull on the tail as if you were pulling on the tab of a beer can, which acts like a “crab zipper,” removing the top shell. Alternatively, lever off the top shell by pushing a paring knife underneath it and twisting.
Now you’ll see all the insides of the crab, including the gills and guts. There’s a longstanding myth that the gills are the poisonous part of a crab, but the truth is they taste terrible and are indigestible, but they aren’t toxic. Pull out the gills and the guts and break the crab down the center with the mallet, or, if the shell is quite soft, you may be able to cut through it with kitchen shears.
Jenny Green has a Masters in English literature and has been a freelance writer since 2008.