How to Steam Blue Crabs

apple cider vinegar
Old Bay
kosher or coarse salt
live blue crabs

In a large boiling pot with a 2 inch raised rack add water and vinegar in equal amounts until the level is just below the rack. Bring to a boil. Drop the crabs into the pot in single layers*, sprinkling each layer with a thick coating of Old Bay and salt. The larger the pot, the more crabs you can steam at once, just make sure that the lid is still able to fit tightly. Steam in batches if you have to. Cover the pot and steam until until crabs turn a bright orange, about 20 minutes. If the shells are dark red or have reddish-green patches, then the crabs are not fully cooked and you need to keep steaming them. I found that stirring occasionally with a long handled spoon helped make sure the crabs at the top were cooked enough. Remove the crabs from the pot with tongs and serve on a newspaper lined table, preferably outdoors. Make sure you have lots of paper towels! Now, I am a Baltimore native and an experienced crab picker so I normally don’t need any utensils beyond my fingers but it is often wise to have wooden crab mallets, butter knives or even nut cracking tools handy in case you need them to get the last bits of crab out of the shell. Now you are ready to get picking!

*Wear gloves! Refrigerating the crabs before you steam them keeps them alive and dopey but they still want to pinch and are stronger than you’d think.

My thoughts:

Steamed crabs are the quintessential Baltimore food. I actually have never steamed them at home until today but when I scored 16 good-sized, sweet crabs for $11 because they were packing up for the day at the farmer’s market, I couldn’t resist. Normally, they run about $20 a dozen. Steaming the crabs was super easy-I had seen people steam them before (mostly while I waited to pick up my order) so pretty much knew what to do. I even ran out of Old Bay 3/4 of the way through and they were still good! Of course, admitting that I ran out of Old Bay is enough to get me run out of town, but in my defense, my New Yorker husband claimed that a 6 oz tin was “more than enough Old Bay” for the Summer. I knew we needed the 1 lb tin. I found that using apple cider vinegar gave the crab a subtle tang that accentuated the crab’s sweetness. I know some people like to steam in beer but I think that obscures some of the crab’s natural flavor. Simple is best!

So, if you have access to fresh, live blue crabs, it is worth it to pick some up! It is super easy to steam them at home (even if you have to make a makeshift crab pot) and cheaper than getting them out. Old Bay is available in most groceries stores in the seasonings and spices isle or in the seafood department.

Learn how to get all of the succulent meat out here.

Also: a quick welcome to all of my new visitors who found me via the article this month in Baltimore Magazine! I’ve enjoyed all the emails and well-wishes! Thanks!


  1. This looks really good!

  2. 16 crabs for $11! That is one heck of a score!

  3. But isn’t it just so sad and terrible when you drop them in the pot and can hear them clawing away, trying to save their own lives? I am also a Balto native and have eaten tons of steamed crabs in my lifetime – and I’m a carnivore – I just can’t stand to be in the kitchen listening to the crabs dying. Hypocritical? Seen The Little Mermaid too many times? Maybe I’m just getting weird in my old age…

  4. Looks so delicious! We have lobster-o-plenty here in Mass., so I like the idea of trying something new. Thanks 🙂

  5. Here in Oregon we get Dungeness crab, the best ever IMO, usually grill them.
    We go and catch our limit 3 times a week. Crab enchiladas ROCK.

  6. thanks so much the recipe! i wasnt wanted to find the right way to steam crab

  7. Do you know if the whole Old Bay-vinegar etc would work w/Dungeness crab?

    I mean, blue crabs (East Coast) and Dungeness craba (West Coast)are both crab…….but there can be subtle differences in species.

  8. Hey Helen:
    I’d give it a shot-Dungess crab isn’t really available here so I haven’t tried it but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

  9. Before Brad came down with his shellfish allergy, he loved deviled crab. Eating them this way, however, is new for us (and not that known around N.C.)

    I’ve always wanted to try them this way, though, esp. after seeing them eaten on The Wire so many times!

  10. What a deal! Yum. I love steamed crabs. Considering the expense when buying them out, I should really try this sometime. I’ll have to get a pot.

  11. I don’t even like crabs and I want to eat these. Great picture!

  12. una donna dolce

    I had never even heard of blue crabs before moving here two years ago! On our first weekend here we were invited to have crab at my boyfriend’s new boss’s house. I had no idea what to do with the thing, and it certainly didn’t seem worth it. Now I can pick crabs with the best of them and we have to get a half bushel when ever we have out of town company. It’s such a social event!

  13. Man, I live in GA but I was raised in Baltimore…I miss me some blue crabs. My mom used to also steam them in a bath of beer. Totally delicious.

  14. ooohhh, lucky girl with the farmers market find! 🙂
    yes, yes, yes, please get the 1 lb tub of old bay before word gets out!

  15. Here’s something remarkable. The first time I ever steamed blues, it was in Riverside, California, approximately 10 years ago. I hooked up with a friend who had moved out there for grad school the year before. He’s from Richmond, so he’s also familiar with steamed crabs. The two of us got in the car with another friend whom I haven’t seen in ages (I think he’s Californian born and bred), and we headed for the local 99 Ranch Market, the west coast’s answer to H-Mart. This was the only place to find live blue crabs, which probably were from Thailand or off the coast of Mexico. They certainly weren’t Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

    So we got them back to his place, where a few friends, most of whom had never seen a live blue crab, were eagerly waiting. It was a pan-Southern food feast we had planned, and the steamed crabs were a crowning jewel of the dinner. Then as the two of us were filling the crab pot, his girlfriend (now wife) and another friend started looking squeamish, and hoping we would just set them free (!) I’m laughing thinking about it. In the end we had a nice big pot of steamed crabs, but it was so foreign to most of them that the two of us Chesapeake boys ate the bulk of them!

  16. I think I’ve seen Dungeness around here once in a while, but it’s rare. If anything it’s frozen and put in the seafood department. I would check Wegman’s or maybe even H-Mart or Whole Foods to see if it’s there. Come to think of it, if it’s ANYWHERE in Baltimore it’s at H-Mart. That place seems to have everything. Dungeness is very common on the West Coast. It was pretty much the only crab I ate in Cali (again, not much access to blues). Of COURSE, the hometown crab will always be the best. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest, Dungeness will be the best (unless you’re from Alaska). But if you’re from the Chesapeake or the Carolinas, well, it goes without saying what we think is the best 🙂

  17. Congrats on your coverage in Baltimore Magazine.

  18. congrats on your baltimore magazine appearance! very nice.

    btw dungeness crabs are at whole foods. but i find i prefer blue crabs.

  19. Crabs meat is one of the best! I love them but feel so bad when I have to cook them :(.

    Rachel, are you having a contest done ending the 5th of June? Don’t know what’s wrong with me but now that I performed a recipe of yours, want to participate and cannot find it.
    Could you please send me the link? I want to post about it tomorrow morning. Thanks a lot 😀

  20. Here’s the contest info.

  21. Okay, I love crabs. Especially when they are done like you prepared them. The weather is too warm here to have them. You are so lucky.

  22. Rachel – a great guide to blue crabs! They look so delicious, I’m ready to tie a bib on right now.