How To Clean Crab Legs Like A Pro

Crab legs are an expensive delicacy, but one you have to work to enjoy. In a restaurant setting, it's cracking the legs open that's a chore. It's often a bit messy, too, which is why this is a food you should avoid on a date. Crab — whether it's snow crab, king crab, or another variety entirely — is quite delicious, so its succulent meat more than repays the effort it takes to cook, crack, and clean.

Cleaning crab legs, for the uninitiated, can be as intimidating as having to crack them open in a social setting. But with the benefit of a few tips, you'll soon be cleaning crab legs like a pro. The first step, naturally, is picking out live crabs, or buying frozen crab legs. 

The former option is ideal, as, despite the increased cost, the meat from freshly cooked crabs is the most tender and flavorful. But since most home cooks don't want to have to prepare the food immediately — a necessity if you buy live crab – frozen crab legs are a popular alternative. The added benefit of buying frozen crab legs, of course, is that you don't have to cook and clean the entire crab.

Once the crab is purchased, before you cook, you need to give it a good rinse to remove any debris still lingering on the shell. If your crab is frozen, this step can be skipped. After you've cooked the meat, you'll need to rinse it again.

Steps for cooking and cleaning crab legs

If you've purchased a live crab, you're ready to boil, with a tablespoon of salt tossed in for good measure. Add the crab legs (typically up to six for a large pot) to the pot only after the water reaches boiling temperature. Due to their shape, it may be tough to keep them completely under the water. If so, just use tongs to bend them as needed. It should only take about five minutes to cook them all the way through.

However, if you've gone the frozen route, then the crab (or individual crab legs) will have to be dethawed first. There are a couple of methods to accomplish this task. The quickest is to stack the legs in a colander and place them under a sink faucet with cold water running. If time is not a factor, move them from the freezer to the refrigerator and let them dethaw over the course of eight hours or more.

Once the crab legs are dethawed and boiled, then the fun starts. Yep, it's time for cleaning. Make sure, though, that the boiled crab legs have had adequate time to cool. If you've boiled a live crab, then the main shell will have to be removed from the body, as well as the legs.

Clean, delicious crab legs ready to eat

Taking off the crab's main shell can be done by hand – although kitchen shears are an easier method. Once this is done, you'll want to rinse the main body meat under cool water to wash away any unwanted debris or viscera (including lungs and gills).

The crab legs will have to have their meat cleaned as well – of course, again using cool water to rinse. If the legs are still attached to the body, simply twist them off (or, if they prove recalcitrant, use the shears for this, too). Now that they're free of the body, individual joints can be cracked to expose the meat for cleaning, or alternatively, you can cut along the leg shell using the shears. If not all of the tender meat is exposed, use a lobster fork or similar tool to extract the remaining bits for rinsing.

And that's it. Not only have you removed the shells, which your dinner companions will undoubtedly appreciate, but the delicious crab leg meat is now ready to serve.