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How to Pick a Crab

The summertime crab feast is a Chesapeake Bay tradition. But if you’re a visitor, a recent transplant or a hungry individual who never learned how to eat the iconic crustacean, it can be daunting to determine how to dig in. While exact picking methods may vary, this guide will teach you the basics of cleaning a blue crab.


  • Steamed blue crabs
  • Knife
  • Crab mallet
  • Optional: old newspapers, seafood cracker, paper towels, beer


Before you begin, cover your table with old newspapers. Blue crabs can make quite a mess, but toss-able tablecloths can make for a quick clean-up.

Pick up a blue crab. Remove the legs by grabbing each one at the base and pulling it away from the crab’s body. Toss the “flippers,” or the crab’s back legs. Crack the little legs in half and squeeze out any meat.

Return to the front legs. Access the meat inside the back portion of the legs by breaking the legs in half at the joints. Pull the meat away from the cartilage and eat it.

Access the meat inside the front portion of the legs by cracking the legs open. To do this, use a crab mallet, the end of a butter knife or a seafood cracker. Don’t use too much pressure! Once it cracks, pick away the shell and eat the meat.

Flip the crab over so its bottom side is visible. In the middle of the shell, there is a V-shaped flap called an “apron.” On a male crab, this apron is shaped like the Washington Monument. On a female, it is shaped like the dome of the U.S. Capitol. Slip your finger (or the blade of a knife) under the apron and pull it up and off of the crab.

Open the crab by wedging your thumbs into the gap between the crab’s shell and its body and pulling the two pieces apart.

The feathery cones lining both sides of the crab’s body are the crab’s lungs. Sometimes called “dead man’s fingers,” these are inedible and should be removed. Scrape the rest of the innards out of the center of the crab’s body. The yellow material is known as “mustard,” and is the crab’s liver. This is edible, but not everyone likes it.



Using both hands, break the crab’s body in half from the center. This will help you access the meat located in the crevices on each side of the body.

Remove—and eat!—the meat.

Once picked, it takes 18 to 20 crabs to produce a pound (or two cups) of meat. Claws, legs and half bodies can be thrown into a pot to start crab soup.

Finished picking? Roll up the leftover shells and newspaper and throw it all away!

Keywords: blue crabs

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