Grilling Crab is Easier Than You Think

June 28, 2015

We partnered with Alaska Seafood to show you an easy way to grill different types of crab like king, snow, and Dungeness. 

From left to right: Frozen Alaska king crab legs, snow crab legs, and a Dungeness crab

Dungeness, king, snow, bairdi, Jonah, spider, peekytoe, rock, stone, blue, brown, green, and tanner. 

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Nope, that’s not a list of celebrity baby names. They are the names of the edible crabs that live in U.S. coastal waters. Many of us pledge allegiance to the ones we live closest to, taking them either boiled whole and cracked open en masse on a picnic table as a summertime event, or buying pre-picked meat and cramming it into cakes with as little filler as possible.

But for those of us who can’t get fresh Dungeness on the East Coast and those of you West Coasters who don’t know a Maine peekytoe from a Jonah—and all who would likely run away from a live king walking in our direction—here’s some good news: Crab, steamed and frozen in its shell and widely distributed across the country, holds onto the sweet, delicate flavor once thawed and lightly grilled. Frozen crab will thaw easily overnight in the fridge or sitting in a large container of cool water for a couple of hours. From that point, crab could easily be considered a fast food.

Add a bit more flavor to the mix before grilling whole crabs or their stocky claws by giving the shells a gentle whack to crack them slightly and then sticking them in a light marinade similar to the one used by inpatskitchen for octopus or a spicier one like helen does with shrimp

Alternatively, use a pair of kitchen shears to cut along the shell of king crab legs (to make the meat more accessible) and lightly coat them with oil before grilling to prevent them from sticking to the grates. Serve them with lighter dipping sauces like drawn butter flavored with a bit of lemon and salt, a smooth Green Goddess dressing, an elegant lemon ginger sauce, or a zingy chile one, like what Pok Pok serves with its salt-crusted fish.

Here's lemon-ginger sauce on shrimp, but it's also great on crab.

To grill either legs or claws:

Regardless of your choice as to when to flavor your crab, set the grill for direct heat and a hot temperature. It should be just hot enough to allow you to keep your hand above the grill grate for approximately 3 seconds.  

Use long-handled tongs to arrange your crab on the grill evenly. If you are grilling individual legs or clusters of legs, place the thicker portions near the center or hottest part of the grill. If you are cooking whole crabs, arrange the bodies over the hottest part of the grill.  Remember that you are only warming the crabs through, so the whole crabs only need about 4 minutes per side and legs require about 4 minutes total. Remove the crab as soon as it turns opaque throughout; it will continue cooking once taken off the grill.

All you have to do then is grab the crackers, the pick forks, and the napkins—and you’re ready to eat.

Photos by James Ransom

Alaska Seafood can be prepared using a range of techniques from smoking and grilling to roasting, sautéing, baking, or poaching. Try using this selection of recipes—and head here for additional ideas and cooking tips.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Arno
  • Daniel Martin
    Daniel Martin
  • Sekkyo
  • cheese1227
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.


Arno July 22, 2015
You might make it more clear that you are grilling pre-cooked crab.
Daniel M. June 29, 2015
"Snow" crab would be the opillio subspecies of tanner crab, and are quite small in comparison to the "biardi" tanner crab. If you are wanting to grill tanner crab legs, I would stick to the larger biardi.
cheese1227 June 29, 2015
Thanks for the clarification.
Sekkyo June 28, 2015
Is there a picture of them grilled? The main picture shows all three crab types steamed or boiled.