Steam Crabs

Maryland is known for its steamed blue crabs. Yet, many Marylanders do not know how to prepare this meal. Here is an easy recipe for steaming crabs at home from Tom DiPaula, general manager and senior “crabologist: (crab steamer) at DiPaula’s. Established in 1897, it is one of Baltimore’s oldest seafood wholesalers and retailer.

Before You Steam

It is important to purchase quality crabs. This can be completed two ways: 1. Use a respectable dealer you have used in the past. 2. Know what to look for.

A quality crab is hard, heavy, and full. Hard means the crabs have rust or a brownish tint color that appears on the under side of the body which is normally white. Heavy means that crabs have weight. You can either ask to feel a crab, but be sure to grab the pair of backfins (legs) farthest from the claws, where the legs attach to the crabs so those claws do not come around and bite you! Or you can lift the container (bag) at the time of purchase to judge the weight. Full means they have meat in them. Each month, crabs are the fullest two weeks after the full moon. But, for the season, crabs are the fullest at the end just before they go into hibernation.

“Crabology” 101


10 pounds of ice or 1 ice pick/narrow knife

1 sanitary tub

1 pair of tongs or 1 pair of heavy insulted rubber gloves (to handle the crabs)

1 steamer or 16-quart pot with a trivet or colander inside


8 ounce of seasoning (Old Bay, or dry mustard, and/or salt)

1 cup of water

1 cup of vinegar or beer

1 dozen of crabs

Prep Time: 20 minutes Steaming Time: about 30 minutes

Step 1

Remove any dead crabs for the other crabs. DO NOT use them, they can make people sick.

Step 2 (2 ways)

The goal of either technique is to immobilize the crabs before they are cooked, so their legs and claws do not come off during the steaming. DO NOT put hyperactive crabs directly into the pot.

A. (Quicker by more dangerous method) Take the ice pick/narrow knife and stick it under the crab’s top shell to stab the crab’s four hearts.

B. Using tongs or gloves, place the crabs into a sanitary tub of extremely cold ice water for 15 minutes.

Step 3

Add even amounts of water and vinegar or beer to the pot until the mixture is two inches high.

Step 4

Take the crabs and alternate layers of crabs and seasoning in the pot. Leave enough space at the top to secure the lid properly.

Step 5

Put the pot on a medium-high flame until the liquid comes to a full boil. Either steam will start to come out of the pot, or you occasionally need to take the lid off to check the boil.

Step 6

Let the pot boil until all the crabs are bright red-orange. Check the crabs closest to the top of the pot for the red-orange color.

Step 7

Enjoy the crabs!

Steamed Blue Crabs


Here are some tips from the “Crabology” staff at DiPaula’s:

  1. Plan six crabs per person, if crabs are the main course.
  2. Buy hard, rusty, heavy, and full crabs. The cost and size if not important; it is the quality that counts.
  3. Steam small batches rather than one big batch for more evenly cooked crabs
  4. Wear heavy rubber gloves. They are easier to work with than the tongs and offer better protection against crab bites.
  5. Adjust the seasoning to suit your taste.
  6. Freeze the dead crabs until trash day to keep the unpleasant smell away.

Hopefully, by completing the steps listed above, you, too, can practice “crabology”, the art of steaming crabs.