Research: Crab Types

Thursday, February 23, 2017
As a native of Maryland, I take crab meat very seriously. Then, when Kyle and I tucked into some shellfish at a local seafood restaurant, we realized that this was a good opportunity for some research. The kinds of crab that people enjoy can largely depend on the region and the season. Everyone has their own favorite, but a handful of crabs have clawed their way (zing!) onto a pretty solidified list of popular types.

There’s only one type of crab that has had a television show devoted to it, and it’s no surprise that it’s the Alaskan King Crab. These guys stand out not only because of their remarkable size and mellow flavor, but because fishing for Alaskan King Crab is one of the most dangerous professions there is (the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ranked crab fishing as having staggeringly higher fatality rates than pilots and loggers). For diners who don’t owe any taste or geographical loyalty to any particular type, Alaskan King is likely to be the crab that most people know and love.

Snow Crab is similar to King Crab. They’re both found in cold, northern oceans, and both are prepared and eaten in the same way. The claws are where it’s at, meat-wise. 80% of the snow crab eaten in the United States is imported from Canada, though it’s caught in other northern places like Greenland and Norway, too. If you’re at one of those all-you-can-eat crab leg buffets, chances are you’re chowing down on snow crab.

The Chesapeake Blue Crab is my favorite, and that’s the one I'm talking about whenever I get that faraway look in my eye and reminisce about Baltimore. I'm not only biased because that’s the crab I grew up with, but because it’s the most versatile of the crab meats. You can eat the hard-shelled ones steamed and covered in Old Bay seasoning. You can fry up the soft-shell type in flour and spices. Blue crab meat is perfect in crab cakes. Blue crab is rarer and more expensive than the larger crabs mentioned above, but they’re more than worth it for diners up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Over on the other size of the continent, you can find Kyle’s favorite, Dungeness Crab. Named after the port of Dungeness, Washington, a full one-fourth of this crab’s body is meat. Unlike other types, which have been fished down to dangerous population levels, Dungeness crab is abundant. A popular method of preparing them is “half-backing”. The crab is flipped upside-down and chopped in half lengthwise. This makes the guts and gills easier to scoop out, and the remainder can be quickly steamed or boiled. If you’re ever in San Francisco, make sure to get cioppino, chock full of Dungeness. You won’t be sorry.

Both the Chesapeake Blue and Dungeness crabs have meaty bodies, but we go back to the extremities for the crabs eaten in the Southeast, the omni-present Stone Crab. Stone crab claws are proportionately enormous to the rest of their bodies, to the point that it’s the only part of the crab that’s served. In addition to being caught in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, stone crabs are harvested from the salt marshes in South Carolina and Georgia. Going out for a seafood feast in Florida? Stone crab will be heavily featured. It doesn’t have as strong a flavor as other crabs, and is often dipped in a sauce.

Those are the main crab types, but just like in any food family, there are specialty niches. Red Rock Crab is related to Dungeness, but are smaller, and have a thicker shell. The claws of the Spider Crab are are spindly as their namesake, but their bodies have a nicely chunky, sweeter meat than other crabs.

The United States is far from the only country that is love with crabs, and Asian countries have their own preferences. The Horesehair Crab is about the ugliest one there is, but Japanese diners heartily enjoy them. The Chinese Mitten Crab is vicious and aggressive when alive, but once they’re steamed and served with ginger and vinegar, it’s one of the most popular dishes from China to Korea.

So no matter what your favorite type of crab is, there’s a multitude of flavors out there for you to enjoy. It makes us wonder why people call an ill-temper “being crabby”. Eating crab makes us pretty damned happy.