How to Cook and Clean Dungeness Crab Photo Tutorial PLUS Asian Crab Recipe

Dungeness Crab pan fried in Asian sauce

Dungeness Crab pan fried in Asian sauce

Are you feeling crabby today?  Okay, I know, terrible pun.  I get it from my father :)  I always laugh at his jokes!  But seriously, have you tried cooking Dungeness Crab before?  I never had, even though I love crab and know that Dungeness Crab is totally sustainable seafood.  Only the males are harvested and the females are left to reproduce.  I’ve ordered Dungeness Crab at restaurants, but somehow never made it myself, until now.  I was at Sam’s Club and saw several Dungeness Crabs for a great deal.  The one I got only cost $6 and yielded about 1 cup of meat.  I’ve cleaned and cooked crabs I caught in Hawaii, but I realize most people don’t know how to clean and cook a crab, so I thought I’d make a nice photo tutorial for you.  Then I have the recipe that I made with it, an absolutely amazing Asian Sauce the crab is fried in.  As a bonus, tomorrow I’ll give you a sushi recipe using fresh crab meat.   Let’s get crabby!

Steam your crab 7-8 minutes for every pound.

Steam your crab 7-8 minutes for every pound.

When buying a crab, live ones should be alert and responsive.  Fresh (but not alive) ones should have an orange shell.  Crabs should smell salty like the ocean but not a fishy or unpleasant smell.  They should be firm and tight not droopy.  Whether your crabs are alive or not, start by cooking them.  Some people boil them, I prefer steaming but I don’t actually have a steam basket.  Instead, I put an inch of water in a large pot, and set the crab on top of an inverted bowl.  This keeps the crab from filling with water.  Turn it on high, cover with a vented lid, or the lid slightly off center to let some steam escape.  Steam it for 7 minutes per pound.

Rinse your crab with cold water

Rinse your crab with cold water

Transfer the crab to colander (I used tongs to do this) and run under cold water to stop the cooking process and cool the shell enough for you to touch it.

Flip your crab belly side up and remove the apron

Flip your crab belly side up and remove the apron

Next you need to remove the apron.  Flip the crab so it’s belly side up.  You’ll notice there’s a piece that runs down the center of the belly that you can flip up.  That’s the apron so go ahead and carefully tear it off the back end of the shell.

Wedge your thumb in the hole exposed when the apron was removed

Wedge your thumb in the hole exposed when the apron was removed

See the hole that opened up when you removed the apron?  Stick your thumb in there.

Now use your thumbs to carefully pry off the carapace

Now use your thumbs to carefully pry off the carapace

Now CAREFULLY pry the large shell (or carapace) off the crab.  Go ahead and rinse it out really well, maybe even use a scrub brush inside to get any guts off of it so it’s sanitary to use later.

Remove the gills and mandibles

Remove the gills and mandibles

See those weird, grey, spongy things?  Those are the gills.  Pull them off along with the mandibles or mouth parts of the crab.  Finally split the crab in half right down the middle.  You could stop here and simply serve the half crabs with a little lemon or melted butter.  Or you could go the extra mile and make one of the recipes below.

Pan frying the Dungeness Crab in an Asian sauce

Pan frying the Dungeness Crab in an Asian sauce

A while back I won a cookbook on my friend Nurit’s blog.  It’s called Ray’s Boathouse and has tons of great seafood recipes.  I decided to adapt one of the recipes for my crab (who I named Herman by the way).  The recipe uses a method of boiling pepper several times to reduce the spiciness while maintaining the aroma.  I want to try this but simply didn’t have the time for this recipe.  So I reduced the amount of pepper and made a few other subtle changes.  It’s no longer the Ray’s Boathouse recipe, but it sure is good!

Plated Dungeness Crab in Black Pepper Asian Sauce

Plated Dungeness Crab in Black Pepper Asian Sauce

Dungeness Crab in Black Pepper Asian Sauce

serves 3 with sides


1/8 tsp black pepper
2 TBS mirin
4 TBS shoyu (soy sauce)
2 TBS oyster sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
Dungeness crab steamed and cleaned
2 TBS vegetable oil
4 cloves minced garlic
1 TBS cornstarch
2 TBS water
4 scallions chopped


In a bowl, whisk pepper, mirin, shoyu, oyster sauce and chicken stock.

Heat oil in a large frying pan then, using tongs, carefully add crab pieces to the pan (including the carapace or top shell).  Sprinkle the garlic into the pan and fry for about a minute until garlic is golden.

Pour the sauce into the pan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Mix cornstartch and water, pour into the sauce in the pan and mix well by stirring the crab pieces around.  Cook 2-3 minutes and add scallions.

Remove pan from the heat and use tongs to reassemble the crab on a plate.  Pour the sauce over the plated crab.  Serve with steamed rice.

Approximate cost/serving: The crab was the most expensive part of the dish at $6.  I buy all my Asian ingredients in large sizes at an Asian grocer so they’re very affordable.  The entire dish came out to just under $7.  We ate 2/3 of the meat between the two of us so it’s about $2.33 a serving.

Gluten Free: It is possible to make this gluten free, just check your ingredients’ labels to make sure because some of them (like soy sauce) can contain gluten.

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10 Responses to “How to Cook and Clean Dungeness Crab Photo Tutorial PLUS Asian Crab Recipe”

  1. jenn
    October 26, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Yum. I LOVE crab . Just cracking into them is so much fun, Neat tutorial. It’s been a while since I’ve had myself some fresh ones. I think I’ll have to go get me some.

  2. Sundancer
    October 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    Hah! Herman, it reminds me of that movie. I think it was Simply Irresistible.

  3. Deseree
    October 28, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you for this! Dungeness crab is by far my favorite but I have always been a bit intimidated by cleaning it. This post helps alot. I will have to go pick some up now to give it a shot.

  4. Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food.
    November 2, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    Great tutorial. I might even get confident enough to try it one day :)

  5. Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food.
    November 2, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    Ahh, on secodn thought, after seeing your pics again… eh, too scared…

  6. Heather
    May 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you for your great instructions on cleaning crabs!!!

  7. Sumac
    April 10, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Well, I finally took the plunge and bought a pre-cooked Dungeness Crab at the grocery store knowing full and well that I had no idea how to clean it and reap the rewards.

    This tutorial was EXACTLY what I needed!

    Side note: tearing apart a lobster has never bothered me, but something about pulling that crab apart gave me a serious case of the willies (maybe because my zodiac sign is Cancer).

    Thanks for the lesson.

    • diana
      April 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

      SO glad I could help! How was your crab?

  8. Paul Bazilwich
    December 31, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    What makes a crab turn black around gills after cooking?


  1. MJ’s Travel Favorites 11-1-09 | Traveling with MJ - July 11, 2010

    […] Dianasaur Dishes, while not strictly a travel blog, has a great tutorial for how to cook and clean a Dungeness crab.  Anyone living or traveling to the Pacific Northwest will find this information handy for crab season. […]

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