How to Steam Crab Legs

Steaming crab legs is a simple yet delicious culinary endeavor, perfect for seafood lovers looking to enjoy a restaurant-quality dish at home. This method of cooking showcases the natural sweetness and tenderness of the meat, without overwhelming the delicate flavor with heavy sauces or spices. Additionally, steaming crab legs is a healthier option compared to frying or other high-fat cooking methods.

To begin, it’s essential to choose the right equipment and fresh crab legs to guarantee the best results. Whether using a dedicated steamer or a makeshift setup with a pot and steaming basket, the right tools will ensure evenly cooked crab legs that are easy to handle and delectable to eat. In this article, we’ll walk through the necessary steps to prepare, steam, and enjoy crab legs, along with some tips for achieving the perfect texture and taste.

Types of Crab Legs

When it comes to steaming crab legs, there are mainly two types that are popular among seafood lovers: King Crab and Snow Crab. Both of them have their unique characteristics and flavors, making them a delectable choice for a meal.

King Crab legs are considered the most coveted variety among crab enthusiasts. The Alaskan King Crab is known for its large size and succulent meat, making it a premium choice for a luxurious dining experience. Alaskan King Crab legs are usually red and possess a rich, almost sweet flavor. They are typically found in the cold waters off the coast of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The average weight for Alaskan King Crab legs ranges between 6-8 ounces, while some can reach up to a pound per leg.

Snow Crab legs, on the other hand, are smaller and more affordable compared to their king crab counterparts. Snow Crab legs are recognized for their sweet, subtly briny taste and delicate texture. These crabs are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, usually in colder waters. Snow Crab legs are generally marketed in clusters, retaining their shape from the whole crab. A typical snow crab leg cluster ranges from 3-5 ounces in weight.

Both types of crab legs can be prepared using various methods, such as steaming, boiling, or grilling. However, steaming is often preferred as it retains the natural flavors of the crab, ensuring a mouth-watering dish every time. Whether you choose to indulge in king crab or snow crab, both promise a delightful culinary experience for crab leg connoisseurs.

Preparation Basics

Before steaming crab legs, it’s essential to choose between fresh or frozen crab legs. Frozen crab legs are more widely available and can be easily defrosted. To defrost frozen crab legs, place them in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours, allowing them to reach a safe temperature before cooking. It’s crucial to avoid defrosting them at room temperature to prevent bacterial growth.

Crab legs vary in size, and larger ones often have more crab meat. Inspect the shell before steaming, ensuring that it’s not cracked or damaged, as this can affect the cooking process. Once the crab legs are ready, it’s time to prepare the steaming equipment.

To steam crab legs, a pot with a steamer insert or a steamer basket is required. The choice between a dedicated steamer and a large pot with a steamer basket mostly depends on personal preference and availability. When using a large pot, ensure that it’s deep enough for the steamer basket and fits on top securely. A set of tongs will be useful for handling the crab legs.

Begin by filling the pot with water, confirming that it doesn’t touch the steamer basket. The water level should be about an inch below the basket. As crab legs are already cooked, it’s not vital to season the water, but it might enhance the flavor. The crab legs can now be arranged in the steamer basket.

Once the crab legs are in place, cover the pot or steamer, and heat the water until it reaches boiling. The steam will cook the crab legs, usually taking around 5-10 minutes, depending on their size. Monitor the steaming process, and use tongs to remove the crab legs once they’re heated through and have a bright orange or red color.

Following these preparation and cooking basics will ensure that your crab legs are steamed to perfection, giving you tender, flavorful crab meat.

Steaming Methods

Steaming crab legs is a popular and easy way to cook them, preserving their natural flavors and tenderness. There are a few different methods for steaming crab legs, including using a steamer or a stockpot with a steaming rack.

One popular method involves using a steamer. To do this, fill the bottom of a steamer with water, making sure the water level is below the steamer basket. Place the crab legs in the basket and add a generous amount of Old Bay seasoning, salt, and a couple of bay leaves. Close the lid, and heat the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to maintain a steady flow of steam. The crab legs will need to steam for about 4-6 minutes per pound, depending on their size.

For those who do not have a steamer, a stockpot with a steaming rack can be used. In this method, fill the bottom of the pot with approximately two inches of water. Place a steaming rack inside the pot, ensuring that the crab legs can be suspended above the water. Add salt, Old Bay seasoning, and bay leaves into the water, then arrange the crab legs on the steaming rack. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and steam the crab legs for about 4-6 minutes per pound.

Another option for steaming crab legs is to use a large pot with a tight lid and aluminum foil. To prepare, line the bottom of the pot with a thick layer of crumpled aluminum foil to create a steaming platform. Pour in about two inches of water, along with salt, Old Bay seasoning, and bay leaves. Lay the crab legs on top of the foil, cover the pot, and heat the water to boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature to allow steady steam, cooking the crab legs for 4-6 minutes per pound.

Regardless of the steaming method chosen, it is important to watch for the crab legs’ doneness. They should be bright red when fully cooked, and their internal temperature should reach 145°F. Be mindful of not over-steaming the crab legs to maintain their natural flavor and succulent texture.

Alternative Cooking Methods

Grilling Crab Legs

Grilling is an excellent alternative to steaming crab legs. To grill crab legs, preheat the grill to medium heat. Coat the crab legs with some oil or clarified butter to prevent them from sticking to the grill. Place the crab legs on the grill, and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. To ensure that the crab legs remain moist, cover the crab legs with aluminum foil during grilling.

Baking Crab Legs

Baking crab legs in an oven can also be a quick and easy cooking method. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the crab legs on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Brush melted butter or oil onto the crab legs, and then bake for 8-10 minutes until heated through. Keep an eye on them to avoid overcooking.

Microwave Crab Legs

Microwaving is another handy method for cooking crab legs when short on time. Place the crab legs in a microwave-safe dish, and cover them with a damp paper towel to retain moisture. Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, depending on the size of the legs and power of the microwave. Be cautious of overcooking, as the crab legs can become tough.

Each of these alternative cooking methods offers a unique method to enjoy crab legs. Grilling provides a slightly smoky flavor, while baking and microwaving are quick and simple options. Consider trying out each method to find the one that best suits your preferences and needs.

Serving Tips and Techniques

When serving steamed crab legs, presentation and technique are essential. Carefully lay out the cooked crab legs on a platter, garnishing with lemon wedges for an extra burst of flavor. Guests can either dip their crab meat into melted butter or drizzle it with lemon juice for added zest. Make sure to offer a side of your preferred butter sauce for a complete culinary experience.

Cracking and Opening Crab Legs

The key to enjoying steamed crab legs is mastering the art of cracking and opening them. The best way to achieve this is through a variety of tools and techniques that help extract the tender meat inside:

  1. Crab Cracker or Seafood Cracker: This specialized tool is designed to crack the hard shell of crab legs without crushing the delicate meat inside. Hold the crab leg between your thumb and index finger, placing the joint where it bends on the jaw of the cracker. Squeeze down gently until the shell cracks open.
  2. Nutcracker: A nutcracker can serve the same purpose as a crab cracker but requires slightly more finesse. Place the crab leg between the arms of the nutcracker and apply pressure carefully until the shell cracks.
  3. Kitchen Shears: Another method, particularly useful for snow crabs, is to use kitchen shears. Find the softer part of the shell between the spiked sections, insert the tip of your shears, and make a slit down the length of the leg. You can then peel back the shell to reveal the meat inside.

Encourage guests to experiment with these tools and techniques to determine which method works best for them. By confidently cracking and opening their steamed crab legs, they will undoubtedly enjoy every bit of their special occasion.

Steamed Crab Legs

Sauces and Accompaniments

Steaming crab legs is a delicious way to enjoy the succulent meat from these marine delicacies. To enhance the flavor, a variety of sauces and accompaniments can be served alongside the crab legs. A few popular options are included below.

Butter is a classic companion to crab legs, as it provides a rich, indulgent taste and allows the natural sweetness of the crab to shine. For a more refined option, prepare clarified butter by gently melting butter and separating the milk solids from the liquid fat. Clarified butter offers a higher smoke point and a more refined taste.

White wine pairs well with steamed crab legs, as the acidity in the wine helps to balance the richness of the dish and cleanse the palate. In addition, white wine can be incorporated into dipping sauces to provide a sophisticated flavor profile. Try combining equal parts melted butter and white wine with a splash of lemon juice, a dash of salt and pepper, and some chopped fresh parsley.

For those who desire a more unique taste, a Chesapeake Bay seasoning mix can elevate the crab legs to a new level. Create a dipping sauce using melted butter as a base, then add a generous pinch of Chesapeake Bay seasoning, which typically includes paprika, celery salt, dry mustard, and other spices. This zesty dipping sauce is sure to please those who enjoy a kick of heat with their crab.

In conclusion, by experimenting with different sauces and accompaniments such as butter, clarified butter, white wine, Chesapeake Bay seasoning mix, and fresh parsley, you can create a customized and delicious dining experience to enjoy steamed crab legs to the fullest. Remember, with sauces and accompaniments, a little goes a long way to enhance the flavor of your meal.

Safety and Storage

When handling crab legs, it is crucial to follow proper safety and storage guidelines to ensure the seafood stays fresh and safe for consumption. In the US, both fresh and frozen crab legs are commonly available at stores making it easy for seafood lovers to enjoy them year-round.

To store fresh crab legs, it is necessary to maintain a consistent cold temperature. The ideal storage for fresh crab legs would be in the refrigerator at a temperature between 32-34°F. Placing them in a sealed container, with a damp cloth placed over the crab legs, can help retain moisture and prolong their freshness. It’s important to consume fresh crab legs within 2-3 days of purchase to ensure their quality and safety.

Frozen crab legs can be safely stored for up to six months if properly preserved in an airtight freezer bag or container. Make sure there is minimal air trapped inside and that the seal is secure to prevent freezer burn. It’s best to only freeze crab legs once as refreezing multiple times can negatively affect the taste and texture of the crab meat.

When it comes to steaming crab legs, you should ensure the crab legs are thawed completely for uniform cooking. Thawing can be done safely by placing the frozen crab legs in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. In cases where you need a quicker thawing method, you can submerge the bag in cold water, replacing the water every 30 minutes until fully defrosted.

In addition to following the provided safety and storage advice, always be attentive to the quality of the crab legs before and during preparation. If you notice any off smell, slimy texture, or visible mold, refrain from eating the crab legs as they may no longer be safe for consumption. By adhering to these guidelines, you can confidently enjoy steamed crab legs while ensuring their optimum freshness and quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I thaw and prepare crab legs for steaming? To thaw frozen crab legs, simply place them in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can also thaw them by running cold water over them for a few minutes. Before steaming, use scissors to cut along the shell lengthwise, making it easier to remove the meat once cooked. Rinse the crab legs with cold water to remove any remaining ice or debris, then pat dry with a paper towel.

What is the process for steaming crab legs? Steaming crab legs is straightforward. Fill a large pot with about an inch of salted water and bring it to a boil. Place a steamer basket or rack inside the pot, ensuring it is above the water level. Arrange the crab legs in a single layer on the rack and cover the pot with a lid. Steam for approximately 5 to 7 minutes until the crab legs are heated through and bright red in color.

Can I also boil or grill crab legs? Yes, boiling and grilling are alternative methods for cooking crab legs. To boil crab legs, submerge them in a large pot of boiling, salted water for approximately 5 minutes until they turn bright red. For grilling, wrap the crab legs in aluminum foil to trap the moisture and cook them over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, turning them halfway through.

What is a crab boil and can I use it for cooking crab legs? A crab boil refers to a combination of seasonings and spices used to enhance the flavor of crab legs and other seafood. You can add crab boil seasoning to the water when steaming or boiling crab legs for extra flavor. Follow the package instructions for the correct amount of seasoning to use.

Do I need any special equipment to steam crab legs? Although a steamer basket or rack is recommended, it is not necessary. You can use a large, deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid and a heat-proof plate or trivet to elevate the crab legs above the water level. Alternatively, a colander can also be used to steam crab legs over a pot of boiling water.

Are crab legs flash frozen and shipped directly from the processing plant? Yes, most crab legs are flash frozen immediately after being caught to preserve their freshness. They are then shipped directly from the processing plant to distributors and retailers, ensuring the highest quality product reaches consumers.

Can I pair crab legs with a salad or shrimp for a complete meal? Absolutely! Crab legs pair well with simple green salads, coleslaw, or potato salad, giving you a light and refreshing complement to the rich crab meat. Additionally, you can include shrimp, mussels, or other seafood items into your meal for a true seafood feast.

How to Steam Crab Legs

How to cook delicious crab legs with a steamer in under 15 minutes!
4.72 from 84 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people
Calories 332 kcal


  • Frozen crab legs
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Melted butter or dash of virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges


  • First, pour two cups of water into the steamer and bring to the boil.
  • Then, place your crab legs inside the steamer basket and wait for water to boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, place the steamer basket with the crab legs inside the steamer and set the timer for about 7 minutes.
  • Check that the crab legs are cooked by touching them, and if they are hot to the touch and smelling delicious, then they are ready.
  • When ready, remove the crab legs from the steamer, and place them on a plate.
  • Add some melted butter or extra virgin olive oil with a squeeze of a lemon wedge to serve, or top with garlic butter.


Calories: 332kcal
Keyword Crab Legs, Steamed Crab, Steamed Crab Legs
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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