Do you love seafood but find it intimidating to prepare? Don’t be intimidated any longer, because preparing frozen crab legs couldn’t be easier. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of cooking delicious and succulent crab legs right from the freezer. We’ll talk about thawing and preparation techniques, how to cook frozen crab legs, as well as recommended cook times for different sizes and types of crab legs. So if you’re looking to add some restaurant-grade seafood to your weeknight dinners or weekend brunch menus, read on for plenty of tips and tricks that will get you cooking perfect crabs every time.
Selecting High-Quality Crab Legs
When choosing frozen crab legs at the grocery store or fish market, look for legs that are translucent white and do not appear yellow or gray. Make sure the legs are solidly frozen with no signs of freezer burn or frost. The best indication of freshness is the aroma – quality crab legs should have little or no fishy odor when thawed.
Opt for frozen crab legs that are sustainably wild-caught or farmed. King, snow and Dungeness crab varieties are common. Larger legs tend to yield more meat, while smaller legs are often more economical. Only purchase frozen crab legs that are sealed in packaging and stored below 0°F.
Preparing for Safe Handling
Proper handling of frozen seafood is important to avoid illness. Make sure to wash hands, utensils and surfaces before and after preparation. Defrost crab legs slowly and completely before cooking. Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw and cooked crab to prevent cross-contamination. You’ll need a large pot, steamer basket or baking sheet, aluminum foil, tongs, cracker or mallet, and a bowl for cracked crab. Have lemon wedges, butter, spices and other ingredients ready for serving.
Thawing Frozen Crab Legs
Frozen crab legs must be thawed before cooking. There are two methods for safely thawing:
- Refrigeration: Place legs in a bowl and thaw overnight or up to 24 hours in the fridge. Ensure your refrigerator is 40°F or below.
- Cold Water: Submerge legs in a pot or bowl of cold tap water, changing water every 30 minutes. Thaw time is about 1 hour per pound.
Do not thaw crab legs on the counter or in hot water, which allows bacteria to grow. Cook immediately after thawing.
Boiling Crab Legs
Boiling is a simple and straightforward way to cook frozen crab legs. Fill a large pot 3/4 with water and add 2 tablespoons salt. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Gently add crab legs and return to a boil. Cover and cook 8-10 minutes for small legs, 10-12 minutes for large legs, until the shell turns bright red. Remove crab legs from the pot with tongs and drain in a colander. Avoid overcooking, which causes meat to detach from the shell. Serve hot with melted butter for dipping.
Steaming Crab Legs
Steaming is a healthy cooking method that retains moisture in crab meat. Place a steamer basket in a large pot and add water to just below the bottom of the basket. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Place legs in basket, cover pot, and steam for 4-7 minutes until meat is opaque and shells are red. Remove basket from pot and drain crab legs before serving. The subtle flavor allows the sweetness of the crab to shine.
Baking Crab Legs
Baking is ideal for cooking multiple crab legs evenly.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush lightly with oil or butter. Arrange crab legs in a single layer on the sheet.
- Loosely seal foil over the top and bake 12-15 minutes, until shells turn reddish-orange. Check for doneness by looking for opaque meat.
- Baking gives crab legs a light roasted flavor. Pair with garlic butter or savory spice rubs.
Pressure Cooking Crab Legs
Pressure cooking efficiently cooks frozen crab legs.
- Place 1 cup water in the pressure cooker pot and insert a steamer tray. Add legs and lock the lid in place. Select high pressure and set cook time to 0 (zero) minutes to quickly come up to pressure.
- Once pressurized, immediately release pressure. This blasts the crab legs with steam to cook fast. Total cook time is only about 6-8 minutes.
Checking Doneness of Crab Legs
The easiest way to check doneness is by examining the color. Properly cooked crab shells will be bright red or orange. Use a fork to peek inside the shell. The meat should be opaque and flake easily, with no translucent areas. Overcooked crab will appear shredded and dry. Press on the shell. It should feel firm yet slightly flexible. Discard any legs with mushy shells.
Opening and Serving Crab Legs
Use a crab cracker, mallet or small hammer to crack open the shell. Tap gently along the leg segment lines. Twist off the legs and pry open where the joints connect. Use a seafood fork to pull out the meat in whole pieces. Provide small dishes for discarded shells. For presentation, plate crab legs over greens, rice, pasta or potatoes. Serve with melted butter, lemon wedges, and dipping sauces on the side.
Crab legs pair well with fresh, light flavors. Try serving with:
- Steamed vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or green beans
- Herbed rice or pasta
- Mixed green or seaweed salad
- Garlic bread or biscuits
Make flavored butter blends by mixing softened butter with ingredients like lemon juice, garlic, herbs or hot sauce. For dipping sauces, consider aiolis, vinaigrettes, cocktail sauce, mustard sauces, sweet chili sauce or curry sauce.
Storing Leftover Crab Legs
Refrigerate leftover crab meat in an airtight container up to 2 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop with a little butter or broth. Cooked crab legs can be refrigerated in sealed containers for 3-4 days. Reheat by steaming or baking until hot throughout. Do not microwave cooked crab legs. Freeze picked crabmeat up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
Cleaning Up After Cooking
Allow any cooking liquids to cool before straining and disposing down the drain. Rinse pots, utensils, and surfaces that touched raw crab with hot soapy water. Discard empty shells in the trash or a designated compost bin. Be sure to remove any small shell fragments before serving. Crab shells can stain, so avoid spills and splatters during cleanup.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.