A Guide to How to Cook and Clean Dungeness Crab


In the vast world of shellfish, the Dungeness crab holds a special place, especially among cooks and chefs. The West Coast creature is usually plentiful and a total joy to eat, blending the decadence of lobster with the goodness of your favorite oyster. And now that we’re in the thick of Dungeness crab season — a fairly long stretch that normally runs from December to August — it’s high time to get your hands on it and try out some recipes.

Even if you don’t live near the Pacific, you can still get fresh Dungeness. It is a popular crab shipped just about everywhere. It is delicious tossed into salads and pasta as well as as a crab cake or even directly on the grill. Read on for some tips on preparing shellfish, plus some recipes to try at home.


Crab cooking and cleaning

Often you will buy a deceased crab. If you get one alive, just be sure to handle it from behind so you don’t get pinched. Boil the crab for about seven minutes per pound and then cool it on ice. Then peel off the shell. This is the large oval-shaped shell at the top of the crab’s body. It comes off easily along the back seam. Remove the meat with your hands and place it in a bowl.

At this point, if you wish to serve the crab shell legs attached, simply remove them and serve. Alternatively, if you’re right after all the meat and no shell, flip the crab over and use a scaler to lift the apron. Then, break the crab in half with your hands and scoop out the flesh. Remove the legs and use a nutcracker or rolling pin to crack the shell into pieces and remove the meat. If you want a visual, see this useful video.

One of the best ways to eat this type of crab is directly after a good boil. You can break the legs and rip out the valuable meat inside. A dip is recommended if that’s your thing, but the sweet, mild flavor, with a bit of nuttiness and a kiss of ocean brine, is great on its own. Some say it’s the closest sibling to the Alaskan king crab, a prized crustacean that can sometimes fetch triple the pound.

Here are some Dungeness crab recipes that we really like.

Grilled Dungeness Crab Recipe

Grilled Dungeness crab.
Bob Chamberlin

This recipe for Los Angeles Times is excellent all year round and demonstrates that you can cook a crab to perfection on your grill.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4-6 starter servings, 2-4 main course servings



  1. Clean and crack the crabs, keeping the legs attached to their respective body segments. Using the back of a large knife, crack open the shell of each thigh joint (without breaking them into pieces) to allow the marinade to penetrate. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. In a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, and powdered salt (some spice bits will remain more intact). Add the parsley and green onion and mash until coarse. Add olive oil a little at a time until you have a wet, sticky slurry.
  3. Alternatively, you can grind the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, salt, parsley and green onions in a blender, then slowly add the olive oil with the blender running until sure you have the right texture.
  4. Pour the herb mixture over the crabs and mix with your hands, making sure each piece is evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the crab to marinate.
  5. Start a hot fire in the grill. Empty the mixing bowl onto the grill and use tongs or a large spatula to spread the pieces of crab into a single layer. Every 2 to 3 minutes, use the tongs or spatula to pick up and turn the crab pieces. The crab is grilled with burn marks on the shell and some of the herb mixture has charred, 6-7 minutes.
  6. Alternatively, spread the crab on a rimmed baking sheet and grill until the shell is lightly charred and some of the herb mixture has charred, 4 to 5 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately.

Crab Fettuccine Recipe

Fettuccine with crab.
Peden + Munk

Dungeness is excellent in all sorts of pasts, from simple macaroni and cheese to linguine. This Enjoy your meal The grip is creamy and delicious, even better with a lively white wine.

Preparation time: Nothing

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 2 servings


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1 container 8 ounces crème fraiche, room temperature
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 ounces fresh or dried fettuccine or tagliatelle
  • 10 ounces cooked Dungeness crab
  • ½ lemon
  • ½ cup tarragon leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Espelette pepper or red pepper flakes


  1. Heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook shallot and garlic, stirring often, until tender and golden, about 4 minutes. Add the crème fraîche and cook until the mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes (for fresh pasta). Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.
  3. Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the pan with the sauce and add the crabmeat. Finely grate the lemon zest over the pasta and squeeze in about 1 tbsp. juice. Cook the pasta, stirring constantly and thinning the sauce with a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid if necessary, until the pasta is glossy and the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream, about 3 minutes. Add the tarragon, season with salt and stir a few more times to wilt the tarragon.
  4. Transfer the pasta to a dish and sprinkle with Espelette pepper.

Dungeness Crab Salad Recipe

Dungeness crab salad.

This salad recipe Food 52 is easy to make and makes a great lunch. You can play around with the apples you use a bit, depending on how sour or sweet you want them.

Preparation time: Nothing

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • 8 ounces fresh Dungeness crab, picked and cleaned
  • Chopped off Pink Lady apple, diced
  • cup rflat, julienned
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp Pernod (or anise liqueur)
  • 3 tsp lemon juice, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 litrelarge avocado, diced
  • fresh chives


  1. In a bowl, combine the crab, apple, radish, lemon zest, mayonnaise, Pernod and 1.5 teaspoons of lemon juice, toss gently until incorporated, salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate.
  2. Before serving, add a little more lemon juice to liven up all the flavors.
  3. Just before serving, dice the avocado, gently stir in the remaining lemon juice and divide among 4 plates.
  4. Place an equal amount of crab salad over the avocado, garnish with fresh chives and serve immediately.

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