Crab: Main Image

Buying Tips

Quality crab is easy to recognize. Fresh cooked crab smells fresh, with no hint of ammonia odor. The freshest crabs are alive and frisky. Ask how long they have been in the tank, and choose crabs that have been there less than a week. Discard any crab that dies before you can cook it. Fresh cooked crab has a bright red shell. Any exposed meat should be white and moist, not dried out or yellow.


Thousands of species of crabs live around the world, but the following are the kinds most commonly eaten in the United States. Blue crabs, small crustaceans found along the Atlantic coast, are particularly valued for their soft-shell phase, when they can be eaten shell and all. Dungeness crabs, found on the Northwest coast, are large and meaty. King crabs live in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea and can grow up to six feet (about 1.8 meters) across; king crabs have most of the meat in their legs rather than their claws. Snow crabs include varieties found in both Atlantic and Pacific waters. Rock and Jonah crabs, small crabs found on the East coast, have a low meat yield. Stone crab, found in Florida and Texas, are sold fresh, cooked, and frozen. Red crab are small, meaty crustaceans that live along the continental shelf.

You can buy crab live, cooked in the shell, or as picked crabmeat, fresh or frozen, canned or pasteurized. Crabmeat comes as lump crabmeat (body meat), backfin (smaller pieces of body meat), and flake (shreds and flakes from all parts of the crab).

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The information presented in the Food Guide is for informational purposes only and was created by a team of US–registered dietitians and food experts. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements, making dietary changes, or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.