Skip the busy restaurant and learn how to cook crab legs in your home kitchen! Crab meat is delicious and tender and with several ways of cooking them at home, enjoying this special treat couldn’t be easier.
There’s something decadent about tucking into a freshly cooked crab leg with butter garlic dipping sauce on the side. The sweet and juicy meat just melts in your mouth and the buttery sauce makes it all the more delicious!
We often think about ordering them out in restaurants when we’re celebrating a special occasion BUT cooking crab legs at home is easy and a much more affordable option than ordering out. The cook time is only a matter of minutes, which also makes them a fast option!
My step-by-step guide to cooking crab legs will introduce you to various methods for cooking them, as well as information on which type of crab legs are the best. I also provide you with some suggestions for how to crack those legs so you can get into that sweet crab meat!
For the Crab:
- Crab leg clusters (frozen or thawed): Frozen crab legs are usually sold already cooked and flash frozen.
For the Dipping Sauce:
- Melted butter: I like to use unsalted butter when I’m making sauces as it allows me to control the level of saltiness.
- Lemon juice: Brightens the flavor of the sauce and balances the richness of the butter. Lemon and seafood is a classic combination!
- Garlic: I love the taste of garlic in this sauce, but you can omit it if you prefer it without.
- Old Bay Seasoning: This seasoning is a popular pairing with seafood. It’s typically made with celery salt, cayenne, paprika, and other spices. If you can’t find it in your local grocery store, you can try making your own Old Bay Seasoning at home.
- Salt and pepper: Season to taste.
How to choose crab legs
When choosing your crab legs, you have a few options. I prefer to use either King Crab legs or Snow Crab legs (we’re using thawed snow crab legs in the photos).
King Crab legs are generally the most expensive type, but as you might guess from the name, they are larger and meatier than any other variety. The meat is sweet and buttery, somewhat like lobster meat.
Snow Crab legs are also a good option. They are smaller than King Crabs but still yield a good amount of firm meat. Snow crabs are what I usually buy for crab leg recipes because the clusters give me a lot of meat for a less expensive price point.
Most crab is sold pre-cooked and frozen, so you’re really heating them up. Thawed crab legs should be kept in the refrigerator and eaten within 1–2 days.
How to Cook Crab Legs
You may be feeling a bit intimidated at the idea of cooking crab legs at home, but I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty straightforward! There are a variety of ways in which you can cook crab, so simply pick the method that you’re most comfortable with and get cooking!
Instant Pot Crab Legs
You know I can’t do without my Instant Pot, (I use this 6 Qt. model)! If you’re like me and look for any excuse to use your IP then this is the method for you.
- Add a cup of water to the IP and insert the trivet. Place the crab legs on top of the trivet and cover. (Your IP should come with a trivet, but you can always purchase a new one if you need to.)
- Pressure cook fresh/thawed crab legs for 2 minutes and frozen crab legs for 4 minutes.
- Release the steam and remove the legs from the Instant Pot to serve.
- Make the dipping sauce: combine all the ingredients into a small bowl to serve alongside the crab legs.
Alternate Cooking Methods
How to boil crab legs:
Bring to a boil salted water in a large stockpot. Submerge the crab legs and boil uncovered for 5 minutes. Sometimes boiling crab legs can make the meat a little bit watery, so I would probably use one of the other methods first.
How to steam crab legs:
Steaming crab legs is a very popular method as it helps to lock in the flavor of the crab. You can also season the water or add in some fresh herbs to infuse some different flavors into the crab meat.
Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Place crab legs on a trivet or steamer basket and steam covered for 5-7 minutes.
How to broil crab legs:
Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper, brush with melted butter or olive oil, and broil 6 inches away from the broiler set at high for 6 minutes flipping halfway through.
Make sure not to leave the broiler unattended, as you don’t want your crab legs to burn!
How to grill crab legs:
Preheat grill to medium heat, brush with melted butter or olive oil, and grill crab legs covered for 4 minutes.
Tips for Recipe Success
- Defrost as needed. If you purchase frozen crab legs, it’s important to keep them frozen until the day before you want to cook them. The best way to thaw them is to store them in the refrigerator overnight. If you forget this step and are pressed for time, you can run them under cold water until they have thawed and then pat them dry before cooking.
- Watch out for hot steam. Cooked crab legs will be very hot and steamy! Make sure you protect your hands by using tongs to remove the legs from your Instant Pot, stockpot, or grill.
- Serve the crab legs either hot or cold. The meat is delicious and juicy no matter how you serve it! You can use leftover crab meat to make crab cakes, add it to pasta dishes, make a crab salad sandwich, hot crab dip, and more!
You should plan for around 1 lb of crab legs per person if you’re serving them as a main course. If you’re serving them alongside other mains, or as a starter, ½ lb per person should be enough.
Crab legs are often pre-cooked when you are buying them frozen from the grocery store. Cooked crab shells should be red and the meat should look opaque. If you’re cooking raw crab, the meat will be gray-colored and will take a bit longer to cook.
Leftover crab legs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2–3 days.
Yes, you can reheat crab legs. The best way is to re-steam them for a few minutes, just as you did with the Instant Pot method or steaming method above.
How to crack crab legs
Cracking crab legs takes a bit of practice and work, but with the right tools and techniques, you’ll be a pro in no time!
Crab crackers or kitchen scissors are the best options for cracking the legs. The shell is very tough and when broken, the pieces can be sharp, so you might want the help of a tool to help you instead of just using your hands.
- Separate the legs from the cluster by twisting and pulling the legs apart. A crab cracker might be helpful with this stage.
- Crack the crab legs in half by using a crab cracker or kitchen scissors. You can also use your hands to bend and crack the leg for this step, just be careful with any sharp bits of shell. Once the leg is cracked in half, you should be able to pull out the crab meat inside.
- Crack the claws. The claws are where the really sweet and tender meat is! They are thicker and harder than the rest of the leg, so a crab cracker or scissors come in handy here. Gently press down on the claw with your tool until it cracks and you can pull out the meat. You should avoid using too much pressure as that can cause the claw to split into many tiny pieces which can get into the meat.
How to serve crab legs
Serving crab legs with butter dipping sauce is a classic pairing. I like to serve the sauce on the side in small bowls, but you can also drizzle it all over the crab legs before serving. You can find my recipe in the recipe card below.
Some great accompaniments to crab are crusty garlic bread to mop up all of the buttery juices, a fresh tossed green salad, or some blanched broccoli, steamed vegetables, or corn on the cob. You can also serve it alongside steak for a surf and turf option!
Now that you’ve practiced cooking crab legs, it’s time to grab your crab crackers and enjoy! Make sure to pin this recipe so more people can enjoy it too!
For the crab:
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ – 2 lb crab leg clusters frozen or thawed
- ¼ cup unsalted butter melted
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon old bay seasoning
- salt and pepper
Instant pot method:
- To the instant pot, add a cup of water then insert the trivet. Place the crab legs on top of the trivet (you might need to work in batches if you can’t fit all the clusters). Cover with the lid, and pressure cook on high for 2 minutes for fresh/thawed crab legs or 4 minutes for frozen ones.
- When the cooking cycle ends, quickly release the steam and remove from the instant pot to serve.
- Bring water to a boil, salt it, submerge crab legs and boil uncovered for 5 minutes.
- Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Place crab legs on a trivet or steamer basket and steam covered for 5-7 minutes.
- Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper, brush with melted butter or olive oil, and broil 6 inches away from the broiler set at high for 6 minutes flipping halfway through.
- Preheat grill to medium heat, brush with melted butter or olive oil and grill covered for 4 minutes.
To make the dipping sauce:
- Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, serve with the steamed crab legs.
- You should plan for around 1 lb of crab legs per person if you’re serving them as a main course. If you’re serving them alongside other mains, or as a starter, ½ lb per person should be enough.
- Leftover crab legs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2–3 days.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.
© Little Sunny Kitchen