Long Labor Day weekends spent in Washington practically beg for a willing host or hostess to wander down to the Southwest Waterfront, pick up a bushel of steamed crabs and offer up a newspaper-covered picnic table.

A bushel of large male blue crabs. (Alyssa A. Botelho/The Washington Post)

The end-of-summer holiday also aligns with the optimal time for a crab feast. John Shields , chef and owner of Gertrude’s in Baltimore, says that though crab pickings start dotting social calendars in July, the crab hauls available in September and October are bigger and fattier, if not cheaper.

As of Thursday afternoon, the price for medium-sized male and female crabs at both Captain White’s Seafood City and Jessie Taylor Seafood were running $14 a dozen. Prices varied as the sizes increased.

On Thursday, Captain White’s was charging $18 and $22 for a dozen of large females and males respectively; $28 and $32 for a dozen of extra-large females and males respectively; and $45 for a dozen of jumbo males.

Jessie Taylor was selling a dozen of large females and males for $18 and $26 respectively; $28 and $32 for a dozen of extra-large females and males respectively; and $55 for a dozen of jumbo males.

But as a salesman with Captain White’s said on Thursday, the prices could double or triple by this weekend, as the holiday kicks into gear. “Crabs are like gold,” he said.

Picking at it

Though the picking process can be intimidating, and exceedingly messy, there is a science to it, as Shields demonstrates.

But the papertowels-on-table approach is not for everyone. “That's what amateurs might do, but Real Entertainers go the extra mile,” according to David Hagedorn, who dedicated a column to the art of the crab feast in 2010.

Picking up pre-cooked crabs can be a good thing for large groups, Hagedorn says, and the Maine Avenue seafood market has everything, down to pounds of Old Bay.

* GRAPHIC: Check out the Food section’s crabmeat taste test from July.

Bessie’s Crab Pudding (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

For a special crab-themed meal, Hagedorn planned a menu of Crab Hush Puppies With Old Bayonnaise, Grilled Soft-Shell Crabs With Chorizo Sauce and Breadless Crab Cakes for guests who find the picking process a bit too labor-intensive.

“And that's the thing about crabs. Some people relish the challenge, while others find that the payoff doesn't justify all the work,” Hagedorn says.

For those who want to jump straight to the reward, the Going Out Gurus have taste-tested the best crab cakes that local restaurants have to offer.

But for crab-lovers looking to throw a perfect feast this holiday weekend, our Recipe Finder can provide plenty of suggestions.


Crab Salad With Lemon-Mayonnaise Dressing

Eastern Shore Crab Roll


“Instant” Coleslaw

Steve Adelson’s North Carolina-Style Coleslaw

Corn on the Cob Packet

Corn Pudding

Farmers Market Succotash

Bessie’s Crab Pudding

Crab Cakes

Andrew Evans’s Crab Cakes

Breadless Crab Cakes

Crab and Corn Fritters

Etta’s Classic Crab Cakes

Labor Day Recipes View Photo Gallery: Drinks, dips, salads, mains and desserts to help say so long to summer.