Certain foods are intuitive to eat, like popcorn or a burger. You just grab them and go. Other dishes take more effort and precision, like Maryland’s famous steamed blue crabs. At first glance, the delicacy can be intimidating to the uninitiated. There are the seemingly impenetrable shell and beady little eyes to avoid.
To clear up confusion about how to eat Maryland blue crabs, we went to Baltimore to talk to Damye Hahn, whose family has owned Faidley’s Seafood Market since 1886. Housed in the historical Lexington Market, Faidley’s is a Maryland seafood institution best known for its award-winning lump crab cakes. But visitors can get their crab in a lot of ways at Faidley’s. Beyond the lump crab cake, there’s crab soup, soft-shell crab sandwiches and steamed crabs, among other preparations.
Sample the different ways to eat Maryland blue crab to taste the crustacean in all its glory.
“The difference between Maryland and everywhere else is that we have this freshwater influx into a brackish Chesapeake Bay,” Hahn says. “Most other areas are saltwater. So it makes a sweeter crab.”
Order the steamed crabs, get a “Baltimore margarita” (National Bohemian beer served in a glass with an Old Bay rim) and start cracking. Here’s how to do it, step-by-step.
1. Pull out the apron and take off the back.
The very first step of picking crab is to take off its “apron,” a small piece of shell that runs along its abdomen. On female blue crabs, the apron looks like the U.S. Capitol Building. On males, it looks like the Washington Monument. Once you rip that off, dig your thumb in to remove the back shell.
2. Remove the gills and insides.
Turn over the crab to remove its gills and other innards. Because the gills have been filtering waste and other unwanted particles, they’re not something you want to eat. An optional step is to remove the eyes here, too.
3. Break the crab in half.
To get into the meat, break the crab in half but leave the legs on. Each leg is attached to a cell where the meat is hiding.
4. Squeeze and peel the membrane shell.
On one half, access the crabmeat more easily by squeezing down on the membrane shell, cracking it, then peeling it back.
5. Twist and pull the leg meat.
Twist each leg to break off each cell of meat.
6. Use a mallet to crack the claw. Pull the meat out.
You’ll need a mallet or hammer to get to the meat inside the claw. Use the tool to crack it open, and pull the meat out.
7. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Once you’ve cracked, peeled and hammered your way into that crab, it’s time to eat your hard-earned meat. But watch out for rogue shell bits.