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Once you learn how to cook crab legs yourself, you might never want to order them from a restaurant again. This crab legs recipe is one of my favorite special occasion seafood dinners, along with oven baked halibut, lobster, and filet mignon in the oven.
While they are pricy even at the store, cooking crab legs at home is surprisingly easy and still more affordable than a fancy restaurant dinner. I’ll show you the best ways to do it and you can choose your preference.
5 Ways To Cook Crab Legs
There are five ways to make this crab legs recipe — here is how to choose:
- Boiled crab legs – The classic, probably easiest method is to cook crab legs in boiling water. It makes for tender, juicy crab meat and is great for large batches, because you can fit a lot in a large stockpot. But, this method can also be lacking in flavor because some of it escapes into the water, even if you season the water — which you should.
- Steamed crab legs – This method is similar to boiling, but because the crab legs don’t get submerged in water, their flavor doesn’t seep into the water and they are more flavorful than boiled ones. The downside is you need a steamer basket and won’t be able to fit very many legs into it, so you’d have to cook in batches.
- Broiled crab legs – One of my favorite ways to cook crab legs! Broiling caramelizes the crab a bit and you’re able to add more flavor by brushing with butter or olive oil before cooking. Some people also add seasonings, but most of them won’t make it past the shell.
- Baked crab legs – This method is similar to broiling, but the oven is set to a lower temperature, so it takes much longer. You can use this method if you want the benefits of broiling but don’t want the caramelization.
- Grilled crab legs – Grilling imparts a smoky flavor, plus it’s a great way to cook crab in the summer months without heating up your kitchen.
Tips For Selecting Crab
Availability often varies by region, but certain types of crab are better than others…
Choose Your Crab Variety:
- King crab legs are the largest and most expensive, but also taste the best, with a sweet flavor and buttery texture. They are the cream of the crop for making the best crab legs!
- Snow crab legs are smaller, with long legs, firm texture, and sweet, briny flavor. I usually buy this variety (shown here) for crab leg recipes, because it’s not as expensive as king crab but still has good-sized clusters of legs.
- Stone crabs, blue crabs, and Dungeness crabs are not ideal for cooking crab legs, because they are either small or have very short legs.
Cooked vs. Raw:
- Most crab at the grocery store or fishmonger is actually pre-cooked and frozen, so crab leg recipes are essentially reheating them. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area where you can find fresh uncooked crab, you can still use the same cooking methods — they’ll just take a bit longer.
- You can tell if crab legs are precooked by their color. If they are red or orange, then they are precooked. If they are gray or brown, they are raw.
Fresh vs. Frozen:
Boiling or steaming are the best methods to use for frozen crab legs, and you don’t even have to thaw them. For other methods, thaw crab legs in the refrigerator overnight first.
How To Cook Crab Legs
This section shows how to make crab legs (5 different ways), with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
How To Boil Crab Legs:
- Season cooking water. Fill a Dutch oven or large pot half full with water, and season generously with Old Bay Seasoning and sea salt. Bring to a boil.
- Boil. Cook crab legs in boiling water until hot.
How To Steam Crab Legs:
- Prep. Fill a Dutch oven with about 1-2 inches of water, and place a steamer basket inside. (Make sure it isn’t submerged.)
- Steam. Bring to a boil and add the crab legs to the steamer basket. Cover and steam until hot.
TIP: If you don’t have a steamer basket, a colander will often work.
It just needs to be heat safe, fit in your pot or dutch oven, and have feet to stand up above the water.
How To Broil Crab Legs:
- Prep. Preheat oven to broil and arrange the crab legs in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Brush with butter.
- Broil. Cook crab legs under broiler for a few minutes on each side.
How To Bake Crab Legs:
- Prep. Preheat the oven and arrange the legs in a single layer. Brush with melted butter.
- Bake. When baking crab legs instead of broiling, they take longer and don’t brown.
How To Grill Crab Legs:
- Prep. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Brush crab legs with melted butter.
- Grill. Cook crab legs on the grill, flipping once, until warm in the center and lightly browned.
TIP: A good rule of thumb is to brush on a tablespoon of butter per 1/2 pound of crab legs.
This applies to the broiling, baking, and grilling methods.
How Long To Cook Crab Legs?
Crab legs cook time will depend on the cooking method:
- Crab legs boil time: 3-5 minutes for precooked crab, 8-12 minutes for raw
- Steamed crab legs time: 6-8 minutes for precooked crab, 10-12 minutes for raw
- Broiling time: 6-8 minutes for precooked crab, 10-12 minutes for raw
- Baking time (at 350): 15-20 minutes for precooked crab, 25-30 minutes for raw
- Grilling time: 10-14 minutes for precooked crab, 18-22 minutes for raw
How To Eat Crab Legs
Now that you know how to cook crab legs, how do you get the juicy meat inside? It’s pretty easy to do with the right tools:
- Separate the legs. You can usually just twist and pull the legs away from the body portion and from each other. For larger crabs, you may need kitchen shears.
- Crack the legs. Just bend the leg in the middle (not at the joint) with two hands until it breaks in half, then pull out the solid piece of crab meat inside. (See the photo below!) If needed, use a lobster or crab cracker (this is the set I have) or nut cracker.
- Crack the claws. The shell on the claws is thicker and also has the sweetest meat inside. You’ll need the cracker tool for this step, though a flat meat tenderizer can work in a pinch. Start gently and add more force only as needed, to avoid tiny shell pieces.
- Get the body meat. Use a seafood fork to pick it out of all the crevices.
- Store: Keep leftovers from this crab legs recipe in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2-3 days. You can also use them to make a crab salad, buttery stuffed salmon with crabmeat, my 5-minute crab dip recipe (or creamy hot crab dip), or add some into a lobster bisque recipe for even more flavor.
- Reheat: You can reheat crab legs using any of the methods above: boil, steam, bake, broil, or grill. Microwaving is not recommended.
- Freeze: You technically can freeze cooked crab legs, but keep in mind that the ones from the store were probably already precooked and frozen at the store or fishmonger. So if you thawed or cooked them, it’s best enjoy them fresh and avoid freezing again. If you still want to freeze, the maximum time is up to 2-3 months.
What To Serve With Crab Legs
Serve up your crab legs recipe with these accompaniments and sides:
- Melted butter & lemon wedges – Butter (or clarified butter) and lemon juice is the simplest option and so delicious!
- Dipping Sauce – Try lemon butter sauce. You can also upgrade it after cooking by adding fresh herbs, such as dill, chives, and parsley, or spices, such as paprika and chili powder. Add garlic powder to make it a garlic butter sauce.
- Vegetables – Veggie sides like roasted asparagus, green beans almondine, or roasted brussels sprouts all pair well with this crab legs recipe.
- Starches – I love these with a buttery air fryer baked potato, but when you want lighter options, make zucchini noodles or mashed cauliflower.
More Special Occasion Seafood Recipes
Tools To Make Crab Leg Recipes
- Dutch Oven – Use a dutch oven or large pot for boiling and steaming crab legs.
- Steamer Basket – Use this basket for steamed crab legs and steamed veggies.
- Baking Sheet – This one is a good size for baking or broiling crab legs.
- Seafood Cracker Set – This set includes crackers and picks, so it’s got everything you need.
How To Cook Crab Legs (Easy!)
Learn how to cook crab legs perfectly – buttery, sweet & tender! Make this easy crab legs recipe boiled, steamed, baked, broiled, or grilled.
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Tap underlined ingredients to see where to get them.
For All Versions:
For Boiled Crab Legs:
For Baked, Broiled, Or Grilled Crab Legs:
Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
Boiled Crab Legs:
Steamed Crab Legs:
Fill a large pot or dutch oven with about 1-2 inches of water, or just enough water so that your steamer basket won’t be submerged after adding it later. Bring to a boil.
Place the steamer basket into the pot. Add crab legs into the steamer basket and cover with a lid. Steam for 6-8 minutes, until hot.
Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.
Broiled Crab Legs:
Preheat the oven to Broil.
Arrange crab legs in a single layer on an large baking sheet (I recommend a half sheet pan, about 18×13 inches). Brush with melted butter.
Set the oven rack to be about 6-7 inches from the broiler. Place the baking sheet onto the oven rack and broil crab legs for 3-4 minutes. Flip and broil for 3-4 more minutes.
Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.
Baked Crab Legs:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Arrange crab legs in a single layer on a half sheet pan. Brush with melted butter.
Set the oven rack to the center of the oven. Place the baking sheet onto the oven rack and bake crab legs for 15-20 minutes.
Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.
Grilled Crab Legs:
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
Brush crab legs all over with melted butter.
Place crab legs on the grill. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes per side, until warm in the center and lightly browned.
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Serving size: 1/2 lb crab legs (yields about 1/4 lb crab meat)
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