How to Clean Crab

dungeness crabs

Dungeness crab is absolutely one of our favorite seafood delicacies. When I used to live in Seattle during dungeness crab season (typically November through December) dinner composed simply of crab and a lot of newspapers. Our favorite method of cooking crab is to steam/bake them in a big pot or wok with very little water. We sometimes throw in some ginger slices for the aroma and dip the meat into a kosher salt fresh cracked pepper and lemon dip.

This post is just to show how we clean and break down the crab since we used dungeness crab meat for some of our recent dishes, sup mang cua (asparagus and crab soup) and bun rieu (crab noodle soup) as well as canh bun (these posts coming up soon!) We won’t discuss the claw or legs since those are pretty self explanatory, but the body of the crab contains the sweetest meat but can sometimes be hard to get. You don’t have to have any special tools or skills of a here’s how I do it!

dungeness crabs


First, flip the crab over to work on the under surface of the crab. I first remove the apron which contains the crabs intestine and hides it’s gonopods (for those interested about the birds and the bees). Then I place my thumb right at the apron attachment site and place my other fingers on the carapace (shell) for support. With my other hand, i place my index finger and thumb in the opening for the two adjacent legs on each side and then firmly lift up.


dungeness crabs

It looks like something out of the movie Aliens but, you will now have separated the body from the shell. In the shell will be some yellowy orange mush–sometimes called crab butter–or gat in Vietnamese. This is the crab’s liver and if you enjoy the rich taste of liver, you’ll enjoy’s buttery and rich! We like to save it to add to bun rieu (crab noodle soup).

Now clean off the gills–the rubbery ribbons on both side of the body.

dungeness crabs 

Now I hold the body with both hands placing my thumbs in between the two halves of the body–and crack it in half. You will see that within each body are small chambers filled with succulent and sweet crab meat.

dungeness crabs

Then with each hemi-body, I split it in half one more time, cross-wise. Now you’ll have much easier access to that delicious white meat inside those chambers. 

How do you clean and break down crab?

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20 Responses to “How to Clean Crab”

  1. 1

    Kitchen M — December 21, 2009 @ 5:26 am

    Very useful! I was always intimidated by the look of crab and never bought it whole or cleaned it by myself.

  2. 2

    Ju (The Little Teochew) — December 21, 2009 @ 5:43 am

    I am freaked out by crabs, LOL! I wanted to make egg foo yong using fresh crab meat but chickened out and used shrimps instead!!

  3. 3

    MaryMoh — December 21, 2009 @ 10:55 am

    What a huge crab! Looks like you have much fun cleaning, cooking and eating. Looks all so juicy and yummy.

  4. 4

    lostpastremembered — December 21, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    Thanks for that… I stay away from alien looking critters generally… but this was a great lesson in how to successfully attack and conquer… great post!

  5. 5

    OysterCulture — December 21, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    Do you make print out diagrams that we can take and hide under the table for quick peaks? =) I think I am getting better but growing up in MN where crab sounded extremely exotic I have been very intimidated by eating it. I recently went back to Baltimore and attended a crab fest where some of the locals took it upon themselves to help out. I feel more prepared but a good review like this is always nice to have.

  6. 6

    Joy — December 21, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

    Gosh I love dungeness crab — my family use to steam a bunch of crab in a large pot and we'd dip it in black vinegar and ginger with a tiny bit of sugar. It is so fun to eat with your hands, I always say it makes food taste better ^_^

  7. 7

    Fresh Local and Best — December 21, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    I was fortunate enough to catch this year's incredible crab season on the west coast which was exceptional because of the consistent quality of sweet and meaty flesh.
    I do think that laying down a couple of sheets of newspaper while cleaning a crab is helpful in the process. And while some may cringe, I love the high cholesterol, yellow orange crab butter.

  8. 8

    Shirley — December 21, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    Take the head off, remove the spongy stuff, remove the butt piece and eat. Usually cooked ginger/scallion or black bean/garlic style so it's already all done. LOL!

  9. 9

    5 Star Foodie — December 21, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

    An awesome tutorial! bookmarking it for our blue crab season.

  10. 10

    Ravenous Couple — December 21, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

    All: Thanks for your comments….yes, definitely alot of newspapers! As for a cheat sheet…that would be hilarious. Do this a few times and it'll be second nature. Yes, despite the high cholesterol, the crab butter is really good..

  11. 11

    Tuty — December 22, 2009 @ 3:04 am

    Can you believe that dungeness crabs are now cheaper in LA than they are in Seattle? (I live 18 miles north of Seattle) That's just so wrong, isn't it?

  12. 12

    Mochachocolata Rita — December 22, 2009 @ 4:20 am

    oh crabbbb~~~

    ps i love your very vintage looking plate 😀

  13. 13

    kiss my spatula — December 22, 2009 @ 4:37 am

    oh how we L-O-V-E our dungeness crab up here! (we cheat sometimes and have the fish monger clean ours for us). hope you are both well! xo.

  14. 14

    Ravenous Couple — December 22, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    tuty: no way crab is cheaper here in LA than Seattle! That is blasphemous!

    Rita: vintage?? thought that style is all the rage 🙂

    KMS: We're so envious of you guys up there..happy holidays to you both!

  15. 15

    OldFatRetiredMarriedGuyFromOrygun — April 3, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    Up until now my crab cleaning method involved stopping at the seafood counter on my way into the market and say: Please kill, cook, and clean 2 nice ones annnnd I'll be baack.
    Having just read your instructions it looks so easy I will do the deed myself.
    Thank you very much

  16. 16

    Ravenous Couple — April 5, 2010 @ 2:30 am

    Ed: Your method is certainly worry free!

  17. 17

    kathy — April 26, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

    can you do a “how to make sweet & sour fried crabs?”

  18. 18

    delicious asian food — August 28, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

    Thanks for that… I stay away from alien looking critters generally… but this was a great lesson in how to successfully attack and conquer… great post!

  19. 19

    San Francisco Dungeness Crab | CHEESESLAVE — November 7, 2011 @ 9:04 am

    […] Here’s a good post with pictures that explains in detail how to clean the crab. […]

  20. 20

    Angela K — March 6, 2015 @ 7:50 pm

    I am sad to say that I have never cooked my own crab before! I’ve only ever had it in a restaurant and while I love the taste, I would also like to try cooking it myself! It sounds like I might need a full tutorial though because I’m still not sure how to open a crab correctly and what parts to keep, even though you provided excellent pictures in this post. I would love to be in Seattle for dungeness crab season!

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