Where and How to Eat Maryland Blue Crabs

By: Libby Zay

June 5, 2014

Anyone from Baltimore can wax poetic about summer days spent eating blue crabs. Native to the Chesapeake Bay, the crustacean has been commercially farmed here since the 1800s, and today it’s an indelible part of Baltimore culture. Take a look at our guide to where and how to eat Maryland blue crabs for some invaluable insider information.

Where and How to Eat Maryland Blue Crabs

In Baltimore, ordering crabs that aren’t caked in Old Bay is a definite no-no © enigmachck1/Flickr

Where to Feast

“Crab feasts,” a summertime tradition in Baltimore, involve a heaping pile of steamed crabs set in the middle of a table and shared by friends and family. If you can’t snag an invite to a local’s backyard party, here are some crab houses that replicate the experience:

If you plan on visiting in June, you can try all-you-can-eat crabs right on the Baltimore waterfront during the Chesapeake Crab & Beer Festival.

Baltimore | Maryland Blue Crab Guide

Crabs aren’t the only food you’ll find Old Bay smothered on while in Baltimore. You can also try the seasoning on fries, shrimp, wings, and more © Steve Snogdrass/Flickr

How to Prep

Dress casually. Crabs are covered in Old Bay Seasoning””a Maryland-made blend of spices made specifically for seasoning crabs””and soon you will be, too. You might want to remove your jewellery, and you’ll definitely want to cover any cuts on your hands, as Old Bay seasoning stings.

Baltimore | Maryland Blue Crab Guide

Steamed crabs are usually served over newspaper or butcher’s paper””it’s a messy process, and there will be a lot of carnage left over © delgaudm/Flickr

How to Order

Crabs are ordered by the dozen or the “bushel,” which is usually about six- or seven-dozen crabs. One sure-fire way to single yourself out as a tourist is to try and just order one or a handful of crabs, or to ask for them without seasoning. Sometimes it’s necessary to choose between female and male crabs – although the females are generally cheaper, males tend to be meatier and eating them helps limit the environmental impact on the species.

Baltimore | Maryland Blue Crab Guide

If you don’t know how to pick, don’t worry. The staff can demonstrate the process or you might even get a handy guide © Libby Zay

How to Pick

Locals call cracking open a crab to get the meat inside “picking.” To pick properly, you’ll need a seafood mallet and a butter knife. Start by twisting off the large front claws and firmly tapping the shell to remove the meat. The body is a bit more complicated: you may want to ask your server for a demo, or else you might accidently eat some innards you shouldn’t consume.

Where and How to Eat Maryland Blue Crabs
A crab deck dozen with seafood mallet, waiting for picking © Krista

Alternate Options

If picking crabs seems a little overwhelming, you can also try crab in its many other forms. In addition to crab cakes, crab imperial, crab soup, and crab dip, there’s also soft-shell crabs, which are blue crabs that have shed their hard outer shell and can be eaten whole.

Cooking at Home

To cook crabs at home, bring two cups water and two cups light beer to the boil in a pot. Place live crabs in a steaming rack inside the pot and sprinkle generously with Old Bay. Cover tightly and allow the crabs to steam for about 10 minutes. Remove the crabs with tongs and sprinkle with more Old Bay. Pick and devour. (Recipe adapted from Chow).

Header image Blue crabs in the bushel © Flickr/Benjamin Wilson

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Written by Libby Zay


Libby Zay

Libby Zay is a Baltimore-based writer with a knack for scouting out the best local experiences and regional foods. She's written for four travel guide books as well as outlets such as AOL Travel, BUST magazine,, Gawker, Gizmodo, the Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and several tourism boards and Baltimore-based publications. She's also the founder of The Scout Project (, a merit badge program for those who want to learn life skills at any age.

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