Great Gatherings, Bay Flair
The crab feast is perhaps the Bay's most hallowed tradition. Here's how to throw a crab feast worthy to be called Chesapeake.
- Get plenty of fresh, meaty blue crabs. Number One “Jimmies” (the biggest, meatiest male hardshell crabs) are the best. A bushel of these heavy crabs usually feeds 10 to 12. Make sure the crabs are lively. And never cook or eat a crab that was DOA; you can’t be sure how fresh it is.
- Keep the crabs cool until you get them in the pot. Put them in a cooler on a layer of ice with a “shelf” on top of the ice to keep the crabs out of the water. (If the crabs get in the water, they’ll use up the water’s oxygen and suffocate.)
- Stagger your cooking time so your crabs are always hot. First, steam and serve half the crabs. While your guests are chowing down on those crabs, steam the rest. They’ll be ready by the time the first batch is gone.
- Use old newspapers to cover the table.
- Be sure to have enough mallets on hand.
Eating, or "picking," crabs is an art that requires patience, practice and lots of Old Bay. Try a crab picking tutorial.
Don't know your backfin from your claw? Here's the scoop on the different types of crabmeat.
- Lump: The biggest pieces of meat from the crab's body, next to the backfin. Lump is the most expensive crabmeat.
- Backfin: The white body meat, including lump and large flakes. Used in crab cakes and crab imperial.
- Special: Flakes of white body meat other than lump. Used in crab cakes, soups, casseroles and dips.
- Claw: The brownish meat from the claws is the cheapest crabmeat. Used in soups and dips.
Keep the crabs coming
Blue crabs are delicious — but they're disappearing. Fortunately, simple steps such as using lawn fertilizer properly and creating a Chesapeake yard can help make sure the crab feast is a Bay tradition for years to come.