How To Cook Crab Legs

updated Feb 12, 2024
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How to Cook Crab Legs

A guide on how to boil, steam, or broil perfectly tender and juicy crab legs every time.

Serves4

Prep5 minutes

Cook4 minutes to 10 minutes

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Cooked crab legs served on a platter.
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

Restaurants have a secret that they do not want to share, and it’s this: Cooking crab legs is one of the easiest meals you can make at home. It’s true. You can make impressive, restaurant-quality crab legs — boiled, broiled, or steamed! — in your own kitchen.

Because most crab legs are sold already cooked and frozen, all you really have to do is reheat them, and that only takes about five minutes. Here are three ways to make impressively easy crab legs at home.

What Type of Crab Legs Should You Buy?

  • Dungeness: Smaller in size and sold in clusters of about four legs per cluster.
  • King: Largest in size and often sold by individual legs.
  • Snow: Mid-sized and sold in clusters of about four legs per cluster. May be more difficult to procure and more expensive with the cancellation of the most recent snow crab season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game due to population decline.

For more tips, check out our guide to the types of crab legs (and how to buy them!).

What Is The Best Way To Cook Crab Legs?

Boiling, steaming, and broiling are three popular ways to cook crab legs (our recipe below shows you all 3 methods!). Each method results in tender, juicy crabmeat, so which method is “the best” depends solely on the time and tools you have available.

  • Boiling: Requires a large pot and time to bring water to a boil.
  • Steaming: Requires a steamer basket and large pot.
  • Broiling: Requires a rimmed baking sheet.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Crab Legs?

Crab legs are cooked and flash frozen right off the boat. The crab legs simply must be thawed and reheated before serving. It takes about five minutes to boil or steam the crab legs and two to six minutes to broil them, depending on the type of crab leg.

How Do You Serve Crab Legs?

Part of the fun of serving crab legs is cracking open the shell to extract the meat (we have a fun hack for getting crab meat out of the legs). Here’s how to serve them:

  • Use the right tools. Make sure you have enough sturdy kitchen shears or seafood crackers for all of your guests to use on their crab legs.
  • Serve with butter and lemon. Keep small bowls of melted, salted butter nearby for dipping and wedges of lemon to add a burst of citrus to every bite.

What to Serve with Crab Legs

Make-Ahead and Storage Tips

  • Make ahead: You can make the crab legs ahead and save the crab meat for other recipes, like Crab Salad, Hot Crab Dip, or She-Crab Soup.
  • Storage: Remove the meat from crab legs and place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

How to Cook Crab Legs

A guide on how to boil, steam, or broil perfectly tender and juicy crab legs every time.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 4 minutes to 10 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8

    frozen cooked king crab legs, or 4 frozen clusters cooked Dungeness or snow crab legs (about 4 legs per cluster)

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt, for boiling

  • 1 tablespoon

    salted butter, plus more for serving

  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Equipment

  • Rimmed baking sheet

  • Steamer basket

  • Large stockpot with lid

  • Liquid measuring cup

  • Aluminum foil

  • Brush

  • Kitchen towel

  • Seafood cracker (optional)

  • Kitchen shears

  • Small fork

Instructions

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  1. Thaw the crab legs. Place 8 frozen king crab legs or 4 frozen clusters Dungeness or snow crab legs on a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate until thawed, at least 8 hours or up to overnight.

  2. Option 1: Boiled crab legs. Fill a large stockpot 3/4 of the way full with water, and add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the crab legs, bending the king crab legs as needed to submerge as much of the leg as possible in the water. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to cook the legs in 2 batches. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until completely heated through, about 5 minutes.

  3. Option 2: Steamed crab legs. Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a large stockpot. Add enough water to go1/2- to 1-inch up the sides. (The water level should be below the bottom of the steamer basket.) Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Cooking in 2 batches if needed, add the crab legs cluster-side down for the Dungeness or snow crab legs, or bending the king crab legs as needed. Cover and steam until warmed through, 5 minutes for king crab and 4 to 5 minutes for Dungeness or snow crab.

  4. Option 3: Broiled crab legs. Arrange an oven rack 6 to 8 inches from the broiler element, and heat the oven to broil. Arrange the crab legs in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon salted butter and brush the exposed portions of crab leg joint or clusters with the butter. For king crab, broil for 6 minutes total, flipping halfway through. For Dungeness or snow crab, broil for 2 to 3 minutes total. The crab legs will be browned in spots and you may hear intermittent crackling when they are ready.

  5. Serve the crab legs. Remove the legs from the cluster, if needed. Use a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the spines, and twist the legs apart at each joint. Use a seafood cracker or kitchen shears to cut down the length of each crab leg. Bend the shell apart to expose the meat for removal. If you have a claw included in the crab leg cluster, use the seafood cracker to gently open the shell and expose the meat. Do not crack the shell too aggressively or the meat will be crushed. For the clusters, use your hands to crack open the cluster and remove the meat with your fingers or a small fork. Serve with more melted salted butter and lemon wedges.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Remove the meat from crab legs and place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.