What’s the Difference Between Snow Crab and King Crab?

published Dec 15, 2022
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Graphic showing labeled photos of snow crab legs and king crab legs
Credit: Photo: Getty Images, Shutterstock

When you want to dial up your party prowess, serve crab. Perfect for special occasions — or if you’re feeling really luxurious, a regular Friday night — crab legs can be a savory and sweet treat for you and your guests.

A quick Google search will tell you that snow crab or king crab is the way to go — but which one should you choose? We’ll break down how to tell the difference between snow crab and king crab so that you’re armed with everything you need to feel cool, not crabby, about crab shopping.

The first, and most noticeable, difference between snow crab and king crab is size. King crabs are much larger than snow crabs. Additionally, the sizes of king crab and snow crab influence the differences in each of their meats. Read on to learn more on what makes these crustaceans unique!

Snow Crab vs. King Crab: Season and Sourcing

Both snow crab and king crab are harvested near Alaska from the Bering Sea, with Snow Crab additionally sourced from waters near Maine, Canada, and Norway. Snow crab is available fresh nearly year-round, with the Alaskan harvesting season from January to April and Canadian season from April to August. King crab, however, has a much-shorter harvest season, with availability from October to January only. Both varieties are available frozen year-round. 

Size, Texture, and Taste

Another key difference in discerning snow crab from king crab? The size of the crustacean. Snow crabs range between 2 and 4 pounds, while king crabs average about 6 pounds (with some outliers weighing in at as much as 20 pounds!). While snow crabs have long legs and thinner shells, king crabs also have thicker, spikier shells. As for taste — while both crab species have an excellent balance of sweet, mild fish flavors, snow crab legs have a slightly more briny taste and delicate texture, while King Crab legs are meatier, with a texture more comparable to that of lobster.


Wondering which parts of the crab you can actually eat? In the case of snow crab and king crab, the legs and claws are where you’ll find the tasty, sweet flavor. To cook them, heat the crabs over boiling water in a specialized steamer basket, or use a colander over a pot to make an improvised steam basket. Let the crab heat through for 3 to 4 minutes, or until fragrant and the meat is a juicy pink color. Serve with clarified butter, aioli, or tartar sauce. 

Snow crab legs can be cracked using your hands, but if you go the king crab route, make sure to have some lobster crackers at the ready to pierce the king crab’s tougher shell. If you’d rather skip the DIY cracking, you can ask your local fish market to split the legs evenly for you before bringing them home to cook. 


Putting together a party budget? King crab is significantly more expensive than snow crab, although “both are premium products,” said Dorian Mecir of New York City’s famous Dorian’s Seafood Market. Climate change has caused shortened fishing seasons for both species, sending prices skyrocketing in recent years. The seasoned fishmonger recommended that if you’re trying to treat yourself without overspending, “you can cut each leg into pieces, and serve them with other items to give your guests a little mix-and-match that’s more affordable.” 

The Bottom Line

Whether you choose snow crab or king crab, you can’t go wrong — you’re making a tasty investment in your next party. Be sure to visit a fish market you love, set a timer for those crab legs, and treat yourself!